With the support of our donors, lives were saved, protected, and transformed in some of the world’s poorest places in 2014. Hungry families were fed, people in crisis were given shelter, and entire communities received abundant clean water.
One of the biggest challenges of 2014 was reaching families displaced by civil war in South Sudan. The problems affecting the world’s newest nation are extremely complex. Many families are still homeless, living in tents or under trees with no shelters. Prices have skyrocketed because of the war, leaving poor families unable to buy food or essential commodities. There is also a looming threat of famine – because they were displaced during the rainy season, many were not able to plant crops. As a result, the annual hunger gap, which is fast approaching in April, is expected to be worse than usual.
Achol was nine months pregnant when she fled with her children after fighting broke out in her village in South Sudan’s Unity State. “I ran when I heard gunfire and saw people running,” she said. “I left with nothing.” Achol gave birth outside – alone – after arriving in a makeshift camp. “I had no food and no blankets. I delivered my baby and spent two days outside. Then I made this shelter,” she said, looking up at the flimsy tent made of sticks and tarps that sheltered her children.
Donations in 2014 helped provide food, shelter, and emergency assistance for many families like Achol’s. Now, families like hers need to move beyond life-saving, emergency aid and rebuild their lives with plans for a better future. As we usher in the new year, we are leading communities in South Sudan to move beyond crisis and relying on short-term hand-outs towards lasting change. Our focus in 2015 includes long-term initiatives, such as:
Providing seeds, tools, and training in sustainable agriculture to farmers
Sharing peacebuilding skills and reconciliation in communities torn apart by violence
Educating children, turning their dreams of a better future into real opportunities
It’s clear that the situation is South Sudan is complex. People like Achol face immense challenges and have great needs. But at World Concern, we refuse to shy away from complex problems because things are too hard. Rather, we tackle these challenges head-on, walking alongside the families in South Sudan into recovery and helping them rebuild their lives.
Though these situations can seem hopeless and overwhelming, we put our full confidence in God – He alone can change lives and circumstances. He can bring peace to any situation, and nothing is too complex for Him. He has called us to be His hands and feet, and equips us with what we need to help the families in South Sudan and other challenging places. As we enter 2015, we rely on the ongoing support of our donors to help families and communities to move beyond crisis towards restoration, healing, and transformation.
There are some places in this world that are difficult places to live. The desert of Northern Somalia (Somaliland) is one of those places. The only thing interrupting the endless view of sand, rocks, and tumbleweeds is an occasional range of low mountains along the horizon. In the middle of the desert, clusters of homes comprise tiny villages. Once a week, the women from these towns walk for an entire day to the hills to get water—the only source of clean water for miles.
“It is so far,” explained Shamse, a young mom who lives here in the desert. “I walk from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. and still only return with a few jerry cans – whatever I can manage to carry.”
The water she manages to bring home last only a few days. When the jerry cans run out, Shamse and her children are forced to drink salty, contaminated water from a nearby hole in the ground. “It makes us sick,” she said.
Many children in this community have died from diarrhea and other water-borne diseases. “As a mother, I feel so sad,” she said. “But there is no doctor here when the children get sick.”
Shamse’s conflict depicts the life-or-death dilemma that many others in the community face every day. The nearest access to clean water is a long and arduous day’s journey away, but local water sources are contaminated and unsuitable for human consumption. It’s a threat that fills Shamse with dread and exhausts her even before she rises from her sleeping mat.
But there is a solution, and it starts with a gift from above — rainwater.
In this region, it rains as little as two or three days a year. But when it does, it rains hard—often causing flooding, as the dry desert ground cannot absorb so much water all at once. Check out this video clip of a flash flood in Somaliland.
We help communities build large underground water storage tanks called berkads. These berkads collect, channel, and filter torrents of rainwater, capturing it for use between rains. The result of just one day of rain: enough clean, fresh drinking water for an entire community for months. In fact, one berkad can hold up to 80,000 gallons of water – that’s enough water not just for drinking, but also for growing crops and keeping livestock healthy and alive.
With berkads, moms like Shamse have access to clean drinking water that is safe for their children and close to home. Some women are even able to earn income from selling the water if a berkad is built near their home.
