Resurgence of displaced families creates new crisis near Kenya-Somalia border

Maria Abdi and her children in the Horn of Africa.
Maria Abdi and her children are among those recently arriving in the border town of Dhobley, Somalia.

Maria Abdi arrived in Dhobley, Somalia, with her five children and nothing but the clothes on their backs. She fled her hometown of Afmadow because there was no work there and the children were hungry. A relative paid her way to travel to Dhobley after Maria pleaded with them, having heard there was assistance here. But there was a charge for luggage and she couldn’t afford it, so she came empty-handed.

“I need everything a human being needs—all the basic necessities,” she said.

Maria’s family is among a new influx of arrivals in Dhobley, a transit point near the border for those traveling from Somalia to the Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya.

World Concern has been responding to the crisis in Dhobley since August, but staff members are seeing a sudden sharp increase in new arrivals. Ongoing drought and conflict in other parts of Southern Somalia are to blame for the influx. However, some people are returning from the refugee camps in Dadaab, citing insecurity and lack of food and other support in the camps as the reason for leaving.

“We visited the areas where families are settling in Dhobley and conditions are bad,” said World Concern Africa Director Buck Deines. “Most live in very temporary shelters, inadequate to protect them from the harsh weather. In some cases the shelters are nothing more than sticks and mosquito nets. We saw the interiors of several shelters, and in most cases, the families have no supplies of any kind.”

Deines estimates there are approximately 12,000 people that have settled in makeshift camps and are in immediate need of help. World Concern is planning to distribute vouchers that will supply families with a two-week supply of food, as well as emergency supplies like tarps, blankets, cooking pots, water jugs and more. However, additional funding is needed to respond immediately.

World Concern has been supporting people affected by the famine and drought in the Horn of Africa for nine months, and the recent increase in displaced families presents an urgent need.

Khayro Yussuf sits inside her shelter made from faded garments and held together by rope. Two metal cups are the only possessions inside her tent, except for an orange flask, which a relative uses to bring her tea.

A shelter in Dhobley, Somalia
Families arriving in Dhobley are living in temporary shelters like this one, made of sticks and a mosquito net.

She fled her village after three of her brothers and her uncle were killed in front of her. Khayro and her children came to Dhobley, fearing for their lives.

She received some food rations, but when she put it on a donkey cart, the owner of the cart took off with her only food. “When he realized I was not a resident and that I didn’t know where to go, he ran away with it,” she said.

Shortly after arriving, Khayro sent her son to Dadaab. “I was afraid he would be absorbed by militia … I never wanted my son to carry a gun or to join such kinds of groups,” she said.

Her daughter is staying with her in Dhobley. “If she is to die, she will die here with me,” said Khayro.

To learn more about the current situation in the Horn of Africa or to donate, please visit www.worldconcern.org/crisis.

An IDP in Dhobley, Somalia
Khayro Yussuf fled her village after family members were killed in front of her. She arrived in Dhobley with few belongings and no food.

Crisis is brewing in the Sahel

Sahel map showing drought and malnutrition
A UN map shows areas of the Sahel affected by drought in pink. Red circles indicate expected cases of severe malnutrition in 2012.

There’s a crisis brewing in the Sahel – a swath of dry land that cuts through Central Africa. The people who live in the Sahel are familiar with crisis. They face ongoing challenges – armed conflicts, drought, poverty and lack of resources.

It rarely rains in parts of the Sahel. Nevertheless, entire populations are dependent on rain-fed crops for survival. The rains this past season were less than average and sporadic. Crops failed, food prices soared, and now, the UN is alerting the world to a looming food crisis.

In Chad, where World Concern works with families displaced by the Darfur war and conflicts within Chad, a million and a half people are at risk of hunger. The UN estimates that 127,000 children under the age of 5 will be affected by severe acute malnutrition this year in Chad’s Sahel region.

