Imagine having no choice but to sell your child in order to survive…
That is the anguishing decision Nirmali, a young widow, faced. Alone and desperately struggling to provide for her children, Nirmali was given an offer by evil predators; she could have a well-paying job as a housemaid if she sold her 3-year-old son into slavery.
This is a choice no parent should have to face. Ever.
What Nirmali didn’t realize is that she and her precious toddler would no doubt be sold into trafficking or forced to work as slaves.
It horrifies me to think of what happens when a child is trafficked. Imagine the terror a 3-year-old feels being torn from his mother’s arms by the hands of criminals—then forced to beg on the streets, work endless hours as a slave, or be abused by pedophiles.
This my heart, and it breaks God’s heart. I cannot sit passively and do nothing.
At World Concern, we hold child protection as a top priority in our programs—especially in Southeast Asia, where sex trafficking and child labor are rampant.
We focus our efforts on prevention because protecting children from these horrific experiences before they’re harmed is critical. Sexual abuse and slavery leave deep scars … sometimes beyond healing.
Nirmali’s older son, who is just 8 years old, is the real hero in this story. He is involved in our Child Safety Program in Sri Lanka. When he learned about how traffickers present deceptive job offers to vulnerable moms and children, he immediately alerted our staff about the offer his mom had received. We were able to intervene and rescue his 3-year-old brother before he was sold. I thank God for this.
The “price tag” traffickers placed on Nirmali’s toddler was $1,000. But it cost just $40 to educate Nirmali’s older son about the danger of trafficking and protect him and his younger sibling from becoming victims.
$40. Isn’t a child’s life worth that?
Our Child Safety Program provides a safe haven for children to heal from trauma, learn about child rights, and learn how to protect themselves from harm. We also provide an opportunity for teens and young adults to learn life-long skills to earn income safely. We give them alternatives, so they know they have choices and a path to a better future.
37. That’s the first number I heard when I woke up before dawn this morning to the news that another earthquake had struck Nepal and killed 37 people while I slept. A sense of dread rolled through me.
“Lord, after all they’ve been through, now another one?”
As the morning turned to afternoon here on the West Coast of the U.S., that number increased slowly to 39, then 42, and now I’m seeing 68 people have died.
68. Why does this number break my heart as much as, if not more so, than the 8,000+ lives taken by the April 25 earthquake? I guess it seems more personal. It’s easier for me to imagine a face and a name with each number when it’s smaller. Each one represents a daughter, a son, a mother, a father, a friend.
Whether it’s 8,000 or 68, each one represents a precious human life.
It also makes me sad to think of people in Nepal being so scared. I can’t imagine the terror little children and parents must have felt when the earth shook, yet again, today. That same terrifying sway of the building, as bricks fall and buildings threaten to collapse. Running into the streets, vowing this time for good not to go back inside.
“People are standing outside and they are scared,” described one of my coworkers by phone this morning from outside his hotel in Kathmandu. “I saw one woman who had been here for the first earthquake run out of the building crying. She fell to the ground and was nauseous.”
The trauma of this experience will no doubt haunt people for years.
So I pray. I pray for the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, to comfort the hearts and minds of the people in Nepal. And I pray for their hearts and minds to heal from this tragedy.
I’m encouraged by the stories of survival we’re hearing. Our staff on the ground are sharing photos and stories from people they’ve talked with in hard-hit communities.
Him Kumari was eating lunch with her 12-year-old son, the oldest of four, on April 25 when her house began to shake. She made her son run out of the house, but was not able to escape herself before it collapsed on her. Trapped beneath the rubble and boards, she went in and out of consciousness.
“When I came to, I was in the hospital,” she said. “I thought I would die as I was buried for four hours.”
Twenty-two of her neighbors did not survive. Nearly every home in her village was damaged or destroyed.
Him’s family is now living under a tarp they’ve made into a tent. She is grateful to be alive, but doesn’t know what the future holds.
Lok Shrestra is another mom whose future is uncertain. She was outside feeding her animals when the earthquake struck. Her daughter was inside their house on the second floor. Somehow, her daughter knew to stand in the doorway of her room, and as the roof collapsed and walls fell around her, she stood safely beneath the door frame.
While Lok and others will likely stay and try to rebuild in this village, many others wonder if they should start over in another place. “This looks like a different place now,” said a leader in the village. “This is not our community.”
Amidst the destruction, there is encouragement. Mark Estes, World Concern Asia Director, helped distribute supplies and aid to these moms and others in this area last week. “Walking around that community was heart wrenching – to see the loss, to see every home was just a heap of stones and sticks,” he said. “Nestled up in the foothills of the Himalayas, I can imagine what a beautiful place this would have been. I think that beauty now is surrounded by the opportunity that God gives us to serve these people.”
