Kathryn Sciba is visiting some of our programs in Kenya this week. The following excerpt is from her blog about her trip.
We began our eventful journey to a primary school near Narok. This is the kind of land where safari animals roam wild. The children and teachers at this school blew my mind with how well they welcomed us. The people here are Maasai, nomadic herdsmen. This school has changed their lives since World Concern started working with them in 2008.
The school has a 28-acre garden that World Concern built a fence around so the elephants wouldn’t destroy it. The lack of farming means the families have had to follow the herds and lack a balanced diet.
In the past three years World Concern has not only built a solar powered electric fence around the school’s garden but they’ve also trained the community about farming. Now the families can stay put if they want to. Now the community has wheat and corn fields. The school produces more than enough food for their enrollment and is able to sell the rest. They grow passion fruit, mango, bananas, and vegetables, including basics like beans, corn and wheat.
They do have a water catchment system, which catches rain from the roof and carries it through pipes to the garden, but they need rain to sustain it. Please pray for a great rainy season which was supposed to begin this month but has been lousy so far.
The garden has provided essential nutrition and that’s helped the student’s test schools improve dramatically. In 2007, 191 children graduated with a Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (a national standardized test required to pass primary school). In 2008, 216 students graduated and in 2009 the number was 261.
Enrollment has been increasing because the community is sending their children there to be well fed and educated instead of having them roam with the herds. The school provides boarding to 150 girls who would otherwise roam with their families. By having girls live at the school, their families may feel less urgency to marry them off at a young age in exchange for a 20 cow dowry.
There are currently about 400 boys and 400 girls enrolled in the school.
Watching the earthquake and tsunami disaster unfold in northeastern Japan this week has been painful for all of us. Hundreds of thousands of people have been impacted, and aftershocks continue on a daily basis, reminding the Japanese people that this tragedy is far from over.
World Concern, a member of the Global Relief Alliance, is responding by working through alliance partners that were already in place and at work in Japan prior to the disaster. Some may wonder why we’re not loading our staff onto a plane and heading into the disaster zone. Believe me, as a member of our disaster response team, it’s hard for us to “wait this one out,” but it’s important that we do so.
After the Haiti earthquake, we were able to respond immediately because we have worked in that country for 30 years, had staff in place, and were able to make an immediate impact, utilizing resources and donation dollars in the best way possible. But the disaster in Japan is very different on a number of levels.
I have been encouraged by the response being undertaken in Japan. Countless lives have no doubt been spared by the efficiency of their mobilized volunteers, military, and emergency response teams. Rapid assessments, organized distribution lines for rations and water, and shelter provisions reduce uncertainty and anxiety. Heavy equipment has been mobilized, clearing roads and restoring communications and transportation. Japan has very accurate national registries (hence their ability to report the numbers of those who are missing) and has reached out to contact everyone in the affected areas. The Japanese have been a model of disaster response, and we have lessons to learn about how we can improve our own system in North America to match theirs.
Contrast this with Haiti’s 2010 earthquake or Cyclone Nargis, which hit Myanmar in 2008, where the number of victims will never truly be known due to lack of census records in the affected areas. The needs in these countries overwhelmed the fragile states, and basic necessities were unattainable. They desperately needed international support, simply to get food, water, and basic medical attention. World Concern had offices and programs in these places prior to the disasters and responded directly. We have continued to work – and will continue – in these countries long after they have faded from the headlines.
In Japan, after the immediate search and rescue and medical emergency needs are met, Japan’s disaster response teams will determine their need for additional help. Meanwhile, we are standing by, ready to deploy if needed in the field. Until that time, we will provide technical assistance and support to our partners on the ground, maximizing our team’s expertise and your donations.
Please join us in praying for the victims of this tragedy and their families, for the government of Japan as it coordinates the response, and for Christian partners and the church in Japan, as they work to support the local authorities and care for their neighbors.
The dramatic events unfolding in Japan after a magnitude 8.9 earthquake off Japan’s east coast triggered a devastating tsunami are riveting. They also highlight the difference between communities that participate in disaster risk reduction activities (like Japan) and those that have not been prepared (such as Haiti).
No amount of preparation can stop an earthquake or tsunami, but the next few days will show how preparation and risk reduction have saved countless lives, and minimized the long term effects for the Japanese people. In other nations, this tragic event would have had much greater consequences.
