In a small village in rural Bangladesh, a team of strong fishermen wade through the neck-deep water of the village pond they share as a fish farm. Underneath the water’s calm, murky surface, calloused hands work tediously to reel in the rope that holds an increasingly heavy fishing net. One of those hands, belonging to a fisherman named Muhammad, is crimped—his fingers fused in the shape of a claw. But he is all smiles as he uses this hand to skillfully hook the net, now filled with hundreds of fish jumping out of the water.
For Muhammad, who has endured many hardships, not least of which was being robbed, beaten, and left for dead while working as a tuk tuk driver some 15 years ago, he is grateful to have a business that earns him a sustainable income.
“I cannot do anything else,” Muhammad reflects as he reveals his hand that’s been disfigured since the attack that left him permanently maimed. “So I chose this profession … my hand is like a hook for pulling in the ropes,” he says confidently.
Muhammad has been receiving business loans, support, and training from World Concern since two years after the attack. Prior to that, he was unable to work and therefore unable to provide for his family.
Muhammad’s wife, who cannot help but smile each time her husband looks at her proudly, recalls that time with tears in her eyes. “I cannot express how sad I felt. We were helpless and I could not do much. Our brother helped support us.”
It wasn’t until World Concern came to Muhammad’s village that he began to see the possibility to make a fresh start for himself. Today, Muhammad is not only a successful fish farmer, but he also raises ducks in a large pond on his property.
“Before, I was so poor,” Muhammad says, “and then World Concern came and encouraged me and helped me get started again.”
Muhammad and his loving wife work together to support themselves as well as Muhammad’s brother’s children—generously repaying the family that supported them for so long.
What does fatherhood look like?
It looks like a loving, supportive uncle raising and caring for his brother’s children.
It looks like a husband who adores his wife and in a culture of arranged marriage that often results in lack of respect for spouses.
It looks like Muhammad, who works tirelessly to provide for and ensure a better future for his family.
I sat down on the steps of a small rural high school in Brahmanbaria, Bangladesh, expectantly waiting to talk with some of the girls who have received scholarships from World Concern. Dressed in her blue and white uniform, 16-year-old Rima sat down next to me. I started asking questions about school – what she enjoys studying and her future plans.
With her first words, tears spilled down her cheeks. Staring off into the distance and weeping, she told me that from the time she was 14, her father has been trying to marry her off.
“My father works as a guard at the hospital. He works all night, but only earns 4,000 taka ($52) per month,” Rima explained through her tears.
The oldest of four children, Rima carries an emotional burden for the constant struggle her family experiences living in such poverty.
“We don’t eat well,” she said.
“My father keeps telling my mom, ‘I am only earning so little, how can I afford to pay for education? I want to get Rima married,’ but my mom says, ‘No, no, no, she must go to school.’”
“My dad says, ‘There is no use of her studies because she is going to get married anyway and go to the house of her husband and she will end up washing dishes in the kitchen…’”
Rima’s mother was married to her father at just 13. She knows the reality of being a child bride and bearing children far too young. She wants Rima to have a better life than she’s had.
“My mom is preventing him from marrying me off,” Rima said. “I don’t want to get married, but my dad keeps telling me, ‘If you left, then I would be able to take care of my other children better.’”
In Bangladeshi culture—especially amongst the poorest people—it is common for girls as young as 10 or 12 years to be married off to men in their thirties or forties.
Rima is at such a tender age. She dreams of finishing high school, going to college, and becoming a teacher one day.
“I want to be a teacher and teach poor children in my area, free of cost,” she said.
But instead of dreaming about her future, she lives under the constant threat of being sent to live with a man she doesn’t even know. Some of her friends have already gotten married. And some already have babies.
“Please don’t cross my name off the [scholarship] list,” she pleaded. “If World Concern didn’t help us, I would have gotten married a long time ago, and my life would have been in the darkness.”
No adolescent girl should have to live in fear of being forced to get married. An educated girl is six times less likely to be married off during her teen years. You can provide a scholarship for a girl like Rima for an entire year for just $50 and change her future.
Barefoot and dressed in filthy clothes, tiny Xay refused to leave his mother’s arms to play with the other children being evaluated for the Child Survival program. At 18 months old, Xay should be running, squealing, and playing with the other children. Instead, he was pale, thin, and listless. More critically, Xay is underweight, weak, and suffered from chronic diarrhea.
We measured his arm with a special band to determine his level of malnutrition. Xay’s arm measured 11cm, indicating he is severely malnourished.
For Xay’s mother, nothing is more important than saving her son – but she doesn’t have very many solutions. She knows the food she scavenges for in the woods outside her village in rural Laos each day isn’t enough. She knows her son is hungry and sick. She knows that without enough food, her beloved son could die.
With your help, this little guy can soon be eating healthy, gaining weight, and on his way to better health – in just a few short days.
A gift of $34 will provide nourishing, healthy food for Xay and others, rescuing them from the pain and sickness that comes with not having enough to eat. In addition, Xay’s mom and others will be able to participate in a special program where they learn how to grow and prepare locally available vegetables and other easily accessible foods, providing highly nutritious meals for their children. With these simple changes, 100% of children gain weight and show measurable improvement within 12 days.