A mother in Chad with her donkey plow.
A mother in Chad gets ready to plow her field with her donkey plow she received from World Concern.

The lean season—the period between harvests when families depend on stored food from the previous harvest—is expected to be the most severe in years.

World Concern’s programs in Chad provide families with farming tools, training and seeds to grow drought-resistant crops. Now is the time to respond to this growing crisis and help families survive the lean season, and prepare for the next harvest.

You can help save lives and prevent this crisis from worsening. Click here to donate.

Horn of Africa crisis is far from over

World Concern is expanding its drought response in the Horn of Africa into several new communities near the Kenya-Somalia border, reaching a larger number of displaced, hungry families and refugees who often travel through or settle in these towns. We’re providing vouchers for emergency food, supplies and access to water through repaired wells, rehabilitated water pans and construction of rainwater catchment systems in these unreached communities.

Despite the declaration by the United Nations on Feb. 3, 2012 that official famine conditions have ended in Somalia, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says there are still 9.5 million people in need throughout the Horn of Africa. In Somalia, 2.3 million people are still suffering the effects of drought and ongoing conflict, and in Kenya, 4.3 million need assistance.

Habon Farah with her 9-month-old twins
Habon Farah and her 9-month-old twins fled their hometown in southern Somalia because of drought and famine.

Among those we’ve helped is 23-year-old Habon Farah, a mother of 9-month-old twins who fled her hometown of Jilib, Somalia, and traveled on foot 155 miles to Dhobley.

Habon says she left Jilib because her family was hungry. There had been no harvest for three years, according to officials in the area. Although she hopes for a better life for her children, right now, her biggest concern is survival. We met her in a crowded tent with about 30 other families and have assisted her with food, water and emergency supplies.

With support from donors, we’re able to expand our response in the Horn of Africa and reach more families like Habon’s.

The crisis is far from over. We will continue to help save and protect lives affected by this disaster, reaching as many of those suffering as possible,” said World Concern President David Eller. “Our expertise working in challenging conditions enables us to remain on the front lines of this disaster. With the generosity of our donors, we’re grateful to be able to expand our response and reach even more people in need.”

 

From one scarred hand to another

This week we received a donation of $60. While that might not seem worthy of its own blog post, it is. Trust me.

The check was sent by Kim Kargbo, the director of Women of Hope International, a fellow Christian nonprofit that helps women with disabilities in Sierra Leone improve their lives.  I called Kim to learn why another humanitarian agency would send us a donation instead of putting it toward their own programs.

The story she told me confirmed my belief that anyone, in any circumstances, can be changed by giving.

A few months ago, Kim and her staff held a meeting with the women they serve. They do this each month to talk about issues related to their disabilities and ways to overcome them.

These women live hard lives – most of them are beggars themselves, living on less than $1 a day. Women of Hope helps restore dignity and purpose to their lives through their programs.

“I really felt like the Lord was telling me to challenge them to look outside themselves,” recalled Kim. “To go beyond themselves, and he would bless them.”

Having heard about the famine in Somalia, Kim went online to look for a video she could show the women. She came across World Concern’s Eyewitness to the Famine video and shared it with them.

She also shared with them the story of the widow in 1 Kings 17 who was suffering in a drought and preparing her last meal when Elijah came and asked her for food. The widow trusted God and gave all she had, being promised, “The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the LORD sends rain on the land.”

The women were moved by the video and Kim’s explanation of famine. Most of the women are illiterate and some didn’t know that Somalia even existed. But they knew about refugee camps from their own country’s experience with war.

Then, Kim asked them a question. “If any of you didn’t eat today, would you die?” They all shook their heads, no. They might be hungry, they said, but they wouldn’t die. “Well, some of these people, if they don’t eat today, will die,” she said. “Do you think there’s anything you could do to help?”

This time they nodded their heads, yes. Even if each of them pitched in just a few coins, surely it would help a little. Kim agreed and told them that Women of Hope would match whatever they raised.