Along with this life-saving source of water, we provide hygiene training and improved sanitation (latrines and toilets), leading to better health for families in need.
We’ve seen this system work in other communities in the region, but there are many more families waiting for clean water. You can be a part of this and help needy communities build berkads and other sources of water — bringing help and hope to Shamse and others.
Providing clean water for families is the first step to move beyond barely surviving, and toward lasting change. Your gift saves lives and transforms communities long-term. In addition, your year-end gift by Dec. 31 will be matched, dollar for dollar, providing clean, life-saving water to twice as many children and families.
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.
“I want to be the first girl from this village to go to high school.”
As 12-year-old Jackline spoke these words, she glanced up nervously to see if anyone listening to her believed it was possible.
Jackline is a soft-spoken girl from rural Kenya. And she knows that in this part of the world if she doesn’t go to high school, she’ll likely be married off soon—to a man not of her choosing—just like her four sisters were.
But Jackline has a dream of a different kind of life. She dreams of the kind of life you or I would want for our children.
“My father is a sheep trader. He sells animals for money,” explained Jackline. In order for her to attend high school, her father would have to sacrifice too much of his flock, and risk losing the family’s livelihood completely if there was a drought.
“I’m the first girl in my family to go to primary school,” shared Jackline shyly.
In her village, girls Jackline’s age and younger who are not able to attend primary school are living a bleak and sometimes brutal reality.
“They are caring for sheep. They don’t get to play, and they don’t go to school,” she explained. “Sometimes they are beaten by their parents if they make a mistake.”
In her Maasai culture, polygamy is still practiced, which means each of her sisters probably became co-wives of older men who have established flocks of sheep and income to support another young wife. Like most girls in this culture, her sisters will probably have several children by the time they reach 20 years old.
It gets worse… many young girls are subjected to female circumcision—a horrific practice that leaves them permanently marred. “If I were not in school, the process would have started to marry me off,” explained a sweet 10-year-old girl in Jackline’s village. “First, I would be circumcised, then married.”
A high school education for a girl can mean escaping child marriage, extreme poverty, and even abuse.
But something has happened in a nearby village… something Jackline can hardly imagine. One of the girls who received a high school scholarship from World Concern has been accepted to a Kenyan university. Not only was she among the few girls in this region to attend high school, now she’s headed to college.
“I just want to go to the farthest possible level and complete school,” said Jackline. And if she gets this chance, she wants to make sure other girls have the same opportunity. “I want to become a teacher when I finish school so I can teach in this school.”
I know that when girls are educated, amazing things can happen. I’ve seen it, and it’s life-changing. When you donate to the School4Girls campaign, $50 can provide an entire year of education for a girl like Jackline.
Turn her dream into reality by helping a girl like Jackline be the first in her village to attend high school. You’ll change her future and the future of her entire community.
Dust flies as the boys’ feet shuffle across the dirt, their laughter piercing through the quiet late afternoon. The lush green bushes sway with the slight breeze, the sun beating down on their backs as they pass a worn soccer ball to each other. There’s nothing unusual about this playful pick up game – soccer has been played all over the world for centuries. But there’s one small detail that makes this scene extraordinary. The boys are from the Dinka and Nuer tribes – two tribes that have been at conflict with each other for generations.
In South Sudan, the main tribal groups include the Dinka and the Nuer. These nomadic tribes highly value strong warrior ethics. In fact, young men primarily achieve social status by raiding each other’s cattle herds. Young men in these communities, raised to make up a bulk of South Sudan’s guerrilla armies, grew up in a generation of brutal war and tribal tension. This tension is especially prevalent between young people that were educated in the North and those that grew up in the rural villages of the South. Many young people in the South resent those that had the opportunity to attend school in the North, away from the harsh realities of the war.
But among the thorns there are always wildflowers of hope peeking through. In Kuajok, South Sudan, one young man’s passion for loving others – and soccer – is sparking incredible ethnic reconciliation.
After receiving an education in the North, Akol Akol returned to his home village of Kuajok to work as a World Concern staff member. Rather than becoming discouraged by the fighting and disunity he saw in his community, Akol saw an opportunity to use his experiences to pour into the lives of others – and decided to take action.
