Poverty in Sri Lanka

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.

Humanitarians Act to Stop Child Trafficking

Humanitarian organization World Concern helps stop human trafficking at the border of Cambodia and Thailand.
Humanitarian organization World Concern helps stop human trafficking at the border of Cambodia and Thailand.

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.

Young men learn how to repair motorcycles as part of the World Concern program to stop human trafficking.
Young men learn how to repair motorcycles as part of the World Concern program to stop human 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.

Learn more about how World Concern protects children.

Teach one child how to be safe from trafficking for $35.

Humanitarian organization World Concern teaches children about the dangers of child trafficking.
Humanitarian organization World Concern teaches children about the dangers of child trafficking.

Why a Poverty Blog?

Bangladesh--Where this story began.

In January 1977, just over 32 years ago, my wife, Kendra, my daughter, Heather, who had just celebrated her first birthday, and I arrived in Dhaka, Bangladesh to begin what we thought would be a two year assignment but stretched to seven.

Our shipment of supplies, dishes and things turned up about three months later just as we were moving into our field assignment in Kamalganj, a rural area in northeastern Bangladesh. As we carried boxes of paper diapers, kid’s toys, clothes and other things that we had shipped into a small house that had originally been built for leprosy patients we began to see our world and our place in quite differently.

I am the son of a Baptist pastor and grew up in Portsmouth, Virginia where he pastored a small church. Kendra, a missionary kid was born in Barbados when it was still a British colony and grew up there and in Grenada. Neither of our families were rich by American standards—probably on the basis of money alone, we would have been lower middle class. We grew up thinking of ourselves not as poor but certainly not as rich either.

As we moved in that day, all that we owned in the world fit on the floor of one of the four 100 square feet concrete rooms that comprised our new house—almost without stacking. As our possessions disappeared into the house, however, what seemed to us minimal in the US suddenly seemed excessive. With a start we realized at a gut level that we were rich. With that personal revelation, much around us began to change. Previously we were able to read biblical instruction concerning possessions without guilt, sometimes subtly seasoned with self-righteousness. With the new recognition that we were rich, the same passages became acutely uncomfortable. Beginning with that discomfort, a two year assignment also slowly transformed into a lifelong vocation, and for over thirty years we have led others in ministry to God among the poor.

We quickly came to realize that simply providing money and goods would not in itself change the culture of poverty. If the ship bringing our shipment to Bangladesh had sunk in the Indian Ocean, we would not then have been poor, only inconvenienced for a period. Neither life nor even wealth is actually measured by the accumulation of possessions alone.

In the years since, our family lived seven year in Kenya and I have traveled to dozens of impoverished countries. None of my travels have moved me to romanticize poverty—it is terrible, rooted in injustice and eats slowly away at all that a person is meant by God to be. But I have also been transformed by thousands of hours of conversations with the poor, especially those who are my brothers and sisters in Christ, and come to new understandings of God’s heart.

That is why I am writing this blog—not to give answers but to chronicle my journey especially during this leg of the trip with my colleagues at World Concern.

Meredith

Your End of Year Donation Matters

Humanitarian organization World Concern provides tuition for children in Kenya.
Humanitarian organization World Concern provides tuition for children in Kenya.

World Concern maintained a remarkable record of success in 2008, in a year with plenty of challenges. It is only by God’s grace and your support that we are able to reach families in need.

As you likely know, the Dow Jones Industrial Average slumped 36% this year. Your finances are probably hurting.

It’s especially painful to hear about people facing retirement who realize it is just not possible. For me, it is only with great hesitation that I look at the status my family’s modest investments.

With that in mind, we prayerfully consider the choices made by our supporters as the end of 2008 quickly approaches. We rely on their generosity, especially at this time of year. We are thankful that many are able to supply the poor with a gift through humanitarian organization World Concern.

I spoke with Dave Eller, the President of World Concern, a moment ago, asking him what he would tell donors if they have any reservations about giving this year.

Dave said, “We are going to make the most out of their donation. We have been around, we are going to be around, and we are making a difference.”

He is right.

For more than 50 years, World Concern has responded to desperate needs in some of the most far-flung places on Earth. We have an outstanding track record, and 94% of donations (cash+gifts-in-kind) go directly to programs.

This was year of some significant achievements.

In 2008, we’ve helped cyclone victims in Myanmar rebuild their homes, mend their fishing nets and find work. We’ve walked with AIDS orphans in Kenya, showing them a better life through good health and education.  We’ve fed the starving in Haiti, as an out of control economy left families unable to provide for their children. And these are only a few mentions, from the 24 countries where we work.

Next year, we want to make more significant impacts in the lives of those we touch. We want to elevate people in Haiti and Myanmar to move beyond the crises – and receive job training and education. We plan to increase our investment in microfinance in Bangladesh, to allow women to provide for their families. We want to continue to play a role in freeing millions of people from parasitic worms.