If you’d like to help reach families affected by the earthquakes in Nepal, providing practical help and hope to those who have lost everything, you can donate here.
After living in Haiti for two years where I worked with World Concern, I returned to the U.S. a couple weeks ago. Aside from getting used to much colder weather and way too many cereal options at the grocery store, I have been attempting to answer, as best as possible, all kinds of questions about Haiti.
One of the most common questions has been how the country is doing since the 2010 earthquake—Haiti’s strongest in two centuries, claiming more than 230,000 lives. This tells me that perhaps not everyone has forgotten about Haiti and that fateful day on January 12, 2010.
However it’s a challenge to answer that question. It’s a big question and I feel a burden to answer accurately and completely, but at the same time I realize most people are not asking for a lecture.
As someone who has lived in Haiti, I can tell you that it is a wonderful place full of color and life. Most of all, it is my friends there and the dozens of others I’ve met through my work with World Concern that I remember. These faces are what stand out in my mind when someone asks how Haiti is doing and each face is a beautiful creation of God with a distinct story. Everyone has a story and each is unique. And with the stories of healing and restoration have come ones of difficulty and loss.
The recovery process and transition to long-term development has been slow and difficult at times, but positive things have happened in the past five years. But there are major chronic issues that persist which keep people from living healthy and productive lives. This is the reality. Is Haiti progressing? The answer, in my opinion, is yes. Does Haiti face challenges? Also yes.
There are more people coming to Haiti as tourists and the country’s image is slowly improving, roads are being rebuilt with many paved for the first time, and the number of homeless people has fallen to less than 100,000 out of the 1.5 million initially without a home following the earthquake.
And what about the struggles? Cholera, which was first introduced in Haiti in October 2010, is on the rise again, and the water and sanitation infrastructure needed to defeat it is missing. Too many families are not able to get enough food with 2.6 million people food insecure as of July and a political crisis looms as long overdue elections in the country are yet to be held. And Haiti remains vulnerable to drought, hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes.
The earthquake highlighted the need to focus on helping communities become better prepared and less vulnerable. This is an area that the government and many organizations, including World Concern, have chosen to invest in since 2010 which is encouraging. A community that is more able to cope with a crisis on their own is one that will be more protected and have less loss of life.
At World Concern we have worked to train local first responders, build community shelters, establish early warning systems, and introduce drought resistant seeds to farmers. Our goal is to see communities empowered, resilient and able to stand on their own. We’re grateful for significant progress in this area.
Haitian Creole, the national language of Haiti, has lots of proverbs or sayings—one thing that makes the language so rich and beautiful. There is a common proverb that says “Piti piti wazo fè nich,” which means “Little by little a bird makes its nest.”
So how is Haiti now? How has the country moved forward? Well, things are better and there is a lot of hope, but piti piti wazo fè nich.
In December 2013, the world’s newest nation, only two years into a season without war, plunged back into crisis-mode. Though the explanation for this eruption of conflict is far from definitive, one thing is clear – South Sudan is still hurting.
As we approach the one year anniversary of this newest conflict in South Sudan – a land that has suffered almost continuous war for over two decades – we (the world) need to remember that this war persists and tensions are only growing. And, as we so strongly believe at World Concern, we remind ourselves that war is about so much more than politics and land and resources. It is about the thousands, if not millions, of people whose lives are torn apart.
According to the UNHCR, South Sudan now has more than 1.4 million internally displaced people who have been forced to flee their homes. Additionally, tens of thousands of people (at this point an exact number is difficult to track) have lost their lives.
Though there has always been community tension and a scarcity of resources, we have never ceased to see the country for its potential to transform. When South Sudan gained independence in 2011, we celebrated with them. Unfortunately, the celebration was short-lived. South Sudan has faced immense challenges over the past three years. The recent conflict is bringing the nation to the brink of famine and starvation continues to be a very real risk.
Since the country’s independence, World Concern has focused on empowering South Sudanese communities to move beyond a state of relief and toward long-term development. Eager to farm their own land, feed their own children, and be educated, people have been more than willing to take part in their community’s development. In fact, many of the communities we partner with now have their own gardens, banks, savings groups, job opportunities, and thriving markets.
But many others were displaced from their homes and land when violence came dangerously close to their communities. As a result, hundreds of thousands were unable to plant crops before South Sudan’s annual rainy season. Because of this, many will go hungry this year. And too many are still homeless, living in squalid camps, waiting for peace.