Inspired by his passion for soccer, Akol organized two neighborhood soccer teams and began meeting with the community’s youth every afternoon for practice, as well as organize tournaments on the weekends. The tension between the Dinka and Nuer youth eased as relationships were built, and soon the constant fighting greatly declined.
The older kids, inspired by Akol’s gentle spirit, began to recognize their responsibility to look after the younger children. The cycle of hate and prejudice began to break down, being replaced with one of acceptance and teamwork.
“He felt that soccer could be a form of reconciliation because they don’t need to be able to talk a lot, they just need to be able to understand the rules of the game and play together as a team,” explains Jane Gunningham, a World Concern staff member that worked closely with Akol. “He just had a heart for peace. He saw something specific he could do, something he knew how to do, and he just did it.”
Changing the world isn’t as hard as you may think. It doesn’t require daunting, expensive, over-the-top plans. It only requires a willingness to practice sincere kindness and invest in others at an individual level.
But sometimes, in a world with so much suffering and brokenness, it can be hard to know which action to take. That’s where World Concern comes in. Through World Concern’s numerous programs, hope isn’t just a distant idea; it’s a tangible reality. Through campaigns such as One Village Transformed, World Concern is committed to pursuing reconciliation and empowering the poor, so that they may in turn share with others.
One of my favorite quotes is by a 20th century cultural anthropologist named Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” How true and encouraging that is.
Just like the way a single skipped stone creates dozens of ripples, it only takes a one act of kindness to set off a tidal wave of reconciliation throughout a hurting world. Whatever cause it may be that tugs at your heartstrings, I encourage you to consider taking a step of faith and seeing where your passions take you – it’ll be worth the risk, I promise.
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.
“I am 40-years-old and above,” shares a poised Canab (pronounced Ah-nahb), “and I have lived in Balanbal my entire life.”
Snuggling up next to her without-a-doubt adorable daughter who is wrapped in a pink burka and wearing a coy smile, Canab tells me, “My children are healthy and they go to school. Some people think the school here is not good, but this is where all of my children have gone.”
We’re sitting on the dirt floor of Canab’s thatch hut – located on the main, and only, road in the very rural village of Balanbal, Somaliland. After meeting each other at one of the village’s recently rehabilitated berkads (a local water catchment system), Canab has invited me into her home to impart on me a bit more of her story.
“This land is difficult. We have suffered many droughts and famines,” Canab says, peering out of her doorway. “In the past, there have been times when we have gone seven days without water.”
I ask her how this makes her feel. The only question my dumbfounded mind is able to conjure up in response.
“My children are my heart, so when there is now water, I worry about them,” she pragmatically answers.
Due to its semi-arid climate, Canab’s village is afflicted by persistent floods and droughts.
“The water is not always enough because we all are sharing, and currently we are experiencing a drought,” says Khadar, a 45-year-old father and lifetime resident of Balanbal.
Due to the area’s extreme weather, water devices such as berkads are necessary in order to catch and hygienically store rainwater – sustaining communities through the seemingly endless dry seasons.
Unfortunately, when a berkad has not been well maintained, it serves as more of a community monument – either inefficiently or un-hygienically storing the water.
“Our berkads used to be dry so we had to get our water from Burao, a faraway town,” explains Canab, reflecting on the past. “We would have to buy the water, but often times we had no money to do so.”
Canab continues, “Additionally, when we suffer, our animals also suffer. For a period of time I only had three goats.”
“The berkads containing water are far away. The nearer berkads have dirty water or are empty,” says Muna, an 18-year-old mother and community member.
Recently, World Concern rehabilitated berkads in Balanbal, also offering hygiene and sanitation community trainings, contributing to a more holistic transformation.
According to Khadar, “Previously, the berkad’s water would only last for ten days. Now the water is enough for three months.”
“The World Concern trainings have taught us how to manage, distribute, and clean the water,” expresses a joyful Canab. “We are also learning about caring for the environment, including planting trees!”
World Concern is partnering with communities across Somaliland to improve their current water situations as well as prevent future disasters from occurring.
“Our eyes have been very opened by the trainings. We are healthier and so are our animals. We have learned many tangible things. As a community, we are helping each other and giving to those in need.”