Whenever possible, World Concern provides sustainable solutions to the problems of poverty, so that people can help themselves and teach others once we move on to the next project or respond to the next disaster.

John Beck, World Concern’s donor relations manager, enjoys this passage from Eugene Peterson’s translation of the Bible, The Message:

“Gently encourage the stragglers and reach out to the exhausted, pulling them to their feet.” – 1 Thessalonians 5.

That’s what World Concern does. We bring people to their feet, perhaps for the first time in their lives.

We pray that you will consider the poor this year, a year where you may even feel poor yourself. Know that your donation does matter. And on behalf of the 5.5 million people whose lives we touch, we sincerely appreciate your support.

Donate Now

Humanitarian organization World Concern provides seeds for farms and educates women about effective agricultural techniques.
Humanitarian organization World Concern provides seeds and teaches women how to farm.

Be a Christmas Humanitarian

Who can resist a pig? One sow can produce 20 offspring a year.
Who can resist a pig? One sow can produce 20 offspring a year.

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.

Visit the Global Gift Guide at www.worldconcern.org/ggg

Be a humanitarian this Christmas - give a goat!
Be a humanitarian this Christmas - give a goat!

Disaster Relief Journal: Day 7

disaster relief office
Not your standard disaster relief office, huh?

Today in the world of disaster relief was mostly an office and meeting day.  Yes, even here.  My least favorite kind of day.

The office is about 100m up a sandy road from the house.  Not far, but far enough for several children to ask me for something.  A year ago, very few would be so bold.  Apparently, soft-hearted but soft-headed disaster relief workers have been giving things to children who haven’t asked for anything but friendship.  Now the children no longer value us as people, certainly not adults who their culture would demand them to be respectful of.  It is a shame because it has made it much more difficult to get to know the kids.  It wasn’t like that just one year ago, and I miss the easy, joyful interaction with them.

First thing, most of the staff were called together for a disaster relief staff meeting.

We have been encouraging them to get bank accounts at the bank in Abeche (a full day’s drive away) for reasons of security, with only a portion of it given in cash here.  So they were given an account application form and an explanation.  Then we moved on to programmatic issues and the start-up of our third phase of the program.  They are quite anxious to get into the activities.

After the disaster relief meeting we moved into other meetings with the Country Director, Adrian, and the Livelihoods Coordinator, Derrek where we talked about more strategic stuff as well as details of several grants.  Right now they are the only expats here.  Ayamba was supposed to arrive back today from vacation, but the plane that he was supposed to take was taken by an entourage which included John McCain’s wife.  Random, eh?!

Disaster relief workers in chad
Disaster relief workers in Chad, Africa

Through most of the afternoon, I worked on training materials and boring stuff.  Late in the afternoon the field staff returned and the office became lively again.  They get back at about 3:30, then do their reports and stuff for the day.  The guys in the picture are sorting out requests for seeds from some of the people we will be helping to cultivate later this month.

Now, we are sitting in the Landcruiser outside the wall of the wall of UN HCR checking our email using their wireless signal.  The crew from ACTED, another NGO, are in a vehicle parked just behind us.  HCR used to let us go in and use their conference room, which then became a good place to meet other NGO people, but now we meet in a dusty street.  Ah well, at least it is a connection.

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Disaster Relief Journal: Day 6

Disaster relief in an IDP camp
A young girl waiting for disaster relief by a clay pot called a Dabanga used to store grain

Last night, after 2 very short nights, I slept soundly for 12 hours and woke up without a fever as the guys were coming back from church.  It would really stink to spend a bunch of my limited time out here being incapacitated so I’m really trying to rest up today and kick this bug before I really dive head-first into the disaster relief work in Chad.

While lounging around today, casually washing out a few bits of clothing, reading and listening to my MP3 player, I started thinking about yesterday with more and more satisfaction.  I’m weird and get my thrills in weird, obscure ways.

After visiting various projects, on the way back to town, we passed a hut with a very large, newly-made clay pot on its side.  I recognized this as a traditional way people in the Sahel store their grain.  They stand it on end, pour their harvested grain into it, then seal the top with mud to keep pests out and moisture in.  It is a great system that works so much better than sacks and doesn’t require harmful pesticides.  But when people are feeling insecure (like when a disaster is about to happen), they will use sacks so they can run away with them or hide them if they’re attacked.  So I was thrilled to see the dabanga, as it is called.

We stopped to chat with the family.  Only educated people speak French here, so Nick and I spoke with them through one of the staff who translated for us.  In the heat of the day the sun here is really scorching, so women usually collect on mats in small groups in the shade with their smallest children and neighbors to do small hand-tasks until the worst of the heat passes.  The men are usually either off in the market or snoozing in their huts.  It’s a mellow time, a time for catching up on what’s happening and gain strength for the afternoon and evening chores.

