It’s not exactly a place filled with optimism, but I saw glimpses of hope today in a World Concern Haiti care center for those living with HIV. Within a compound surrounded by concrete and a sliding metal gate, I slipped into a warm, sun-lit back room that was packed with sewing machines, amateur seamstresses and a couple of teachers.
While many of these HIV positive people may have lost their jobs because of the ongoing stigma about HIV and AIDS, these ladies will be able to start their own tailoring businesses once they learn this valuable skill.
Today I saw these seamstresses hard at work, but they were not sewing clothes. It wasn’t even fabric. They were cutting out paper patterns and practicing on those before they moved on to the real thing. If they stick with it, one of their first paid jobs will be to make school uniforms for children in Haiti.
And here’s the really inspired thing: Many of those school children are orphans who have lost one or both parents to AIDS. So you have a generation of seamstresses facing an enormous obstacle brought on by this horrible disease who are helping children who are also touched by AIDS, but still have plenty of hope for a good future.
This is good humanitarian aid. Incomes for people who were shut-out from opportunities – and promise for the next generation. Pretty cool!
I find it interesting how people react when I tell them that I am going to Haiti for a week and a half. “We’ll pray for you,” is a common response. No one seems to have a good impression of the country, though many Haitians try as hard as they can to live good lives. The problem is that the country is broken in many ways, and has been for far too long. The rate of AIDS is quite high (5.6%), Port-au-Prince is a haven for crime (don’t go out after dark, I am told), and people are eating dirt out of desperation (really).
World Concern humanitarians have worked in Haiti for a long time, through crises and hurricanes and political upheaval. We’ve had the same director there for the past couple of decades. In spite of the ongoing poverty, we’ve had a significant impact on the thousands of lives we’ve been able to touch.
My goal in Haiti is to document what’s going on there right now. Our programs include support for those with HIV and children orphaned from AIDS. We are rebuilding water systems and livelihoods after hurricanes roared across the island last year. We’re even doing simple things that mean so much, like giving children goats. The goats have babies and produce milk, providing income and tuition for schools.
I’ll have a still camera, a video camera and a notepad, and will travel with Christon, the country director, to projects across the island. If I can get my international phone to work as I wish – I will also microblog on World Concern’s Twitter account. We want to show our supporters how their money is being spent – and relay stories about those promising people who are determined to change the nature of the country.
After I return from Haiti, I will spend a couple of weeks back in America, then head to Southeast Asia to document World Concern’s work in that region.
The most common element in all our program fields is the difficulty in just getting there.
This past week we ventured into a new area, just north of our current program area in eastern Chad.
Although it is only about 150 miles, it took us about 12 hours and a couple of days to prepare.
In the whole country of Chad, there are only 2 paved roads outside the capital, N’Djamena, neither of them terribly long. Around here, we mostly follow tracks in the sand.
The short 3-month rainy season is intense, creating many wide sandy river beds called wadis. These fill quickly with water during the rainy season.
In the dry season, you can easily get bogged in the deep soft sand of the wadi. In the dry season, the main problem isn’t the wadis, though, it is the militia. They find NGO vehicles soft targets.
Not long ago in an area not far from our destination the director of another NGO was killed in an ambush while attempting to provide disaster relief.
We take security very seriously, traveling in as large convoys as possible, carrying radios and satellite phones, checking with locals along the way about the road ahead.
We were supposed to meet up with a convoy of 4 vehicles at a town part-way there, but the government had declared that day a national holiday the night before. So we arrived at the meeting point only to find that the other group wasn’t traveling due to the holiday. We had 2 vehicles of our own, the minimum required for that road to avoid an ambush and plowed on anyway.
The drivers are used to sand, so were able to slip into and out of 4-wheel drive as we would fourth gear on a highway. They were great and never let us bog down in any of the wadis, though it was touch and go a couple of times.
Our lead drier was from that region and hadn’t been there for a year or more, so every now and again we’d suddenly stop while Isaaka ran out into some seemingly random field, falling into an embrace with someone out harvesting their millet. Then we’d be on our way again.
Although we arrived at our destination at around 2pm, we were sent onwards to meet the Chef de Canton (like the Mayor) and Sous-Prefet (like the Governor) in Hadjer Hadid, another 30km (18 miles) up the road.