Clearly, Balanbal’s berkads are now more than rusted tin meeting points – they are tangible symbols of health, income, disaster risk reduction, and community cooperation.
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.
As I walked through a village ravaged by drought and famine, I saw women scavenging for scraps of firewood that they could barter for food to feed their families. I met a young mother who couldn’t have been more than 14 years old. She had two small children to feed and care for, and barely enough food to give them. She went hungry that day so that they could eat. Our eyes met and I reached out to squeeze her hand. In that moment I knew what sacrifice looks like.
In rural Kenya, I met a little girl named Zincia who was in sixth grade and was the only girl left in her class. All the other girls had dropped out of school by her age—some forced into early marriages. Others dropped out simply because there was no water source in their village. Their families needed them to fetch water. This duty consumed six hours of their day, round trip. It is a hard and dangerous chore that leaves no time to even consider school. But one brave little girl managed to grab onto a hope that education would provide for her a better life. I met her eyes and I was humbled by her dedication.
In Haiti, I had to force myself to look into the eyes of a mother who lost a child in the earthquake. The same day she buried her child she was out looking for work. She had three other children who needed her. There was no time for self-pity or even for grieving. Her children depended on her and so she got up and did what she needed to do so that they would eat that day. As our eyes met, I was no longer a humanitarian; I was just a mom who saw my sister’s suffering.
Through my work with World Concern, I have walked in some of the neediest places in the world. It’s hard to see some of the things I see … until I remember that God sees each of those that suffer and He knows them by name. Sometimes what I see makes my cry. Sometimes I want to look away… But I am always amazed by the resilience and strength I see too in the women I meet. And they—my sisters—are worthy of respect and dignity, not pity.
March 8 is International Women’s Day. The first International Women’s Day was observed in 1911. Now, more than 100 years later, the need to see, recognize, and respond to the issues women face in developing nations remains great. They each have a story of sacrifice, resilience, hard work, and determination. And, I am committed to maintaining “eye contact” with them until they and their daughters are truly seen.
For the first time ever in its 40-year existence, the village of Maramara has clean water.
Life in Eastern Chad has been a constant struggle. Water is scarce in the parched Sahel desert. Most of the region was destroyed during the Darfur conflict, causing communities like Maramara to have to fight even harder to survive.
Up until last month, the nearest source of clean water is a three-hour walk—each way. Mothers often abandoned this burden and gathered dirty, contaminated water from a closer source. As a result, children were sick with diarrhea and diseases like dysentery.
With the support of World Concern through a One Village Transformed partnership with Northridge Church, the community was empowered to contribute to the construction of their new well. Village members provided 500 bricks, sand, gravel and their own human resources. A drilling rig was brought in, and the result is fresh, safe drinking water, better health … and joy in the hearts of Maramara residents.
We invite you to share in the excitement of what clean water means to this community through their own words:
“To God who exposed water to dust! Now, I make as many trips as needed and plenty of water. Enough time to look for food for my children. Children take a bath every day. I now can make supplies of hay in good quantity for my cattle. May God reward love towards us.” – Amkhallah Souleymane
“Since I started drinking clean water from the pump, I wake up each morning energized. Kids have shining faces and clean clothes. There are no more worries about women delaying when fetching water. Thank you very much and may God bless you.” – Ahmat Abbo Dahab
“The taste makes me want to drink without stopping! Pains that I often used to feel at certain times of the day have begun to disappear. The water well we use to drink from is now used by many to make bricks for housing. From the bottom of your heart you decided that we get water and I see the commitment you have to help us. May the Almighty bless you.” – Mustapha Mahamat
“When I see how clean the water is in a container, I laugh. My body and clothes are clean since I started using this water. The millet I wash is clean. The food is well prepared because I have water and time. I am grateful to God and ask Him to protect and bless you in your activities.” – Hassani Moussa
“I follow my mom with a small container. It makes me happy to see mom jump when pumping water. Thank you.” – Fatimé Zakaria
“I feel less pain in my body. I don’t have to borrow a donkey to fetch water. Invitations to fetch water are over. I’m thankful for the rest you allow me to have.” – Achta bireme