We participate in risk reduction on a daily basis: when the radio identifies a forecast of rain, you assess the risk, and choose to reduce it by carrying an umbrella. On a national scale, this is much more complicated. It requires awareness, planning, and willingness to put plans in place. Today, a few low-lying communities in Washington State were evacuated due to the warnings issued by the West Coast and Alaska Warning Center, a part of the US early-warning system.
The effects of this earthquake in Japan are drastically different than the one measuring 7.0 which paralyzed Port-au-Prince on January 12, 2010. In Haiti, low-quality construction practices, lack of awareness about the risk of earthquakes, and insufficient government capacity to respond created one of the worst humanitarian disasters in history. The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami was also a horrifying tragedy impacting unprepared communities from Indonesia to Somalia.
How World Concern Helps Communities Prepare for Future Disasters
World Concern is currently involved in disaster risk reduction activities in high-risk areas around the world, training local communities to prepare for the next “big one.” With World Concern’s help, communities in Haiti, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar are identifying risks and developing strategies to mitigate losses during disasters. Community members work together to find solutions, and educate others on how to protect themselves during a disaster.
In Haiti, for example, communities dig and maintain storm drains to counteract flooding during hurricanes. Other areas have installed emergency water facilities, in case their regular sources are contaminated by floodwaters.
After Cyclone Nargis, which killed more than 130,000 in Myanmar, World Concern supported the establishment of Disaster Management Committees in affected communities, equipping them with disaster response supplies. World Concern also assisted in developing an early warning system, coordinating with the local government, and an implementation of multi-hazard action plans.
World Concern partners and donors are empowering the poorest in high-risk areas to make informed decisions and be proactive in protecting their loved ones and way of life.
Kurt Campbell remembers the moment God melted his heart for the people of Sri Lanka. It was on Easter Sunday, 2009. Sitting in his comfortable, warm church, singing worship songs, he started to cry.
Several weeks earlier, he and his wife Cari had prayed and felt led to donate their entire savings account to aid in the crisis in Sri Lanka. They’d heard the details of how the end to the 26-year-long civil war had killed thousands and left hundreds of thousands homeless. Knowing World Concern was responding and rescuing war victims, Kurt and Cari wanted to help.
“I’ve often said, your pocket book follows your heart, but sometimes it works the other way. It was after that financial investment that we felt more connected to Sri Lanka,” recalls Kurt.
As he sat in church that Easter, tears running down his cheeks, he realized they probably weren’t singing worship songs in Northern Sri Lanka.
“I thought, here’s a group of people who don’t know the Lord as their Savior, and surely aren’t experiencing the love and compassion I’m used to on a daily basis. My heart just broke,” he said.
Kurt’s burden for the people of Sri Lanka grew over the next two years, especially as he’s had the opportunity to travel there several times. During his visits to the displacement camps, he saw first-hand the tremendous losses people have endured – loss of life, loss of limbs, and loss of loved ones.
“One of the hardest places to visit was a special camp where people went once they left the hospital … it was basically and old factory floor with cots lined up one after another,” said Kurt. “I came across two children – a girl about 4 years old, and a boy about 6. The boy had a bandaged leg and would obviously be crippled for the rest of his life. The girl had lost three fingers on one hand. I was looking right at her, but she had a completely blank look on her face.
“If God had used me for anything in those camps, it was to make the kids laugh. But this girl, nothing. A blank stare. What had she seen?” Kurt wondered. She was most likely an orphan and had seen the horrors of war.
That experience changed Kurt. He felt more compassion and more of a desire to help than ever before. “There’s something about the Sri Lankan people – something within them – an ability to persevere and to tackle life that is so beautiful. It’s not a hand-out society. These are people who are truly hard-working individuals who want to do things on their own. That really resonates with me.”
One of the most significant aspects of the work Kurt observed was how World Concern staff pays attention to individual people, walking with them through their struggles. “We’re affecting people’s lives and it’s wonderful,” he said.
Sometimes it is hard to visualize how humanitarian aid works. We want to see empirical data that represents value for dollars. As Deputy Director of Disaster Response, I am often asked the question, “What is World Concern doing to help Haiti?”
I can respond with facts and figures from the first year post earthquake: 7,091 Haitians have been given temporary employment, 1,284 houses have been repaired, 530 transitional shelters have been constructed, 989 grants have enabled Haitian business owners to get back to work, 32 churches were repaired or rebuilt; but those figures don’t tell the entire story.
World Concern has served in Haiti for more than 30 years, and some of our staff have worked for us more than 20 of those years. When the earthquake struck on January 12, 2010, every one of our more than 90 staff was directly affected.