Moms also learn the importance of good hygiene, safe drinking water, and using toilets to keep their children free from sickness and disease.
The best part is, they learn from other moms who are already successfully feeding and caring for their little ones – so each mom has support from a mentor right in her own village. This helps ensure kids keep gaining weight and growing strong.
With these vital tools and training, moms like Xay’s will be equipped to keep their sons and daughters healthy, ensuring they grow strong throughout their childhood.
“You will have plenty to eat, until you are full, and you will praise the name of the Lord your God, who has worked wonders for you…” (Joel 2:26)
Because of matching grants, your gift to feed a hungry child like Xay’s will TRIPLE, helping feed three children throughout their childhood.
I recently visited remote villages in South Sudan; a brief visit that has left me journeying through unexplored trails in my own heart.
One experience especially stands out.
It started during a village meeting, in which several ladies in Mayen offered to take me to their homes, to witness the impact of our projects – each terming her household as the “most transformed.” So I settled on visiting just three who stated that their houses were nearby.
Strapped for energy and time, my plan was to make a quick dash and back; but some plans don’t unwind as neatly – at least not in the field.
In an entourage of about 10, composed of residents and World Concern staff, we set off and immediately picked pace.
We walked and walked, trudging through snaky paths set on brownish grass amidst isolated huts and trees as the hot South Sudan sun stared down at us.
After a non-stop 45 minute walk, I let my protests be known. “I will go no further,” I swore. “Let’s turn back now!”
“But we’re just near,” the translator said, a line he repeated whenever I aired my calls of surrender, which was several times more.
It would be an eternity before Angelina Mir’s house came over to meet us. By then I had protested a handful more times hesitatingly agreeing to keep going each time. What’s the use of walking all this way and returning without a story? I kept thinking.
We finally arrived, worn and dusty. My interior was that of an angry man.
Angry at myself for suggesting the trek, angry at myself for forgetting to carry a water bottle, angry at the residents for ‘lying’ about the distance, angry at our vehicle for being unable to snake through the slender paths, and thorny shrubs – places never before driven on. . .
Then it dawned on me.
This heavy trudge for me was a normal walk for residents. My discomfort at having no drinking water for just a few hours, was a way of life for them (we only came across only two shallow wells, whose water we wouldn’t pour on our heads let alone drink). The hunger I felt was a lifestyle for them.
The people we serve live with these inconveniences every day.
Yet under the seemingly hopeless situation, they are determined to make their lives beautiful.
Angelina for instance borrowed a loan of 200 SSP ($36) from a micro-finance group started through World Concern. That loan ended up saving her son’s life. Four-year-old Marco Anae urgently needed surgery. His stomach had swelled and become intolerably painful from an intestinal blockage. He vomited spurts of blood and lost consciousness as it swelled on.
Although the normal reaction for community members is to sell livestock when in need of money, being a member of the Buak kukopadh (Let us go after something good) micro-finance group saved her income, as well as her son’s life. “I didn’t sell a goat. It’s a long process which involves taking the goat to the town center where it may stay for up to two days before anyone purchases it,” she explained.
Within only a day of borrowing, she was on her way to hospital – a journey that entailed a two hour long trek carrying Marco before boarding a vehicle to the next town. The loan helped facilitate expenses to the hospital and Marco’s new nutritional demands as the surgery was offered at no charge.
Her group of 21 women has so far saved 2205 SSP ($400) from which they borrow loans to boost their business and repay with interest. Angelina owns a total of 13 goats, one cow and lots of chickens. Besides boosting individual finances, some of the members have their spiritual lives nourished at nearby Pascal Catholic church. Through afternoon adult literacy classes at the church, Angelina is now able to write all her group members’ names!
Some views along the way:
On our way back, my mind was heavy in thought contemplating how impatient I have been whenever residents show up an hour or two later than scheduled. I realized it takes them just as long to walk to our meeting areas – even longer when rain falls; and mostly they come with parched mouths, empty stomachs, having already handled hundreds of roles, that especially make a woman who she is in the areas we work.
Yet they smile.
They have a strong will to keep going no matter how rough the trudge is.
This experience has brought me face to face with myself. Until now I thought I was patient, determined and perseverant among other countless virtues, but the people I met in South Sudan beat me at it. They roundly beat me at it.
Through One Village Transformed, World Concern and several partner churches are supporting Mayen village through protection of clean water, food production, livelihoods and robust microfinance. The project is a journey we’re taking alongside the community. You can be part of it. Here’s how.
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.
Seventeen-year-old Leh bounded into the office of the village leader in her rural Laotian community with a handful of money, beaming with pride.
“I sold all of my sticky stick snacks in just an hour!” exclaimed the ecstatic teen. She held up her earnings, which she planned to share with her friends who helped her sell the snacks.