It took about an hour to get there, then another 3 hours to find the Sous-Prefet, wait for him to decide to meet with us, then meet with him, then repeat the process with the Chef de Canton, all the while drinking sticky-sweet, scalding hot tea in 90+ degree weather.
All the formalities done, we were able to trundle back to Arkoum, our final destination, arriving much later than we really should have been on the road. Within 15 minutes of arriving, we were setting up camp in the dark under a thankfully bright moon, eating a meal of rice and canned sardines.
It took us about 12 hours to get 150 miles, and that was without any problems at all with the vehicles or the road.
The BBC reported today (article) that the Sri Lankan army had taken the last of the major cities held by the Tamil Tigers and would soon have them surrounded. As in all wars, no matter how conscientious the warring sides may be about civilian deaths and injuries, they suffer tremendously. This is especially true in a fight against a terrorist movement that is rooted among a minority population. In Sri Lanka this is made worse because the Tigers tend to prevent movement of their people into a safe area. The Sri Lankan army and much of the rest of the world call them hostages to the Tigers. The Tigers call them supporters. Hostages or collaborators, they suffer.
I first visited Sri Lanka in 1983 just as the first full wave of communal violence broke out between the minority Tamils and the majority Sinhalese. The shops belonging to Tamils were still smoldering in Columbo when I arrived from Bangladesh where I was living with my family. I had come to work with Sri Lankan Christians to set up a relief response. The riot in Columbo was precipitated by a Tamil Tiger ambush in northern Sri Lanka in which nine Sinhalese soldiers were killed.
I finally returned to Sri Lanka last September to visit our work in eastern Sri Lanka among Tamil civilians, many of whom had been displaced several times as they tried to flee the fighting. As I met our mostly young staff, I realized that most of them had lived most of their youth and adult lives between my two visits. Because our work eastern Sri Lanka is largely among Tamils, most of our local staff are also Tamil. They have grown up in the face of a national conflict that became a part of everyday life.
I gained just a glimpse of what life is like now as we passed through one checkpoint after another. As we passed through checkpoints I was shielded from close questioning and body and luggage searches by my nationality and race—clearly not of Tamil or Sinhalese descent—and the World Concern flag and highly visible World Concern name and logo on our hood. The Sinhalese police and military have come to respect our integrity, the quality of our programs and our heart of service to the people.
As I passed soldier after soldier stretched out over kilometers of road, each in sight (during the daytime) of the next one along the road, I tried to imagine the feeling of the lone military sentry in the middle of the night, whose major role is that of the canary in the mine—unable to hold off an armed assault from infiltrating Tamil Tigers but whose violent death would alert a forceful response.
As I passed through the checkpoints, I also tried to imagine the growing panic of a young Tamil innocent of any terrorist activity or leanings as he realizes during his questioning that he is for some reason he does not understand falling under suspicion, Or the Tamil child trying to avoid forced recruitment by the Tigers.
As I reflected on the lives of our staff, so different from my own, I realized that Jesus could better understand than I.
Jesus lived in a country under military occupation. I imagined Jesus moving off the road with the twelve young men in his group as Roman soldiers passed, trying to obscure their “groupness” by separating, casting their eyes downward and fading into the sides of the road.
Many tried to recruit Jesus into the Zealots who carried out a low level insurgency against Rome. They appealed to the prophets who had predicted the coming of a victorious ruler who would free them from the Romans, portions of scripture that Jesus had heard many times from his childhood. His disciples certainly saw the military potential of a general who could heal the sick, raise the dead, feed a regiment from five small loaves of bread and two fishes, and control the weather.
Jesus sometimes moved in secret, answered questions in such a way to share his message without giving any specific cause for his arrest, and lived daily with his life under threat.
Even up to the night of his arrest, Jesus struggled with the decision whether to use his power to thwart and defeat his enemies or to die at their hand. During his arrest, for the first and only recorded time in his life, Jesus healed a wound given in an act of violence—a wound inflicted by his follower on one who had come to arrest him. This was the last miracle he performed before his death.
Jesus carried out his mission, giving his life to save those who killed him. He was arrested immediately following that internal struggle in the garden.