The women returned a month later for their Christmas party and had raised a bit of money, but not much. They wanted to do more. So they decided to take an offering that night. What happened next was amazing.

Sierra Leone donation
A blind woman in Sierra Leone is led forward at the Women of Hope International Christmas party to offer a donation to the famine relief.

About 50 women came forward to give. One by one, they lined up – blind women being led by the hands of children, and others in wheelchairs – to drop their few coins in a cardboard box.

At the end of the night, they had $30. With their matching gift, they were able to send $60 to World Concern.

“I know it’s not much,” Kim said when I spoke with her on the phone.

“Oh, but it is,” I said. We’ve been asking donors to give $60 to provide emergency food rations, access to clean water, and long-term assistance to a family affected by the famine.

“It’s perfect.”

The blessing of peaceful sleep

“When you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.” Proverbs 3:24

Most of us love to sleep. We dread the alarm clock that interrupts our blissful 8-hour escape to dreamland. We look forward to weekends when we can catch up and sleep in a bit. As we get older, we appreciate bedtime more.

kids sleeping in Somalia
Children sleeping on the ground in Somalia.

Good sleep protects our health, boosts our immune system, and helps our bodies and brains restore themselves. Most of us live in places where we can lock our doors at night and sleep in relative peace without fear of harm.  It’s a blessing we often take for granted.

I was reminded of this while touring an exhibit at Medical Teams International yesterday. Visitors are invited to step inside tents and shelters that serve as homes for people in places like Haiti and Uganda. Imagining the discomfort of sleeping on the ground with six people in a tent was troubling, but what disturbed me the most was thinking about the insecurity these families must feel when darkness falls.

They have no doors to lock, and a plastic tarp offers no protection from potential intruders.

During an interview last summer, a South Sudanese widow named Rebecca told us she is haunted by memories of hiding in the bush at night with her children when their village was attacked. “The memories of war … there are many,” she said.  Those memories have become nightmares now and she has trouble sleeping. “Thank God I am alive. That day was horrible.”

A Somali refugee mom
A little boy sleeps on his mother's lap as she rests on the long walk from Somalia to refugee camps in Kenya.

In Somalia, families fleeing violence and famine travel by foot for weeks in search of food and water. About 80% of them are traveling without a male companion. They sleep outside in the open air.  Many women are raped along the way, or even after they reach the refugee camps in Kenya. In spite of this, one mother told us, “I will sleep better at night, knowing my children have something to eat in the camp.”

Those who have survived a sudden disaster, like the earthquake in Haiti, often sleep lightly with one eye on the door and are jolted awake by the slightest sensation of shaking. Others living in crowded tent cities for months fear the danger of intruders. Families who have received new homes from World Concern are grateful to have doors and windows, they tell us.

A Haitian family's bed in their tent.
A family who lost their home in the Haiti earthquake sits on the bed inside their tent.

Being able to sleep is one of blessings of having a home.

Tonight, when you crawl into bed, take a moment to thank God for the gift of a good night’s sleep and say a prayer for those who don’t have this.

Serving the most vulnerable

I confess I’ve avoided writing about the families in this post for weeks. I doubt I’ll ever get to the point where photos like these don’t disturb me, but I will say there are fewer that shake me up inside – mostly because I know we’re doing something to help.

This set of photos and stories, sent by our staff in Somaliland (northern Somalia), really affected me. They were taken during an assessment of drought-affected communities to determine the needs of people there. One of World Concern’s priorities is to reach the most vulnerable first, so the families we help are often headed by females, have sick or disabled members, or are among the poorest of the poor; in this case, in the fifth poorest country in the world.

These are some of the families we met. I wanted to share their stories and photos so that others know their circumstances. To give them a voice, in a way.

Mother in Somaliland with sick husband
Khadra feels she has no alternative than to tie her mentally ill husband to their hut.

