Last month we told you about thousands of innocent families who were forced to flee their homes because of fighting in Northern Myanmar. These families arrived in overcrowded camps with nothing. People were sleeping outdoors in the cold and children were sick. Many of you stepped up and donated. Here are some photos just in from our staff in Myanmar showing how we’re helping.
Thoeum Thaiy came across World Concern’s Free Them 5k while looking for his next race. A friend had encouraged him to start running, and he’d completed his first 5k in March of 2012. He knew that registering for another event would keep him hitting the pavement. That’s when he heard about the Free Them 5k.
“The cause really resonated with me,” he said.
Thoeum was born in Cambodia, and his family immigrated to Thailand in 1979. They lived in refugee camps for several years when Thoeum was very young. He has little recollection of that period in his life, but his older siblings often talk about the experience.
“It struck a chord with me—the mission—with my background (as a refugee). It seemed like a perfect fit,” he said.
Thoeum set what he thought was a pretty aggressive fundraising goal: $1,000. He wrote his own story on his fundraising page, then encouraged friends and family to help him protect vulnerable kids and families in places like Cambodia and Thailand who are at risk of human trafficking.
He posted the link to his fundraising page on Facebook and sent several emails to coworkers and other contacts. Right away he raised about $700.
“It was surprising and amazing how many people gave,” he said. Thoeum was most surprised by generous coworkers—some he hadn’t had much contact with recently—who gave about $200.
Although his initial goal seemed high, “as it inched closer, it was exciting to see the number tick up,” he said.
An employee of Merrill Lynch, Thoeum took advantage of his company’s matching gift program, which added another $700, and enabled him to surpass his goal.
Thoeum ended up raising $1,900 for the 2012 Free Them 5k, making him the top fundraiser last year.
“It doesn’t take a lot of effort or time to do a Facebook post,” he said. “Folks are willing and want to help. All it takes is that initial step of asking.”
Whether you sign up today, or you’ve already registered, be encouraged by the success of Theoum and others and give your fundraising page a push. Your goal may be closer than you think!
As I visited our work in villages in Laos with my wife, I was reminded more clearly than ever that basic hygiene and sanitation just doesn’t exist in some places in the world.
In the village of Dak Euy, we saw children barely old enough to walk relieving themselves right in the middle of the village.
Human beings should not have to live like this. It’s not just a matter of dignity. For these villagers, this lack of hygiene and sanitation is killing them.
You and I know how to prevent disease, but people who live in poor and marginalized villages have not yet heard. They don’t know to use toilets – or to at least isolate where they go to the bathroom or wash their hands.
What they are very familiar with, however, is disease, illness and death.
It is common for kids to die before they reach their fifth birthday in Dak Euy and the surrounding villages. Conservatively, through our interviews, I estimate at least 10% of children don’t reach the age of five. This is 17 times higher than the child mortality rate in the U.S.
By another estimate, half of the children are, dying before age five. It is no wonder that in these tribal communities, children are not immediately named, and that repeatedly throughout our trip, we met mothers who have lost children. As the father of a healthy, silly, 4-year-old girl, it hurts to even begin to imagine their pain.
Malaria, typhoid, dysentery – these preventable diseases all plague villagers – and especially hit the most vulnerable people the worst: children born into unclean environments, with little food, no clean water, and fragile immune systems.
Poor sanitation and accompanying water-borne disease is one of the worst health problems in the world. It is undoubtedly one of the primary killers of these kids.
With no sanitation, the cycle of sickness repeats itself over and over again.
As a hardy world traveler, I pride myself on never getting sick. But on this trip, I ended my stint in SE Asia with a flat-on-my-back, gotta-be-near-the bathroom, upset stomach yuck fest. I did not want to do anything but read a book, go to sleep, and stay near the bathroom. And I was clutching my stomach in a hotel room in Bangkok, not on the dirty, hard floor of a hut with no bathroom at all.
I cannot imagine dealing with that kind of discomfort, and far worse, for much of my life. I shudder to think about what that would do to me both physically and mentally, to have this occur over and over again. But this is daily life for so many villagers in Dak Euy, and many other struggling communities.
I am glad to say that our supporters (that’s you!) are helping villagers get beyond this cycle of disease.