Leh’s village is just a few miles from the border of Thailand. Young girls often disappear after crossing the border into Thailand to look for work. Many are trafficked into Thailand’s insidious sex tourism industry. Others are forced to work for no pay, or other forms of exploitation. Three of Leh’s older siblings have gone to Thailand in search of work. When her father passed away three years ago, she considered doing the same thing so she could help support her disabled mother.
We’re offering alternatives—helping provide job skills and awareness training for girls like Leh in this region to earn income close to home and stay safe. Leh recently participated in cooking classes at World Concern’s youth center. That’s where she learned how easy it was to prepare sticky sticks. She knew immediately she could start a small business selling the tasty treats.
Leh was determined and started her business with $2 she saved to purchase a sack of flour, sugar, and oil. She sold her first batch of sticky sticks at the school during the students’ break time for 10 cents each. In just one hour, she had earned $5—a profit of $3 for an hour of selling.
“Doing this makes me happy,” she said, after several weeks of operating her snack business. “I wake up at 5:00 a.m., do my chores, and start cooking at 8:00 a.m.” She’s home by 11 a.m. with the day’s profits in hand.
“Thank you not only for changing my life but also my family’s life,” said Leh. “I am very grateful to the project for guiding me in choosing the right path and for securing my future and making me safe.”
Leh is sharing what she learned with her friends, and is now an active member of the youth campaign in her village that helps raise awareness about human trafficking.
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.
Some stories are more dramatic than others. Some stories deserve to be heard. Mitu’s story is one of those stories.
Thankfully, Mitu’s story caught the attention of a perceptive staff member in Bangladesh who knew something must be done to free the little girl who was living in slavery in a neighbor’s home. Our Asia communication liaison, Taylor, first brought us this story on her blog.
At 5 years old, most little girls are going to school for the first time, making new friends, and learning to ride a bike. But this was not the case for young Mitu. Instead, by age 5, Mitu was scrubbing floors, cooking, washing clothes, and suffering from physical abuse with even the slightest misstep in her duties.
Scared, alone, and separated from her family, Mitu was forced to grow up overnight in order to care for another family’s children and housework when her own family was unable to care for her.
The nightmare began for Mitu when her parents divorced several years ago. Mitu’s mother sought work in the bleak conditions of Bangladesh’s garment factories, while her father struggled to get by. With neither parent able to support their young daughter, Mitu was left in the care of her elderly grandmother. Out of sheer desperation, Mitu’s helpless grandmother decided to send Mitu to work as a maidservant at a neighbor’s house. There, Mitu endured three years of bondage as a child laborer, receiving nothing but food to survive and suffering frequent physical abuse by her masters.
Thankfully, during a visit to Mitu’s hometown, a wise and perceptive World Concern staff member caught wind of Mitu’s horrible situation. Heartbroken and determined to rescue the little girl, she took the right steps to save young Mitu from her life of slavery, alerting a senior staff member who contacted Mitu’s father.
Today, Mitu is back under the care and support of her father, who, with World Concern’s counsel and support, now recognizes the importance of allowing his precious daughter to go to school and experience childhood to the fullest.
Mitu is now in school, making friends, and learning. Most importantly, she’s free.
“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.
It’s not a particularly artistic or perfectly composed photo. It’s even a little hard to tell what’s happening in this photo, which is probably why I paused for a moment while browsing through photos of Bangladesh’s slums.
It was my first week at World Concern, four years ago, and I had looked at thousands of photos of the places World Concern works as part of my orientation. There were many stunning photos of beautiful people, faces, families, and extreme poverty. But this is the one I’ll never forget, because it’s the one I was looking at when it “clicked” for me.
I stared at the image of a little boy, not more than 8 or 9 years old, wearing pants that are cinched at the waist so they won’t fall down, standing in the midst of a sea of garbage. He is smelling what appears to be a piece of rotten fruit. He was doing this, I’m sure, to try to determine if it was edible.
My stomach turned.
Several thoughts slammed into my mind as I stared at the boy in the slum:
He is a real person.
He is hungry enough to consider eating from that pile of garbage.
I must do something.
When I came to work at World Concern, I considered myself a compassionate, caring Christian. I gave regularly to my church, donated to our food bank, and supported a few charities, including humanitarian organizations.
But at that moment, my heart broke for the hungry, the poor, the forgotten ones in the world. I felt compelled to help. I believe God used that photo to break my heart for what breaks His.
I wiped my tears away, glancing around my new office to see if anyone was looking. Then I whispered a prayer: “Lord, help this little boy. Please reach down into that horrible slum and rescue him.”
I felt like God responded, “I will. And you will.”
I knew that didn’t mean I would hop on a plane to Bangladesh and find that one little boy out of the 162 million people in Bangladesh. It meant I would pour myself wholeheartedly into the mission and work of World Concern so that the experts in ending extreme poverty and rescuing children like this boy from its clutches can do their jobs.
Our 234 Bangladeshi staff members, along with our Kenyan staff, our Haitian staff, and all the others in the poorest countries in the world are pouring themselves wholeheartedly into this work. With our support, they provide real, tangible, lasting ways out of poverty. And my job is to spread the word about this cause, this mission, so people like you and I can do something too.