Khadra

It took me a moment to figure out what was going on in this photo to the right. It shows Khadra, a young mother of three from the Sanaag region outside her small hut fashioned from sticks, plastic and pieces of fabric. The family had 200 sheep and goats before the drought. They lost them all.

While talking with Khadra, our staff learned her husband is mentally ill, suffering from psychosis. Khadra said that she feels she has no alternative other than to tie him to their hut so he won’t wander away.

I can assure you, there aren’t any social services in this part of Somalia. Definitely no mental health counseling.

Imagine being in Khadra’s position and not knowing what else to do. My heart aches for her.

A father with his children outside their home in Somaliland.
Salah is thin and ill with respiratory problems. He and his children live in this makeshift home in a drought-affected region of Somaliland.

Salah

The part of Salah’s family photo (left) that troubles me most is their home. You can see they’ve tried to use scraps of trash, or whatever they can find to create some sort of shelter, but it’s no match for the searing daytime sun or cold desert nights.

I’m assuming this father has lost his wife. I’m told he has chronic respiratory problems and is very sick. He and his children survive off of food provided by neighbors and relatives.

Arale

Arale (below, right) is a disabled father of four who migrated to Garadag after losing his herds to drought. Their only source of income is to send their children to look for animals owned by other families, for which the children earn a small daily wage.

World Concern is helping these families, and thousands of others, initially by trucking water into drought-affected communities in this region and distributing emergency food. Families also receive plastic tarps for shelter, jerrycans, mosquito nets and cooking pots.

A disabled man with his family in Somaliland.
Arale's children earn money for food by rounding up other people's animals.

Long-term, we’re building berkads (semi-underground water reservoirs) and digging new wells – 36 of them in the coming months! Another way we’re helping is providing people with the tools and knowledge to grow vegetables and improve nutrition through kitchen gardens.

There is hope for these families.

Somaliland is slightly more politically stable and has experienced more peace than the rest of Somalia, having declared its independence in 1991. This is one reason we’ve been able to make progress there. Time is another factor. We’ve worked there for 30 years, enabling us to respond quickly when disasters like drought, war or famine strike.

We’re hoping to reach more families like these throughout Somalia.

“Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute.  Speak out, judge righteously, and defend the rights of the poor and needy.”  Proverbs 31:8-9

Being part of the solution

What’s in the news today? Lindsey Lohan is going to jail and Kim Kardashian is getting divorced. I guess these things are considered news…

Refugees line up to be registered at the Ifo extension camp near Dadaab, Kenya.
Refugees line up to be registered at the Ifo extension camp near Dadaab, Kenya.

Unfortunately, there’s less and less coverage of the ongoing famine crisis in the Horn of Africa. Yet the UN estimates 750,000 lives are at risk, and millions are still hungry. Most of the recent articles seem to focus on the hopelessness of Somalia, where the greatest number of people are suffering.

But amidst the news articles about the dangers and challenges faced by aid organizations trying to reach these people, we’ve been blessed with some excellent exposure in the New York Times today and last week. Our innovative use of vouchers was highlighted in a column called “Fixes,” which looks at solutions to social problems and why they work.

Of all the ways to have our work recognized, we’re most appreciative when the focus is on the solution. If you’re a supporter of World Concern, you are part of that solution. Instead of wringing our hands in despair, together, we’re doing something. It feels good, doesn’t it?

In the past few months, we’ve reached more than 30,000 people with food vouchers. Families are able to purchase specific food items (beans, rice, oil, salt and sugar) – enough to last them several weeks. The system supports the local economy and helps ensure aid ends up in the hands of those who need it most.

There are other creative solutions being implemented. In drought-affected communities, we’re using existing resources to bring clean water to people. We’re enlisting the support and input of community members to find solutions, such as fixing broken wells, de-silting aging water pans and adding pumps to increase the capacity of wells. In one Kenyan community along the border that hosts refugees fleeing Somalia, the community paid for half the repairs. They will get their investment back if they take care of the well. You can bet their newly appointed water committee is doing just that!

