The explosion we heard tonight was powerful, rumbling, and – thankfully – not next door. We’re guessing it was a land mine on the outskirts of town.
I’m in Sri Lanka, a country that only last year ended a 26-year-long civil war. There remains tension between the warring ethnic groups – tension that World Concern is trying to help ease through economic opportunities and relationship building.
Land mines are a fact of life (and death) here in the part of the country last to see conflict. Mine clearance crews have picked up most of the mines, but not all. Caution tape and red skull and cross-bone signs mark the hazard zones. Some of these hazard zones are not very far from tents set up by families who have lost their homes in the war.
World Concern is working to bridge ethnic tensions to reduce the chance of war returning to this beautiful country.
Most importantly, though, we are assisting those civilians who have lost everything. I met a woman tonight whose late husband was almost exactly my age. She held a portrait of him, as she sat beside her mud and sticks home. She says a bomb blast killed him as he was working his field on his tractor.
Now – occasionally flashing a beautiful smile between looks of great sadness – she tells us she’s raising her three children alone. The smallest boy still doesn’t understand where daddy went. Seeing people who have lost everything – family, home, income, and sense of security – brings the reality of what war really is to the forefront of my mind. Really, what is worth this kind of pain?
I don’t want to get into a recap of the long conflict between the Tamil Tiger militants – identified as terrorists – and the Sri Lankan government, but I do want to say that it is incredibly painful to see the end result of this long-simmering angst.
I pray that I don’t meet many more widows in my life like I did today. Jesus, please bring your peace.
Here are some thoughts from Mark Lamb, World Concern Ministry Development Coordinator, who is leaving tonight for Sri Lanka. He and other headquarters staff will be visiting areas of Sri Lanka where World Concern is helping victims of the country’s civil war rebuild their lives. They will be documenting their experiences on this blog.
I’m leaving for Sri Lanka tonight and I haven’t started packing. I’m not worried about it yet because my wife has worried enough for both of us. I probably shouldn’t take is so lightly, but I’m still wrapped up in the routine of American life. I got up this morning at the same time I always do, got ready in the same order and got to work at exactly 7:40 a.m. My days are governed by routine and the outcomes are almost always predictable.
In 2009, a civil war which had affected an entire generation came to a close. More than 80,000 people lost their lives, entire villages were destroyed and countless children are now without fathers or mothers.
In two days I’ll be standing in these communities, among people who have experienced complete devastation. I know from the stories our Sri Lanka staff relays that I’ll meet children who lost limbs during the fighting. I know I’ll meet people who have watched as loved ones were maimed or killed, and I know I’ll be met by blank stares from people who have lost all hope for the future.
But right now I’m sitting at my desk, in my routine, and I know I don’t have the reaction I should.
Learn more about World Concern’s work in Sri Lanka.
A few months back I saw a photograph of a boy sifting through garbage in a dump in Bangladesh, looking for something that wasn’t rotten to eat. My heart ached for him, and I felt compelled to help this young victim of extreme poverty in some way. Short of praying for him to receive help, there didn’t seem much I could do for that particular boy. But I can help others just like him, in some very tangible ways. And so can you.
Think about how buying a farm animal for a family goes so far beyond a temporary fix – it’s a source of lasting income and nutrition. Or, how sending a child like that boy in the dump to school for a year, or purchasing a uniform and school supplies, offer hope for a better future beyond a single meal or hand out.
World Concern’s Global Gift Guide literally allows you to “shop” for ways to transform lives with powerfully meaningful gifts. At the same time, you’re solving the dilemma of what to get friends and family members this holiday season.
The 2011 Global Gift Guide is hot off the press and in the mail this week, or you can also easily order online. Here’s what’s new this year:
A solar cooker for a Darfur war refugee in Chad. Imagine cooking in a crock pot, heated by the sun’s energy. But its benefits go far beyond a warm meal. A solar cooker means that women who usually gather firewood will no longer have to risk her safety gathering sticks – or spend her family’s meager income on fuel for cooking. Plus, her children can’t burn themselves on the solar cooker, and the family’s hut is safe from fire.
A profitable pig for a family in Myanmar. One sow can produce 20 piglets a year, and in six months, each piglet grows to 200 pounds. Pigs produce pigs – and in turn – help make an income. They also provide protein for undernourished girls and boys in this country recovering from a devastating cyclone.