Last February I traveled to South Sudan to visit Internally Displaced Person (IDP) camps, sit with people, and listen to their stories. Among the many painful narratives shared, I will never forget Mary YarTur’s. Nine months pregnant when violence broke out in her village, Mary had no choice but to run.
“Both of my neighbors were killed when we were running,” she solemnly explained. “My uncle was also killed.”
After days on the run, Mary and others settled outside of a closed school building. Two days later, she went into labor.
“At the time I delivered I was feeling bad. My body was in pain and it was not well,” she shared. “During the time I came from my home in Unity State, I was running with little food. Then I delivered right away when I arrived here.”
In the three days I spent visiting camps, Mary was one of five women I met with newborn babies – a small representation of the thousands of children that have already been born without medical assistance beneath trees, outside of buildings, and underneath haphazard shelters.
“My child was delivered outside, now they have problems,” Mary told me. “I’m not feeling better now. The food we have to eat takes a very long time to cook – and when I eat it it gives me stomach pains. So, I don’t eat much – I feel weak and faint. I live in fear because I don’t know where my husband is and I sleep in the open, many days without food and no income.”
Sick, taking care of a newborn, husband-less, without food, homeless – it’s no wonder so many people feel hopeless.
A Bleak Future Without Development
Because of the recent crisis, funding for development projects has reduced. Life-saving disaster response efforts are vital, but without the ability to fund long-term projects, the country’s development comes to a halt.
Hundreds of thousands of displaced families have fled northern South Sudan to Warrap State, where we work. With no choice but to build makeshift shelters on land that was once someone else’s farms, their presence is a cause for tension and puts a strain on local resources.
The majority of the people we serve know at least one person who has been killed. Thus, a large portion of a family’s resources and time have been spent on hosting and traveling to burial services.
Additionally, the South Sudanese pound continues to lose value against the American dollar, skyrocketing import costs and consequently making many resources unbearably expensive.
“Foreign exchange is low. Prices of commodities are rising every day. Many markets are in short supply of essential commodities,” said a World Concern staff member in Warrap State. “The chamber of commerce has attributed this to lack of dollar in the market. Given that he country heavily relies on import of food, fuel, and almost all essential commodities, shortage of dollar in the market spells doom for ordinary citizens of the country.”
Much of South Sudan’s younger generation was born into war, thus all they know is war. When asked, many say they would love to live in a world without war, yet most of them have no idea what that would look like. Because of this, instilling the notion of hope and the possibility of change can be a very complex process.
We believe that we have been called to South Sudan for a reason. And we believe that reconciliation, peace, and healing are possible. We know that the One who created us all, can surely bring hope and peace to the seemingly hopeless circumstances in South Sudan. And despite the horrible things we, as humans, do, He is still holding out for us, waiting patiently and moving us toward a world renewed.
So today, this morning, this evening, whenever you read this, though you may feel bombarded by a world of painful things, we ask that you remember South Sudan and pray for peace.
And please continue to pray for South Sudan’s leaders – that they would lead with integrity. South Sudan was recently ranked the 5th most corrupt nation in the world. Also, pray for safety, healthy, and strength for our field staff – they are the hands and feet of world Concern.
Some stories are more dramatic than others. Some stories deserve to be heard. Mitu’s story is one of those stories.
Thankfully, Mitu’s story caught the attention of a perceptive staff member in Bangladesh who knew something must be done to free the little girl who was living in slavery in a neighbor’s home. Our Asia communication liaison, Taylor, first brought us this story on her blog.
At 5 years old, most little girls are going to school for the first time, making new friends, and learning to ride a bike. But this was not the case for young Mitu. Instead, by age 5, Mitu was scrubbing floors, cooking, washing clothes, and suffering from physical abuse with even the slightest misstep in her duties.
Scared, alone, and separated from her family, Mitu was forced to grow up overnight in order to care for another family’s children and housework when her own family was unable to care for her.
The nightmare began for Mitu when her parents divorced several years ago. Mitu’s mother sought work in the bleak conditions of Bangladesh’s garment factories, while her father struggled to get by. With neither parent able to support their young daughter, Mitu was left in the care of her elderly grandmother. Out of sheer desperation, Mitu’s helpless grandmother decided to send Mitu to work as a maidservant at a neighbor’s house. There, Mitu endured three years of bondage as a child laborer, receiving nothing but food to survive and suffering frequent physical abuse by her masters.
Thankfully, during a visit to Mitu’s hometown, a wise and perceptive World Concern staff member caught wind of Mitu’s horrible situation. Heartbroken and determined to rescue the little girl, she took the right steps to save young Mitu from her life of slavery, alerting a senior staff member who contacted Mitu’s father.