As I share with our staff, I appealed to them to model Jesus’ life in occupied Palestne, in many ways paralleling their own.
Jesus knowingly washed the feet of the enemy’s informant along with his other followers, illustrating for Judas and all of his disciples that true power lies in loving service and not in conquest and that true leadership is found in humble submission and not in command.
He showed that Christian martyrs die with words of forgiveness of their enemies on their lips and not curses.
By his death and resurrection, he showed that victory comes through apparent weakness and life springs from death willing suffered for the salvation of others.
I had been meditating on this quotation from Cardinal Suhard, at one time the Bishop of Paris, “To be a witness does not consist in engaging in propaganda or even in stirring people up, but in being a living mystery; it means to live in such a way that one’s life would not make sense if God did not exist.” Trying to understand how to be a Follower of Christ in Sri Lanka, torn by 24 years of war, helped me understand in a deeper way how Jesus’ way is so utterly different from any other.
She’s 13 years old and badly disfigured. Her eye has been gouged from her face, ripped out with a metal shard by a woman holding her captive in a Cambodian sex trafficking operation. The story of Long Pross is a difficult one to stomach, but as described in a recent New York Times OpEd piece by Nicholas Kristof, it is the kind of story westerners must hear.
It doesn’t matter the gender, and sadly it doesn’t matter the age. Trafficking children for indentured servitude, prostitution or sex slavery is an enormous industry. More than 1 million children are trafficked every year, sometimes for as little as $20. World Concern and partner agency CHO see it all the time at the Poi Pet border crossing between Cambodia and Thailand. The photos that you see with this story are all from that crossing.
The classic scenario is that predators will approach a poor family in Cambodia, telling children, or even their parents, that they have work for them in Thailand. Once the children say goodbye, they often never return. If they are one of the lucky ones to escape with their lives, they are often dumped in a park just inside the Cambodian border, near the gate.
Humanitarian Organization World Concern works to educate children and families to prevent this from ever happening. We do this with our School on a Mat program. An instructor gathers children in a shady area to hear an urgent message: do not believe the lies of work and opportunity. They learn how the scam works – and how to say no. Separate from that, we offer children a chance to learn and find opportunities in legitimate business. Some children learn how to sew; other teen-agers may learn how to repair motorcycle engines. We offer real, sustainable solutions, far from the horrors of trafficking.
My background is as a reporter in broadcast news. I have covered dozens and dozens of murders. After a while, even the awful seems to run together with the basic statistics of the story; how many bullets were fired, the status of the investigation, the time of the crime.
But I recall a situation where a news director specifically wanted to reveal graphic details in the heartbreaking murder of a young woman killed in a nightclub. I will always remember this case. The teenage girl went into an all-ages show at a nightclub, but no one remembered her coming out. There was a massive search across the city. She was only found days later buried in debris inside a storage closet. The accused murderer had a history of aggression and sexual deviance. All of this and more came out in the police investigation, and a great deal of it actually made air.
The news director’s rationale for disclosing these details: to cause outrage. To let the community know that this crime is something out of the ordinary, something heinous, something to not forget. And as I followed the criminal case of the sex offending murderer, I believe he was held accountable because the community knew the gravity of the crime.
This is why child trafficking stories like that of Long Pross need to be told. Life really can be horrible for vulnerable people like her. Though these stories may be difficult to hear, those of us with resources can and should act to protect the innocent.
People are so pleased to be helping the poor this Christmas. Maybe it’s the economy, but it seems like the Global Gift Guide really resonates with people this year. There seems to be more empathy. We have had a lot of positive feedback from donors. They realize that there are plenty of human beings out there who still need the basics: food, shelter, water – and hope for the future.
I was talking with a lady in Alaska about a week ago who lives alone, outside a small town that doesn’t get a lot of sunshine around Christmas. She may live in an isolated area, but she certainly has compassion beyond her own community – and supports humanitarian causes through World Concern. She was particularly interested in the gift to prevent child trafficking. The gift is $500, so she went in on it with a friend.
The money they donated will provide tools to educate at risk communities in Cambodia, Thailand and Nepal about the danger posed by child trafficking. Because of people like this donor, children will learn that the promises they hear about jobs in other cities are scams that usually lead to sexual abuse or indentured servitude. And these are kids, often just 10, 11 or 12 years old!