Farm tools to share. A donkey or horse plow, automatic seeder, horse cart or peanut huller helps up to 25 families. This gear, including a horse plow, is shared or rented – making higher-yield production. The farm tools benefit families in Chad who are refugees or displaced because of the Darfur war.
Disaster recovery for a community. With the one-year anniversary of the massive earthquake in Haiti approaching on Jan. 12, and an estimated one million people still homeless, your Christmas shopping money could mean a family is equipped to start their live over in a disaster-torn community. What could have more impact than shelter from a storm or being able to restart a business that was destroyed?
In addition to these new items, the guide is full of life-changing gifts: wells for villages in Kenya, schooling for a deaf child in Bangladesh, plus vegetable gardens, orchards, immunizations and business loans.
Please join us and share this with your friends. You can make a lasting difference in the lives of others – including your loved ones in whose names the gifts are given.
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?!
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.
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.
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.
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.
This post is direct from the journal of Merry Fitzpatrick. She is providing disaster relief to the people in Chad, Africa.
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Today is Thanksgiving and I’m in Chad. It means nothing to the people around me. I knew I’d be out of the States today, so I celebrated with a nephew and some neighbors last Saturday just before leaving. That helps.
I arrived on Tuesday afternoon (along with my baggage, hallelujah) and was picked up at the airport by Jonas, our local logistician. All our work is on the other side of the country so the rest of the team is there. Unfortunately, the capital has the one international airport so we have to pass through here when we arrive and depart. So we keep a simple house and a room for Jonas’ office here.
Because of security, we have to take UN flights to get to the field. Last week we were sending out a 4×4 vehicle we’d purchased and it was attacked along the way by bandits. No one was hurt and nothing was stolen, but we did have to replace a couple of wheels.
Jonas met me with Adoum, a taxi guy we use on occasion. Adoum borrows a car off the owner and they split the fare. The car is an ancient little sedan that rattles and shakes along on 2 to 3 cylinders at a time. Sometimes the windows will open or close, sometimes not. At the house I met up with Nick, our Deputy Relief Director who is also visiting Goz Beida. All houses here are surrounded by high walls, even if your house is made of mud. Our compound is rather small and the kitchen, such as it is, is tucked away in a little cement block room in the back corner of the compound. Just inside the gate is a large bougainvillea vine that sprawls along the wall, showering down bright pink-purple flowers during the night (which the guard sweeps with maddening enthusiasm before 6am). These plants are great in that they grow in both rainy and dry areas and their thorny confusion of branches provides much better security than barbed wire – while also being quite beautiful.
The walls and floors are cement and the walls are painted an odd pink. The 3 bedrooms contain beds and nothing else. Some built-in closets in one room provide storage for our field team’s city clothes and such. The living room contains a small fridge (the only one in the house), a sofa/armchair set and a coffee table, and nothing else. The house is mainly just for people to transit through, so it doesn’t need much more. The compound across the narrow sandy street is occupied by a variety of young singles, so loud contemporary African music blares through most of the day. Noise isn’t the villain here that it is in the States so you confuse people if you are upset by loud music or whatever.
Down the street, across an open sandy area littered with trash there are a few shops and restaurants. The restaurants are tin shacks with plastic tables and chairs set around on a dirt floor. In a corner 3 sinks with running water are lined up – a bit of a luxury in a place like this. Usually there is just a metal tank with a spigot. People eat mainly with their hands, so washing is important. There are rarely ever any women in the restaurants as this is a Muslim section of town. Because I’m obviously a foreigner, they don’t mind when I go there to eat. Last night Nick and I went down there for a plate of fries and a large glass of fresh guava and banana juice for supper. It didn’t make me sick, so I’ll probably go there for supper tonight too.
Nick’s flight to Goz Beida left early this morning and Jonas is chasing down a number of different signatures, so I’m largely on my own today. Today is Thursday; Monday morning between flights was the last time I was able to download emails, so Jonas took me to a cyber café on the back of his motorcycle and dropped me off. It is the best connection in town, but is still slow and erratic. It took me about half an hour to receive my emails, then another hour of constant trying and retrying to get the emails in my outbox to send. Everything here takes more time and effort.
