Day 2: Nothing much to say about this day, other than it’s not an overwhelmingly pleasant experience to try to sleep on 10 to 12 hour plane flights.
On the plus side, the airlines still have not cut the meals from these trans-continental flights. If they did, I am sure there would be a revolt.
Day 3: Daylight was just beginning to break when we arrived in Kenya. It was cooler than I expected, but still a little muggy. I was surprised to find the jet didn’t pull up to a gate. It just parked in the vast expanse of tarmac, a stairway was pulled up next to the plane, and everybody walked off onto the concrete.
We soon bought our visas, cleared customs and hooked up with Tracy, the knowledgeable outgoing country director for Kenya. She led us to our waiting white van. We met the Kenyan driver, an affable fellow named Gordon. He seemed to know a little bit about everything, including a complete history of giraffes in Kenya.
Once on the road, we saw the many matatus, small buses about the size of a Volkswagen Vanagon, packed full of people. The average matatu has 14 seats; it costs less than a dollar for a trip across town, about four dollars to cities two hours away. While some matatus are in good condition, others look as if they have been in a demolition derby, it seems that all matatus are driven in a very spirited fashion. I would not dare to drive in Kenya and am thankful we had a local at the wheel.
I was also amazed to see how many people walk in Kenya. And there are no sidewalks. People have just have cut paths through the trees, even along on the road leading up to the airport. They cannot afford vehicles, so they’re off on foot or bicycles. And just about everybody’s dressed up. It looks like they are off to job interviews, with polished shoes and briefcases as they walk through the dirt. Still, the unemployment here is significant. The country is one of the poorest in the world.
As we drove, we occasionally saw glimpses of the extreme poverty: fields covered in garbage, rows and rows of shacks with metal roofs and people cooking over campfires. Vendors walk through traffic and sell trinkets and newspapers. After we navigated through a couple of smoggy traffic jams, we got checked into the hotel, a quaint place with a couple of security guards that caters toward Christian relief workers.
Tracy then guided us to see where World Concern’s offices in Kenya, Africa. We met the staff, got a rundown of what World Concern does in Kenya, as well as an overview of all of the operations across Africa. This field office is for all of World Concern’s projects in the continent.
Over the course of several weeks, I will post journal entries from my recent trip to Kenya.
Here is day 1:
Today I packed up my video camera, digital camera and all of the rest of my gear and headed to the airport for the long couple of flights that will lead me to Kenya. I met the other travelers, the people I will get to know very well over the next couple of weeks. I already know Lisa, the guide of the group and my co-worker. She’s a devoted mother of two middle-school-aged boys who occasionally takes these around-the-world trips to show donors or potential donors World Concern’s projects.
At the airport, I met John and Linda, a couple with a background in commercial fishing. John often travels up to Alaska to check out his fishing boats, but neither he nor his wife have been to Africa. John and Linda knew of another member of the trip through businesses connections. Her name is Kari, a sharply dressed Norwegian-born woman whose late husband also was in the commercial fishing business.
I also met Cari and Todd, who have three younger children and a real estate development business. All of those on the trip obviously have some degree of interest in humanitarian aid, helping those in the developing world. We had dinner together, then we were off to our flight to London’s Heathrow airport.
Before we took off, I called my wife, who is six months pregnant with our first child.
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.
This past weekend, I met a high school student in Arlington, Washington, who decided that her senior high school project would be to benefit World Concern. Of course, I liked the idea.
What surprised me is the execution of her benefit – and the response of the community. Megan Edmonds had heard about World Concern’s projects to bring clean water into communites through the construction of wells. She saw in World Concern’s Global Gift Guide that $1,400 could finance the construction of one machine-drilled well in a developing country. So that’s what she set out to do. Raise $1,400 and build a well.
But humanitarian Megan accomplished so much more.
Through generous donations from her community, she offered more than 20 auction items. Friends and community members bid on the items during an evening event at a local church. After a short presentation about the value and need for clean water, people generously gave for the cause.
Instead of $1,400, Megan raised more than $7,000. That’s enough for five wells.
I don’t know how many lives will be touched because of Megan’s fundraiser and the generousity of the Arlington community. But to be sure, there are people who will be receiving a clean water for the first time in their lives. They will have a much better chance of taking a drink and not getting an intestinal parasite. Or some other kind of disease. Or just a cup full of muddy water. They will actually enjoy taking a drink.
I am inspired to work harder and help those who do not have the basics of life. I know Megan enjoyed the experience of the fundraiser. And I am sure the donors got a thrill as they took a leap of faith and put their money where their heart is. Best of all, though, it really will do some good.
Humanitarian aid and relief groups are asking President-elect Obama to pay attention to the human rights disaster in Darfur, Sudan, as soon as he takes office. The idea is referred to as a “peace surge,” a way to reach an agreement to work out terms of peace by bringing the warring groups to the table together.
Obama may have a better chance to work out a deal right now, because the president of Sudan has agreed to an immediate, unconditional cease-fire with Darfur rebels.
Just imagine what’s left over from a major storm along the coast. Debris clogging a bay under a blue sky, floating and rolling with the waves and the tide. Branches, tarps, trash. Then imagine taking a closer look – and realizing that among the debris are bodies, bobbing and haphazardly mixed up in the mess. Bloated. Filthy. Sons, daughters, friends and wives. Dozens of humans, maybe even a hundred.
I saw a photo today the scene I just described. I may never forget it.
One of World Concern’s humanitarian relief workers in Southeast Asia took the photo several months ago. The location: Myanmar. You may remember a cyclone hit there a few months ago. It’s always difficult to grasp large numbers, but 138,000 people died in the storm, according to official figures. That’s the population of Syracuse, New York.
World Concern was working in Myanmar when the storm hit. We were helping people build simple livelihoods in the incredibly poor country. We were showing people techniques to run fish farms and helping them secure clean water supplies and education for their children. These kinds of projects bring people just off of the brink – and hopefully lay the groundwork for healthier, sustainable lives.
When the storm hit, that all changed.
World Concern Myanmar quickly switched from development mode into full-time humanitarian aid and disaster relief. Because we were one of a select few relief agencies permitted to be in the country, working there since 1995, we were in an excellent position to help. Nearly all of the 200 staff members at World Concern Myanmar are from the country. Undoubtedly, they all suffered personal loss because of Cyclone Nargris. Still, they continued to help with the relief efforts.
One of the most significant ways World Concern helped in Myanmar was to retrieve bodies. A tough responsibility. Not only did we want to respect the dead, it truly became a health hazard. I cannot imagine how emotionally traumatizing this work must have been for our staff.
Since the cyclone, people in Myanmar are rebuilding their lives, as best they can. We are helping them in a variety of ways, including the renewal of clean water supplies, reconstruction of homes and by offering them resources to get back to work.
I cannot forget the photo of the debris-clogged bay. I am just stunned by the amount of destruction and human loss people there have faced. All of this reminds me that even with economic turmoil here in America, we cannot possibly look away from disasters like this in good conscience.