Today, Mitu is back under the care and support of her father, who, with World Concern’s counsel and support, now recognizes the importance of allowing his precious daughter to go to school and experience childhood to the fullest.
Mitu is now in school, making friends, and learning. Most importantly, she’s free.
It’s not a particularly artistic or perfectly composed photo. It’s even a little hard to tell what’s happening in this photo, which is probably why I paused for a moment while browsing through photos of Bangladesh’s slums.
It was my first week at World Concern, four years ago, and I had looked at thousands of photos of the places World Concern works as part of my orientation. There were many stunning photos of beautiful people, faces, families, and extreme poverty. But this is the one I’ll never forget, because it’s the one I was looking at when it “clicked” for me.
I stared at the image of a little boy, not more than 8 or 9 years old, wearing pants that are cinched at the waist so they won’t fall down, standing in the midst of a sea of garbage. He is smelling what appears to be a piece of rotten fruit. He was doing this, I’m sure, to try to determine if it was edible.
My stomach turned.
Several thoughts slammed into my mind as I stared at the boy in the slum:
He is a real person.
He is hungry enough to consider eating from that pile of garbage.
I must do something.
When I came to work at World Concern, I considered myself a compassionate, caring Christian. I gave regularly to my church, donated to our food bank, and supported a few charities, including humanitarian organizations.
But at that moment, my heart broke for the hungry, the poor, the forgotten ones in the world. I felt compelled to help. I believe God used that photo to break my heart for what breaks His.
I wiped my tears away, glancing around my new office to see if anyone was looking. Then I whispered a prayer: “Lord, help this little boy. Please reach down into that horrible slum and rescue him.”
I felt like God responded, “I will. And you will.”
I knew that didn’t mean I would hop on a plane to Bangladesh and find that one little boy out of the 162 million people in Bangladesh. It meant I would pour myself wholeheartedly into the mission and work of World Concern so that the experts in ending extreme poverty and rescuing children like this boy from its clutches can do their jobs.
Our 234 Bangladeshi staff members, along with our Kenyan staff, our Haitian staff, and all the others in the poorest countries in the world are pouring themselves wholeheartedly into this work. With our support, they provide real, tangible, lasting ways out of poverty. And my job is to spread the word about this cause, this mission, so people like you and I can do something too.
When 7-year-old Nina Tomlinson heard that fire had destroyed most of the homes and crops in the remote village of Maramara, Chad, she was heartbroken for the families who lost everything. Nina’s church partners with the village of Maramara through World Concern’s One Village Transformed project. Nina had also just learned about habitats in school, so she understood how bad this disaster was.
“I know that you need food, water, and shelter to survive and Maramara lost two of those things,” the concerned first-grader told her mom. “I want to help!”
Nina’s birthday was coming up and she decided to ask friends and family to donate to help the people of Maramara instead of giving her gifts. Her mom, Brie, created a Facebook event to tell others about Nina’s cause, and the donations started pouring in.
“It was awesome to show her other peoples’ generous hearts,” said Brie.
At her birthday party, an excited Nina revealed the total her friends had given. After it was all over, “She ended up raising just about $1,500,” said Brie.
Nina said she feels pretty awesome about being able to help other children and families facing devastating circumstances. Her birthday donation, along with additional support from her church, will enable people in Maramara to rebuild their homes, have enough food to eat until their crops can be restored, and most importantly, have hope for the future, knowing people like Nina care enough to help.
My dad used to always say, “It’s better to build a guardrail on a curve than a hospital at the bottom of the hill.” As an adult, I’ve come to understand that wisdom of his words. We all want to rescue someone after they’re hurt. But isn’t it better to protect them from harm in the first place?
Today, as the president of World Concern, I have an opportunity to put my dad’s wisdom into practice. Our focus is on disaster risk reduction: equipping vulnerable communities for a disaster before it happens, and taking practical steps to minimize its destructive impact.
We work to provide infrastructure within and around a community to protect its residents from disaster. This is far better than repeatedly helping them rebuild… and grieving with families who have lost loved ones in a devastating earthquake or hurricane.
Mercila’s story is a great example of how communities can protect themselves.
“When there is flooding, the houses fill with water and people lose many things. When there is a hurricane… houses are destroyed,” said Mercila, a young mom who lives in Haiti. Hurricane season comes every year, and her village’s precarious location along Haiti’s northern coast leaves the entire community vulnerable to frequent natural disasters.
Her one-year-old son’s safety weighs heavily on her mind. “My dream for my son is to let him grow up in Anse-á-Foleur where disaster will not impact our town again.”