Rain and mud hinder humanitarian access in Kenya.
Muddy roads are just one of many hindrances to delivering humanitarian aid in the Horn of Africa right now.

This is not to say our staff isn’t facing the same challenges many aid organizations are facing in the Horn of Africa, including insecurity and conflict, limited access and resources, and even … mud (pictured here). But despite these challenges, we’re forging ahead – because people need help.

Within a week of a recent attack on the town of Dhobley, Somalia, we were back, distributing vouchers so the neediest families could purchase food and emergency supplies. Recent rains in the area have prevented easy travel to the towns where we’re helping. There have been many long hours spent stuck in mud puddles, or coming up against water-covered roadways.

We know it is only because of God’s grace that we’ve been able to help in areas with limited access. We’re praying that more help reaches the people of Somalia soon. Please join us in praying for more solutions to this complex crisis.

Learn more about our famine response at www.worldconcern.org/crisis

Seeing stark reality in Southern Somalia

I have just left Dhobley in Southern Somalia.  My travels with World Concern have taken me too many difficult places.  I have been to refugee camps in Chad, holding camps after Sri Lanka’s civil war, and South Sudan before independence.  Even with all of this experience with poverty and suffering, seeing the people in Dhobley was tragic.

A Somali mom with her sick child.
A Somali mom with her sick child at the clinic in Dhobley.

We visited a medical clinic that we partner with and saw three young children laying on mats with IVs, so weak they could not walk.  Their mothers were hoping that they would survive.  To be honest, I’m not sure whether they will make it or not given their acute diarrhea.  It’s devastating to know that beyond these three there are many who didn’t make it to the clinic.

The people in Dhobley broke my heart.  It was not just the extreme need.  People are hungry, sick and without resources.  There was such defeat in the eyes of the people on street.  They are not only lacking the basics of life – clean water, food and shelter – they have no sense of security.  The week before a battle took place in this town that sent people fleeing again into the bush to survive.  Are they safe today?  None believe they are.  Living day after day in insecurity has taken a toll beyond any I can imagine.  There is sorrow upon sorrow.

Yet in the midst of such darkness, there is hope.  When we engaged with people on the street and talked, the spark of hope was still there.  Hope comes in the form of others caring and reaching out.

A joyful family receives a food voucher.
Hope and joy on the faces of one family after receiving a World Concern voucher to buy food.

World Concern is bringing food and other essential items for survival, but they need so much more. There are people in need of love, joy, hope and peace.  God has called us to care for the least of these.  I found them in Somalia.  I pray we can bring healing beyond survival.

Today, as yesterday, the issue for the people of Southern Somalia is survival, and the World Concern staff is pouring themselves out to keep people alive.  My desire is to see us walk together through this immediate need into a time and place in the future where people can live in peace.

Learn more and support our work in Southern Somalia: www.worldconcern.org/crisis

Providing aid in the face of violence

Ambulance carrying the wounded.
Ambulances carry the wounded after an attack on the Somali border town of Dhobley.

World Concern staff members are safe after an attack on the Somali border town of Dhobley by the militant group al-Shabaab. In the early morning hours of Sept. 30, al-Shabaab attacked the town where World Concern, along with partners Medical Teams International (MTI) and AFREC, have been providing aid to families affected by the famine and insecurity in Somalia.

We’re grateful that no staff members or partners were in Dhobley at the time of the attacks, but our hearts are broken over this deadly attack on a town that is already suffering so much. Initial reports indicate that 44 Somali military members were injured and 30 were killed in the attack. Two civilians were also killed and two others injured, including a young girl. There are reports of seven al-Shabaab members being killed in the fighting.

Dhobley is a place where many families traveling from all over southern Somalia can get food, water and rest on their long journey to the refugee camps in Kenya. Despite daily security issues, World Concern has been able to feed 13,000 people with two-week rations of beans, rice, oil, sugar and salt, and provide emergency supplies such as blankets, water jugs, mosquito nets and more to another 1,300 families.