Woman in need of disaster relief in Chad Africa
Woman in need of disaster relief in Chad Africa

This is the best time to sit and chat with these busy, industrious women.  I thank my stars that I’m a woman in this job because I can often sit with them and they’ll be at their ease, telling me all sorts of stuff about how they get on in life that they’d never tell a man.  This is critical for knowing what sorts of disaster relief type help they need.  It was about 3pm and three women and a couple of small children at this house were still hanging out in the small asylum of shade afforded by a grass platform.

By normal standards, this dabanga was a bit smaller than you’d see in a village, and they’d often have several of them as well.  This tells me they had a smaller harvest this year than they would have had before the crisis and therefore not nearly enough to carry them through the year – though still a fair amount.  But the very fact that they had been able to find land on which to cultivate anything, that they’d had the confidence in the level of security to invest in planting, and that they’d been able to plant enough to warrant a dabanga was all very positive.  They said they had come from a village about 50km away but still didn’t feel safe enough to live there full time.  Since they were able to get hold of a field nearby, they didn’t risk cultivating their fields in their villages, but they said some others did risk the trip.  As we carried on back to town, we noticed quite a few other dabangas around that camp.  This was such a positive sign it really made my day even with my descent into the flu.

Children who need disaster relief in Chad
Children who need disaster relief in Chad

It made my day because I remember when we first came out to Goz Beida in February last year (2007).  Some people had already been in the camps for 3 months without any help from people providing disaster relief.  They were all but starving.  Several families would share one cooking pot to cook the small amount of food they had.  Few had more than the clothes on their backs.  They were living in very small huts made of grass tied together.  Sources of water were very few and very far.  It would take about 8 hours to get one container of water at a very muddy well.  Whole families were drinking and cooking, living on less than a gallon (4 liters) per person per day in temperatures above 100F (38C), about 1/3 the minimum recommended amount of water.  Sanitation was abysmal.  People were living from day to day, even hour to hour.  There was an outbreak of hepatitis due to the poor sanitation and bad water.

Now, though the food they get from aid is erratic, they are starting to rebuild their asset base and get themselves back on their feet.  Wells and latrines installed by other agencies have addressed the water and sanitation issues, but we had a very large role to play in their recovery at the household level.  Although we are only one of about half a dozen humanitarian organizations working here, our activities have directly benefited these families.  We have directly provided over $1M in direct cash wages to people in the camps over the last year and a half.  This money helped them to buy the basics when the UN rations didn’t materialize and helped them to buy the tools to cultivate, the medicines for their remaining donkeys, clothes, and to give them the hope to plant again.

A dabanga may just be a giant clay pot to some people, but to me it is a sign of hope and encouragement, it is a first sign of a return to some small sense of recovering a lost life.

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Disaster Relief Journal: Day 5

Disaster relief workers
Disaster relief workers

I’m battling a round of the flu.  After so much traveling, I finally got out to the field today and was dismayed to feel myself coming down with an aching fever and a very sore throat, taking away much of the enjoyment of the day.

We work in 3 disaster relief camps for Chadians who’ve been chased from their homes.  They official term for them is Internally Displaced People or (IDPs).  We are also starting working in a camp for Sudanese refugees.  So we spent most of the day looking at the various physical structures we’ve built, discussing successes and failures, what more needs to be done, what’s worth investing more in and what’s not…

Pretty much everyone has heard of the Sahara Desert, but few have heard of the Sahel.  This is the band along the southern edge of the Sahara that transitions from desert to the greener “sub-Saharan Africa” that most people picture when they hear the name “Africa”.

The continent is amazingly varied, both by climate and by traditions.  Each country is very different from its neighbors.  The Sahel is where the desert “Arabic” cultures meet up with the more “African” cultures.  It is also where the Muslim and Christian worlds meet.  Goz Beida is right on the line between these two worlds and is where I’m doing my disaster relief work.

Not far north of here, it is mainly Arab animal herders (pastoralists).  Not far south, it is majority Christian farmers.  Here on the line, people depend usually on a combination of farming and animals though their animals were stolen as they fled their villages and they now have very little access to their farm land, risking rape and murder just to farm their fields.

A water catchment system outside of an IDP camp
A water catchment system outside of an IDP camp

We get rain here pretty heavily for about 3 months of the year, and then nothing the other 9 months.  It is a very fragile environment and can only support a very scattered population, so when wars create concentrations like these IDP camps, it really stresses out the local environment.  Much of our work is designed to keep people alive while protecting the environment.  We’re building large rainwater catchment systems to add to the water table and to water the animals that haven’t been looted, helping to reforest (to counteract the huge amount of trees being cut for firewood) and similar stuff.  Disaster relief is hard on a lot of things.