While I was visiting our villages, our contracted drilling truck arrived and we hit water for a new well in Dak Din. It was incredible, one of the most exciting moments of my life! Just imagine the transformative power of clean, convenient water. We are also teaching villagers about hygiene (thank God!), and doing it in a way that it will stick.
We will be constructing latrines in these communities, with the help of the villagers. And because they are learning why and how, they can build more latrines once we leave. The idea with all of our work is for it to be transformational, not temporary. Our desire in these villages is for children to use a latrine, wash their hands – and stay healthy.
When I look at the ground in these villages, I am repelled that people and animals relieve themselves wherever they please. And yet I know by visiting developing communities, that life does get better. Disease subsides. And that’s what we’re shooting for in these villages in Laos.
Changing lives is working with people over time, revealing a better path – not just directing people to “our way.” In doing so, in loving people with sincerity, we show them a clearer look at the life God would want for any of us.
I’m reminded at times like this that the places where World Concern works are remote. It’s day three of “getting there” and we have at least another day to go.
I’m in Lamam, Laos, now with my wife Kathryn and a team to document what donors equip us to do in these very poor and remote villages. It’s 6:30 a.m., but the roosters began crowing long ago, and people have already begun to work as day breaks.
The villages where we are working all start with the word “Dak.” Dak Din, Dak Noi, Dak Euy. Dak means water. Even though a stream runs nearby these villages, which I expect to be the source of the names, access to clean drinking water remains one of the most significant challenges in these communities.
You may have heard of Dak Din before. We’ve profiled it in our One Village Transformed campaign, and have begun work there with the villagers to bring new life to the community. With the villagers, we have identified clean water, education and income generation as some areas of urgent need.
Now that Dak Din (forest water) is underway, we’re checking in to see how things are going there – one year since our campaign began. We’re also visiting Dak Noi (small water) and Dak Euy (big water), neighboring communities that share similar challenges.
Last time I was here, one year ago, I met little girls who were about four years old, the age of my daughter, Violet. Their days are filled with labor, including pounding rice and fetching water – dirty water at that. Not all of them will have the chance to get medical care, or go to school. The supporters of One Village Transformed aim to change that.
I hope my heart breaks again. I don’t mean to be touchy-feely here, but I seem to forget how the majority of the world lives as I go about my day-t0-day regular-life job. It’s easy to forget this alternate reality, as my wife and I laugh at our daughter playing princess or ballerina, and we mind how much Violet watches the iPad, or if she’s eaten most of her dinner (most of which gets thrown away).
The fact is – our abundance blinds us to the rest of the world. And we will continue to stay blind to it until we decide to make the intentional choice to see it, and respond.
I believe that God loves people equally, regardless of where they happened to be born. As I read scripture, the call to the rich is a steep one, to give up what keeps us from seeing Him, and serving Him. Christ’s compassion for the poor is consistent. He takes sides, and expects us to also.
This is a week of renewed enlightenment, I pray – and I am reminded that we are not heroes here – going in to fix the problems and deliver the “poor” from their misery.
The reality is, God is already at work here. And the villagers here probably know more about life and joy than I ever will. They certainly know more about hardship. I believe the purpose of this work we do is to be with the poor – walking with them, learning with them – and arriving at a better place, in time, where the love and truth of God is fully realized.
Sometimes we get asked, “Why do you help people in other countries instead of the poor right here at home in the U.S.?”
Good question and one I think is worth answering.
Every nonprofit has a mission – a calling they aim to fulfill through their work. There are more than a million nonprofits based in the U.S. Many help with domestic issues and serve people here, while others help internationally. Some do both.
We at World Concern feel a special calling to help those in the poorest, least developed and often hardest to reach places in the world. That’s our mission. We seek out places to serve where climate and geography, societal instability and scarce infrastructure create incredible challenges – both to the people living there, and in terms of reaching them with help.
One example of this is in our response to the Horn of Africa drought crisis. The most practical place to help would have probably been the refugee camps in eastern Kenya. But there were already many organizations responding within the camps. As we assessed the area and the situation, it became clear there was an added strain being put on communities surrounding the camps and near the Somalia border as tens of thousands of displaced people were arriving in these towns.