World Concern is taking action to keep everyone in Anse-á-Foleur safe. We’ve trained Mercila as an emergency responder for her village. Now, she is teaching her entire community, passing along all the disaster preparedness training she’s received.
The community was equipped to establish an early warning system to alert villagers of coming danger, and built rock walls along the river to prevent flooding. They also constructed a storm shelter, so families will have a safe place to go when a hurricane is near.
“Because of the activities of World Concern, Anse-á-Foleur has become a new town,” Mercila proclaimed. “We are not afraid about anything.”
Mercila no longer fears disaster,
but many others in vulnerable communities are living in the path of destruction. Families in Bangladesh, for example, know that the month of May brings another cyclone season… and certain destruction. Together, we can help them prepare and survive.
World Concern will always be there for those who are suffering after disaster. But it’s a wise and critical investment to protect vulnerable moms, dads, and little ones from future disasters.
Nine months pregnant and carrying her 2-year-old in her arms, Mary ran from her home in Unity State, South Sudan, where widespread violence has killed and injured thousands of people since December.
“Both of my neighbors were killed when we were running. My uncle was also killed,” said Mary. “When we were fleeing, my husband’s brother was shot. So my husband carried him to hospital. They are now in another IDP camp. There is also a woman I know who has lost her son. When we were being collected in the truck, the boy was left behind…”
Driving up a long, dusty dirt road, haphazardly created structures line the road as far as the eye can see. This is Mary’s temporary “home,” a camp for families displaced by the violence in South Sudan. Tents made of the only available materials – sticks, women’s clothing, old plastic bags, sheets, and pieces of canvas are scattered everywhere. Some people sleep under branches, without any covering at all.
Mary arrived at the camp just three days before giving birth to her second son. She named him Amel. She delivered Amel outdoors, with no help.
Can you imagine?
“At the time I delivered I was alone. I was feeling bad. My body was in pain and it was not well,” she said. Fortunately, someone felt compassion for her and allowed her to take shelter in a school building nearby.
Like thousands of others who fled for their lives, Mary doesn’t have food or even a pot to cook food, if she had any. She was given some beans and flour, but sold some for oil and salt to cook with. “We fear now that if we eat twice a day the food will be gone and we don’t know when we’ll get more,” she said.
And they’re sick. Amel has diarrhea – very dangerous for a newborn. Mary has stomach pains whenever she eats, too.
The rains have arrived early in South Sudan … not good news for families like Mary’s who are living in makeshift tents. Flooding and poor sanitation make diarrhea and sickness an even greater threat.
World Concern is responding in this area, providing shelter materials, emergency supplies, and food to displaced families. We’re also providing long-term support, so families like Mary’s can resettle, earn income, and begin to rebuild their lives. Click here to help.
“My heart is beating in fear for two reasons,” said Mary. “One, I don’t have a house. I just sleep in the open or in the school. Secondly, I don’t have my husband. Sometimes I spend many days without good food because we have no income.”
You and I can’t change the political situation in South Sudan, but we can do something to help
Mary and other moms whose “hearts are beating in fear” tonight.
From the moment I woke up on October 1—my first official day as President of World Concern—I was struck by God’s presence and the clarity of walking in His will.
My journey to this role has been a lifetime in the making. Today I can look back over my shoulder and say, “of course.” Of course, that situation or that trial prepared me for this. And, of course, God had a plan.
I didn’t always see the way as clearly as I do today. But that’s the faith journey. We don’t always see; we don’t always understand, but we walk in faith.
I’m excited as I look at World Concern’s incredible life-transforming work, which I get to be a part of. I find meaning as I labor alongside men and women, who are called to make a real and lasting difference in the lives of the poor and marginalized. And, when I look around at the support of so many donors, so many praying friends, so many concerned churches and individuals, I feel immense hope. Yes, the task is great, but there are many who are called to this work along with me.
I am also incredibly humbled by the opportunity to raise my voice for those who are overlooked, exploited, or in desperate need around the world. I am motivated to use my voice to remind myself and others that today there are little babies without adequate nutrition, families without clean water, and young women vulnerable to the evils of human trafficking.
At the same time, I am excited to share the ways God is using each of us to bring hope into their lives in big and small ways. And, I am committed to remember that God always uses regular people, like you and me, to accomplish His plan.
World Concern has fabulous programs, sound relief and development strategies, and years of experience working in some of the most difficult places on the planet. Today, I am grateful for the wonderful legacy that I join. But more than all of this, today I am reminded of the blessing it is to express the loving heart of God to hundreds of thousands of people around the world. May I do so faithfully, as I assume the position as President of World Concern.