Because we’re so far out in the middle of no-where, farming and herding animals is about the only way for most people to earn money or get food, but this is almost impossible when there are so many people living in one such remote place.  So we’re also working to build up the local economy and help people get work while cutting back on their expenses.  One of the things we’re doing is to help install mills to reduce the cost of grinding their grain into edible flour.  We’re doing other stuff too, but these were the things we were visiting yesterday – the mills, rainwater catchment systems and reforestation projects.

I helped to get this project started last year and hired most of the initial staff, so I already know most of them.  It was great to get to know them again as they proudly showed me all they’ve accomplished, which really is impressive, even to a skeptical, jaded soul like myself.

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High School Humanitarians

World AIDS Day art display for humanitarian organization World Concern.
Orphans: World AIDS Day art display for humanitarian organization World Concern.

Students from Kings High School in Seattle worked with World Concern to produce art for World AIDS Day 2008. The mixed media art projects were displayed in a public library in Seattle. I was impressed with the display. I think my favorite was a simple, bold painting that helps illustrate the pain of orphans.

Help: World AIDS Day art display for humanitarian organization World Concern.
Help: World AIDS Day art display for humanitarian organization World Concern.Tear: World AIDS Day art display for humanitarian organization World Concern.
Heart: World AIDS Day art display for humanitarian organization World Concern.
Heart: World AIDS Day art display for humanitarian organization World Concern.
Face: World AIDS Day art display for humanitarian organization World Concern.
Face: World AIDS Day art display for humanitarian organization World Concern.
Erase: World AIDS Day art display for humanitarian organization World Concern.
Erase: World AIDS Day art display for humanitarian organization World Concern.
World AIDS Day art display for humanitarian organization World Concern.
World AIDS Day art display in a Seattle library for humanitarian organization World Concern.

Disaster Relief: Day 4

UN tank used to protect disaster relief workers
UN tank used to protect disaster relief workers

Well, it was one of those roller-coaster days.  Check-in was at 6:30, so Adoum reliably picked me up at 6:00 and we rattled off to the airport.  My bag was 17kg and sometimes they’ll make a fuss over even 2kg, so I was relieved when they let it go, though later I found they’d lost a bundle that accompanied the checked bag.  There is only one gate at the airport, though it is dutifully numbered “gate 1” and about 5 flights of passengers were all crowded into the one cramped waiting room.  Just as my flight was due to head out, a bunch of soldiers armed with AK-47s, rockets and other small arms formed a perimeter around the parking ramp in front of us.  It was rather disconcerting that they were facing our door rather than the world at large.  Then President Deby’s plane came in to pick him up, people rolled out a red carpet, others swept it, soldiers in formal dress lined the carpet and everyone waited – for two hours, while the entire airport was closed down.

I didn’t mind waiting; I’m used to that.  But it was making me miss my connection to Goz Beida and I knew Nick would pay me back for my bragging about not having to spend the night in Abeche.  We landed in Abeche a couple of hours late.  I registered with the local government official and called our local man to come pick me up.  Stepping out onto the front step of the two-room airport building to wait for him, I heard someone say “all passengers for Goz Beida.”  I grabbed my bag, pushed it at a guy with tags and a stapler, and said, “Goz Beida?  I’m going to Goz Beida.”  So he grabbed my bag, tagged it, tagged my knapsack carry-on, and pointed out the tiny airplane parked across the crumbling brick-paved parking ramp.  I caught up with the 3 other passengers and told the pilot I was going to Goz Beida.  He scribbled my name onto the manifest and away I went, wondering when they would pitch me off the plane.  But they didn’t.  Usually there is a painfully long and bureaucratic check-in procedure in Abeche, so I was astonished that I was going to be let onto this flight.  Quickly I sent a text message to our man in Abeche and to the guys in Goz Beida that I was on my way.  Life occasionally throws a bone your way and I reveled in it.

All the team’s senior staff and Nick met me at the dusty clay airstrip.  It was a nice welcoming.  Off to one side was the MINURCAT (UN peacekeepers) compound with helicopter gunships stationed in a barricaded compound.  Last February rebels overran the local government military in Goz Beidafor the second time and occupied the town for the better part of the day before they were chased off.  Our team took shelter in their compound for a night or two.  To prevent another battle, UN peacekeepers have been based here to support the Chadian military.  If NGOs like World Concern have to leave because of security, then about 60,000 people will not get such basics as food, water and medical care, so the role of the peacekeepers is very important.

I was dropped at the house to collect my wits and eat the first food I’d had today.  Jetlag had me up at about 4am this morning, so I wasn’t much good.  Later, we went over to Oxfam’s compound to use their internet connection.  Even though I’m in Chad, I’m still supporting responses in other countries, so I had to answer several emails each from Kenya, Myanmar and Sri Lanka to keep things from stalling, as well as various administrative duties from HQ.  It’s hard to be in a place like Chad and think about budget planning for 2010.

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