We saw an unmet need and made the decision to support these communities – with food, access to water, medical care and emergency supplies. Since August, we’ve fed thousands of people, many who had been walking for weeks in search of assistance. Some might not have survived the last leg of the journey to the camps. Others have settled in these communities – a better place to start a new life than a refugee camp.
These communities are dangerous places to work. They are under almost constant threat of attack by militia. On the Somalia side of the border, we are one of only a few organizations working there. But we see this as fulfilling our calling to reach people in desperate need in hard to reach places.
Some of the villages where we serve in Laos are cut off from society because of rain, mud, rivers and damaged roads. The people there have no way to access food or medical attention if needed.
Thanks to infrastructure, development and government assistance here in the U.S., communities are rarely cut off from aid, even in a disaster. We’re finding ways to reach people in remote parts of the world – because few others will.
In American culture, there is a an emphasis on helping ourselves before we help others. The self-help world tells us that taking care of our own needs first is as important as on our own oxygen mask on an airplane before assisting others. We secretly aim to make sure our own children have enough Christmas presents before giving to others in need. As Christians, we’re called to put the needs of others before our own (Phil. 2:3-4). This is not to say we shouldn’t support the needs of the poor here at home. But what would Jesus say about the idea of “helping our own” before reaching out to others?
Last night my 4 month old daughter, Alyssa laughed for the first time. She had been showing signs of the laughter soon to come with short giggles for several weeks, but last night was different. Last night was full out, joy filled, uncontainable laughter. I thought about going to get the camera to record it but was so excited to see her laugh that I decided not to waste my time with the camera. I wanted to relish in this beautiful moment and so I did and loved every moment.
I could choose to stay home with Alyssa each day and spend all day teaching her how to blow bubbles and roll over, but instead each morning I give her a kiss good bye and send her to daycare with her daddy. I make this decision, because I work for World Concern and I love my job.
I know it’s not the most glamorous job, nor do I find myself at the front lines of our work, but I know that I am part of a team – a team that brings food and water to victims of famine, healthcare to the sick and small loans to the poor. I get to come into work each day and hear all the stories of people World Concern is helping around the world. I know that most of those stories come from women not all that different than myself.
These women have suffered much more than I could imagine and have faced tragedy like I have never seen. I have so much respect and compassion for them. I know that if you look deep in their eyes, I mean really deep, past the pain, the hunger, and fear you can see a woman, a mom, and a wife who wants nothing more than to be able to provide for her family. She is a mom who just wants to be able to play with her newborn and see laughter in her baby’s eyes.
Instead, of laughter, she has to listen to the hunger pains and the tired voices of her little ones. Instead of wrapping chubby little legs in blankets at night, she gets to wrap her small and fragile child in scraps of clothing. These women, long for something better for their children and I know that World Concern works hard to give that to them.
World Concern is participating in the 1,000 Days campaign by serving mothers, newborns and children (often the most vulnerable to malnutrition) through nutrition education, healthcare, emergency feeding programs, home gardening, and agricultural support. In Chad, World Concern trains women and their families to grow sack gardens outside their homes. Sack gardens produce leafy green vegetables in order to supplement the family’s diets with much needed nutrients. Ninety-six percent of these families reported that they were harvesting crops weekly and most were convinced that sack gardening was useful and helped women feed their families a healthy diet.
Many of these same families later participated in a follow up training on water management and vegetable business production so that women can continue to grow crops longer into the dry season as well as sell some of her crops to other families. By selling her crops, a woman not only creates an income for her family but also encourages others to eat nutritious vegetables as well.
Much of Bangladesh’s population earns a living through agriculture but for the young woman without any land to grow crops for her family, she must find a way to earn a living another way. World Concern is giving these women microloans to start their own businesses. These women learn to embroider cloth, make candles, sew table cloths and more. They are also given business training like managing accounts, banking and cash flow projection along with training on discrimination of women, basic health and environmental concerns. The income earned allows an entrepreneur to provide a safe and warm home for her children as well as education and good nutrition.
So, for me, yes my heart breaks a little each time I have to say goodbye to my little girl, even for just a few hours. But it’s worth it. I know that I am part of a team transforming the lives of people in the most desperate circumstances so that, like myself they can see joy instead of hunger in their children’s eyes.