Normally, we have to overnight on our way to Goz Beida in a pit of a town called Abeche, but miracle of miracles, I will be on a rare flight tomorrow that will connect directly with a flight to Goz Beida, arriving almost the same time as Nick, even though he left 24 hours before me – which I’ve kindly reminded him of about a hundred times. The flights are coordinated by the UN and we’re allowed only 15kg (about 30 pounds) of luggage, including our carry-on bags because the planes are so small. Considering an ordinary laptop weighs 4 to 5 pounds (2-3kg), this doesn’t leave much for personal gear. There are also always supplies and spare parts to take to the field as well. So we usually end up with about half the weight for our personal items. That’s about enough for a few toiletries, shower shoes, a flashlight, about 4 changes of clothes, a towel, a book or two, and some small odds and ends. Really though, that’s about all you need as long as you can get your clothes washed once or twice a week.
I pray all goes well tomorrow and I don’t get stuck in Abeche.
Still traveling. It’s already been a long trip and it’s still only half done. Leaving Seattle on Sunday evening, I’ll arrive in Ndjamena on Tuesday.
On arrival, we’ll immediately apply for my travel permit to go to Goz Beida, the town in the east where we work. Because it is a conflict zone, the government must control which foreigners go into the area. As we have permission to work there and an on-going program, it is little more than a formality, but it must be done and it takes time.
Usually about a day – if we catch the right people at their desks. Then I’ll get a seat on a UN flight to Abeche, the main town in the east where I’ll have to spend the night, arriving in Goz Beida on Thursday or more likely Friday. So that means travelling from Sunday to Friday to get to our base. The airline I’m on is notorious for losing bags – about half the time I have to wait days or weeks for my bags to show up. Once, after 4 months, they showed up on another continent, 6,000 miles away. Another time they never did arrive. Now, I carry the essentials with me plus any valuable equipment I am taking to the field.
I’ve been doing disaster relief work for about 13 years now. It is unlike anything else in the world. Mind-numbing days of tedium and discomfort mixed with unbelievable moments exhilaration when things work out that more than make it all worthwhile – when you can provide disaster relief to someone. After so many years, the learning curve is still very steep. It’s one of the things that makes disaster relief and aid work so exhausting while at the same time so compelling. Until the last few years, I was always based in the field, working for months and even years in a single place, on a single crisis. Now, I work more as an advisor and hop around to different programs. One of the things I miss most in my new role is the close relationships with my teams.
Although I helped start this program in Chad (a country in Africa) a year and a half ago, I expect to learn a lot on this trip, as I do on every trip. I expect to learn not just about Chad, or this particular crisis, or about specific techniques, but also about people in general – the people we are there to serve, our team on the ground, and even myself. As Chadian food isn’t exactly my favorite, I expect I’ll lose a bit of myself as well (in pounds).
Today is my brother’s 40th birthday. I wonder if I can call him from the airport in Rome where we’ll have to sit on the runway for an hour between 8 hour flights.
Everyone can picture a hundred different types of disasters and what disaster relief means. They’re often featured in news reports. Many of us have also been victims of one type of disaster or another, big or small. World Concern works in many places around the globe that are especially prone to disasters. Poverty and vulnerability go hand in hand.
If there is a flood in the US, we generally have insurance and a bit of savings. If there is a fire, there are firemen. When our children are ill, we take them to the doctor. To prevent the worst of illnesses, we have vaccinations available. In our large and blessed country, if there is a drought in one part of the country help can come from another part across a vast network of paved roads, or reservoirs can be drawn on through another network of pipes and canals. When we lose our jobs, there are usually unemployment benefits. Above all, there is stability, security and peace in our land.
Imagine how much more frightening the world would be without any of this. In such places, World Concern is often enough the only help at hand.
Although we can picture so many different types of disasters – floods, hurricanes, droughts, wars, earthquakes – we often think only of hand-outs as a response. But there is so much more that can be done.
In our responses to disaster, World Concern tries to help people not only recover their goods, but also their homes, livelihoods and hope for the future. We strive to help whole communities prevent crises from becoming overwhelming disasters, to reduce their vulnerability and increase their ability to cope. Above all, we work to help people to find the face of God during some of the worst moments of their lives.
I’m writing this first blog posting on a plane, leaving the cold, damp, dark days of late autumn in Seattle, heading to the glaring, baking semi-desert of eastern Chad in central Africa. Join me over the next few weeks as I work alongside our team in Chad, serving families who have literally lost everything in the Darfur conflict.