A wounded soldier from Dhobley
A soldier wounded in the attack on Dhobley, Somalia, on Sept. 30, 2011.

World Concern and MTI staff will continue to assist in the response just across the border in Liboi, Kenya. As soon as it is safe to return to Dhobley, World Concern will resume activities there, as we’re one of the few international organizations able to work in the area.

Insecurity has been a major challenge for humanitarian organizations to reach people affected by the famine. “We could double or triple our food distribution with better access,” said Deputy Director of Disaster Response Chris Sheach. “Every day we’re not able to get into Dhobley represents 2,500 people who don’t receive help,” he said.

One way World Concern is working around these challenges is by using vouchers, which are redeemed for food and emergency supplies at local merchants. We then reimburse merchants through direct cash transfers. This system supports the local economy, builds relationships with community leaders, and ensures food ends up in the hands of those who need it most.

Please pray for the families affected by the attack this morning and that further violence will not hinder our ability to reach people in desperate need.

Learn more and donate at www.worldconcern.org/crisis.

Tap your network for an even greater impact

When Jason Kim heard about the 13 million people affected by drought and famine in the Horn of Africa, he felt compelled to do something to help. Knowing he could do more with the support of others, he joined forces with some friends and organized a fundraiser. The event, called iFed, was held this past Sunday, Sept. 25 at Phil Smart Mercedes-Benz in Seattle’s SODO district.

Volunteers at iFed carwash.
Volunteers helped raise $4,600 for famine relief at the iFed event in Seattle.

Jason and a group of volunteers raised $4,600 to help with World Concern’s famine response – enough to feed nearly 500 people for an entire month.

“People – no matter where they are – they’re human beings. They’re looking for a cup of clean water,” said Jason. “There’s a calling on us as fellow human beings to do something. My parents are missionaries, I work for an employer who does a lot, I have generous friends … I am surrounded by people like this, and I am able and capable to do something.”

Jason works at the Mercedes dealership, and when he approached his employer about hosting the event, he immediately agreed. Potential supporters were invited via Facebook, Twitter and word of mouth to come down, have their car pampered in an exclusive Mercedes car wash, enjoy a barbeque lunch, and watch the Seahawks game on giant screen TVs throughout the venue – all for a donation. They also sold T-shirts that said “iFed Africa” at the event.

Shannon Olsen is a friend of Jason’s and helped plan the fundraiser. She admits it was a ton of hard work, but well worth the effort to know lives will be saved because of it.

“It’s so fun to see your friends support something like this,” said Shannon. “Really, it comes down to the fact that most people do care, but they don’t know what to do. When you know someone who is doing something, it’s easy to jump in. In the end, it was great to see the group come together and how a small amount of money can bring fresh water and food to help people.”

iFed tshirts
Shannon Olsen (center) and friends model the iFed T-shirts sold at the event and available online.

Shannon was inspired to help raise funds after seeing World Concern’s photographs of people suffering in Somalia and Kenya. “I saw all the dead animals in the road and people walking over them. I imagined the smell, and how those people must be feeling so hopeless. It’s important to call attention to the fact that this is not just something else going on in Africa. This crisis is unique,” she said.

For both Jason and Shannon, the iFed fundraiser was just the beginning. They plan to continue raising awareness and funds to help.

“I can’t just dust my hands off and feel I’ve done my thing. It’s ongoing. We still need to keep going,” said Shannon. “I hope people think, ‘Shannon’s really busy and she did it. Priorities can be moved around and I could do something too.’ Hopefully people will catch on.”

If you’re inspired to tap your network and make an even greater impact on the lives of those suffering in Somalia and Kenya, why not start your own fundraiser? We’ve got a simple set up. Check out http://www.firstgiving.com/worldconcern/famine and start your personal fundraiser today!