This is one way that I can make a small sacrifice and teach my daughter the importance of caring for those in need. I know that Alyssa will be there waiting for me when I come to pick her up and she’ll give me a giant grin, and maybe now even break out into laughter.
A foul smell emanates from dark, stagnant floodwaters in many parts of Thailand as evacuation orders continue in Bangkok. Flooding has affected 64 of Thailand’s 77 provinces, caused by 40 percent more rain than average.
By supporting Christian Volunteers Serving in Thailand (CVSI), World Concern has been able to respond quickly, evacuating families and distributing food, medical supplies and survival kits to remote areas – some of which have received no help from government or aid organizations.
Volunteers discovered families who had been unable to leave their homes because those offering boats for evacuation were charging inflated, illegal rates just to take families to the main road.
Grateful flood victims began to recognize the volunteers in their bright orange life vests and inflatable boats, calling them the “Christian boat.”
True to our commitment to serve the unreached and those in greatest need, we helped evacuate and feed isolated families from these areas, including an apartment complex of immigrants who had recently moved to Bangkok to work. Most knew no one and had nowhere to go.
Families were sheltered in local churches. We provided 6,000 hot meals, as well as survival kits containing rice, sweet potatoes, infant formula, basic medicine and other necessities to more than 1,000 people.
Our Disaster Lifeline fund enables us to be able to respond to disasters in areas where we work, quickly and efficiently, reaching people with life-saving assistance.
As the mom of two toddlers, Seattle resident Carrie Yu is sickened by statistics and stories of children being trafficked into the sex trade in places like Cambodia and Thailand. So when she heard about the “Free Them” 5k Run/Walk to stop human trafficking, she was excited to find a tangible way she could do something to help.
“As a parent, it’s heart-breaking to think about. I can’t imagine having to make the decision to sell a child into slavery in order to survive,” said Carrie. “I can’t go into the mission field, but I can run for this cause. I can raise money. This is something I can do right now where I am in my life.”
Carrie will join more than 1,000 other runners and walkers in the “Free Them” 5k tomorrow, Saturday, May 7, at World Concern’s headquarters in Seattle. In addition to raising funds for child trafficking prevention and rescue programs, the event raises awareness about this horrific crime. More than 1 million children are trafficked each day around the world – some into prostitution; others into forced labor. The average age is just 12 years old.
“Human trafficking is something we don’t talk about much here, but we need to speak up. This is not right,” said Carrie.
You can do something too. Come out and join us at the race tomorrow morning! Register online at www.worldconcern.org/5k or in person at the event, beginning at 8:30 a.m. World Concern’s headquarters is located on the CRISTA Ministries campus at 19303 Fremont Ave. N., Seattle, Washington.
See you there!
When I opened the email and saw this photo, I could hardly believe my eyes. Were these the same boys that captured our hearts last July? The sight of them in their clean white school uniform shirts brought a lump to my throat.
They’re okay, I thought. No, look at them! They’re better than okay.
We first heard the story of these three inseparable 11-year-old friends last summer. Our child protection team in Asia had identified the boys, Oury, Navin and Pandey, as being at high risk for trafficking.
They spent their days, unsupervised, digging through garbage at the city dump, looking for recyclables to sell. The orange tint to Pandey’s hair – a sign of malnutrition – indicated he wasn’t getting enough to eat. He is the fifth of six children. His father is disabled and drinks every day.
Their broken families and hardships brought them together as friends. Their will to survive bonded them. They worked together as partners, they said, because they could collect more trash and finish sooner. They dreamed of using their “profits” to become engineers and building skyscrapers in Cambodia some day.
We worked with them, slowly encouraging them to attend our School on a Mat program, knowing they would resist giving up their income from the dump. At first, they continued to go to the dump in the mornings and attended school in the afternoons. They learned about the dangers of trafficking and how to avoid abuse and exploitation.
Now they’re safe and attending school regularly. And, they’re one step closer to their dream of becoming engineers.
World Concern’s humanitarian aid programs in Asia run the gamut, from disaster response, to job training, to education. I had the chance recently to document our programs in Asia over the course of 40 days. Today I mapped it out on Google. Follow along and learn about what World Concern does in the lives of the poor.
View World Concern Journey Across Asia in a larger map