If you are an American or live in some other Western country, you probably don’t need stuff. Stuff like gadgets. Or accessories for the house. Or unnecessary clothes. So the Global Gift Guide is a good alternative – a way to be a humanitarian this Christmas.
I encourage you to check out the Global Gift Guide if you haven’t already – especially if you are still shopping for Christmas. Give a goat! Or a pig! These gifts will be special to your loved one – and certainly to the poor and vulnerable people who will receive your compassion.
This blog is a venue to share ideas about humanitarian aid, relief and development in some of the poorest countries on the planet. Some of what I will post here is news about World Concern’s humanitarian work across the world. Some of it will be closer to my own scope of vision.
I work at World Concern‘s international headquarters in Seattle, Washington, USA. We have our own stories here in the states about the ways people are supporting the work of World Concern – and how we are spreading the message.
I recently traveled to Kenya to see some of World Concerns many development projects. While there, I met those we serve, got to know my coworkers overseas, and was able to thank some of those amazing people who volunteer with World Concern in spite of their own difficulties.
My goal with this blog is to accurately reflect what’s going on at World Concern, as well as provide a forum to discuss issues related to international humanitarian relief. Along with my blog as the “Humanitarian,” will come blogs from our experts about disaster relief, poverty and child sponsorship.
Finding constructive, sustainable solutions to improve the lives of the poor presents such an enormous challenge, we cannot possibly initiate widespread change on our own.
I continue to be amazed at the complex causes of hunger. But whether a crumbling economy or prolonged drought is to blame, the result is the same: Families starve. It is immensely helpful to identify the root problems so that solutions can be found.
So with that being said, I enjoyed an article in Christianity Today about the hunger crisis. It both incorporated the necessity of Christians and humanitarians to act and attempted to identify some of the current causes of malnutrition, especially in Africa.
Below is an excerpt:
This new reality comes after 45 years of steady progress in global food production. Last year, for example, there was a record production of 2.3 billion tons of grain. But production has been unable to keep pace with demand. Grain stockpiles are at 30-year lows. Globally, 850 million people are chronically hungry. Experts cite the following reasons:
Failed harvests. Since 2006, multi-year drought, cyclones, and other natural disasters have dramatically cut harvests in some food-exporting nations. A six-year drought in Australia’s rice-growing region, for example, has caused its harvest to plummet.
Rising fuel prices. Demand for new oil and gas sources has triggered price spikes, thus increasing the cost of food production. Despite a recent decline from the $147-per-barrel peak this July, oil prices are still 60 percent higher than they were in 2005.
Increased demand for grain. About 100 million tons of grains and oilseeds are being diverted to produce biofuels every year. China and other developing nations are annually using millions of tons more of imported corn, wheat, and soybeans to feed cattle, pigs, and chickens.
It’s rightfully disconcerting to see an enormous pile of white wooden crosses. There are too many to easily count. I had 300 of them in my SUV this morning. It took a couple of people to help me unload them.
World Concern has decided to raise attention to the fact that two million people die each year because of AIDS. Three out of four of those people who die are dirt poor and live in Sub-Saharan Africa. The population I’m talking about is diverse. And contrary to what some may believe, it isn’t a “gay disease,” or a disease of drug users. In Sub-Saharan Africa especially, it’s everywhere. It’s an anyone disease.
Anyway, our plan is to plant these crosses in front of World Concern’s international headquarters here in Seattle to raise awareness in our local community. We’re doing it on Dec. 1, on World AIDS Day. We’d also like some news coverage bringing attention to the continuing crisis – and what we’re doing about it.
Big numbers are often difficult to put in perspective. But here’s a glimpse of what we’ve experienced on this project. It’s taken several people a couple of months to create the crosses. At 1,000, we think we have a lot. But really, we don’t have nearly enough.
What amazes me is that the enormous pile accounts for only about four hours worth of AIDS deaths. That’s about the time between when you might get to work – and lunch.
At 1,000 crosses, it’s shocking. Each cross is a human life. A mom, dad, son or daughter. And with the display, we’ll not even able to represent one day. Humanitarian organizations like World Concern are part of the solution. We need your help.