The past year has indeed been a difficult one for Haiti, with political struggles, natural disasters and the outbreak of a disease not seen for decades. Again, the World Concern Haitian staff has endured these trials and not given up their work.
Some of our staff live in transitional housing, in camps, or in houses that need structural repair, yet they continue to meet the needs of more vulnerable people in their community. In the past year, these employees have learned many new skills, as we implement programs to get Haitians back on their feet. Some have learned to coordinate and run community gatherings, or participate in meetings with international agencies. Some have developed peacemaking skills, as they talk with disgruntled and frustrated people.
The World Concern staff is recognized in several communities for their knowledge of cholera treatment and promotion of good hygiene. They have gained respect among their neighbors, and set an example on our work sites. Many have improved their English skills, and are much more confident speaking in their third language.
Engineer Michel Miliri says, “[World Concern] has allowed me to help communities where I have lived.” And community liaison Belony Dorilien said, “The emergency program has allowed me to help people through activities I believe in.”
This is really how humanitarian aid works. Up to 90% of the work is done by disaster victims. Many staff told me World Concern programs solve problems that communities would not be able to address on their own, but this is not entirely true. Our World Concern Haiti team is solving problems in their own communities. They have been battle-tested, and have come through the past year better equipped to bring life, opportunity and hope to the poorest of the poor in their country.
World Concern Ministry Development Coordinator Mark Lamb recently returned from a trip to Kenya. Here are some reflections on his trip.
After traveling through rural Kenya for several hours on a road marked with potholes like Swiss cheese, we arrived in a village where World Concern is making an impact. One of the first people we met was a man who introduced himself to us as a former witch doctor who is now a Christian. As if this wasn’t enough to catch the attention of our group of jet lagged Americans, our new friend Joseph interrupted my associate as he was explaining the location of America using his head as a globe and said, “You mean the earth is round?”
Toto, we are not in Kansas anymore.
Although this may seem nearly unbelievable to those of us who have been blessed with an education, reality began to sink in as Joseph told us about the women in the village walking 12 hours round trip to bring back water, villagers carrying a sick person 10 miles on a sheet to the nearest clinic, and the children walking over six miles round trip to the nearest elementary school.
In such bleak circumstances, I was surprised to find hope. World Concern is currently constructing a water pan in this community to help provide a clean water source, but their hope was not in the water pan alone, or in World Concern. It was clear, as they discussed their faith in Jesus Christ, that there hope was in Him. They praised World Concern, and there was a clear love for our staff, but Joseph and the other villagers talked about the hope they have in Jesus for a better life.
Maasai women sing worship songs.
In another village we visited, I met a young pastor named Jackson who had taught himself to read so he could read and teach the Bible. He treasures his Bible, carrying it with him wrapped in two layers of protective plastic. I also witnessed spirited worship songs sung by the women in the church. I couldn’t understand the words, but I was told the song was from a verse in Exodus about God’s victory.
I was encouraged to see kitchen gardens in schoolyards producing healthy vegetables for the students who otherwise would be eating only grain and meat. I saw the hope of better health with pits for latrines being dug, and wells flowing with clean, fresh water. But I was most excited about the spiritual fruit I saw as a result of Christ’s light shining into these villages.
Here’s the truth: the work of World Concern will not happen without the support of others who get behind it. The more people engage with us and what we’re doing, the bigger difference we’re able to make. It’s that simple.
Minneapolis resident Diana Neidecker came up with a very cool idea. She’s donating a percentage of the February sales from her Etsy site to World Concern. Here’s why, in her own words:
After work, Blake and I spent over an hour on World Concern’s Facebook page, looking at all the incredible photos. We love the mission, the idea of empowerment and the way you are lifting all of these wonderful countries up.
Back in first grade, I had an assignment asking me my three wishes for the world. I answered with 1) enough money for the poor; 2) to save the environment; and 3) to have all kids be safe at night.
That paper is hung up in our craft room. I love it. Not much has changed in my since 1991. Blake and I are super conscious about the products, companies and practices that we use/utilize in our lives.
The day of the Haiti earthquake, the two of us were out to eat and couldn’t stop talking about the quake and what we could do to help. I immediately donated my paycheck, but still didn’t feel satisfied. A few days later, I just knew I had to be there. After talking and planning, we decided to spend the month of July there, helping to deconstruct a five-story boys’ home that fell.
I get chills just thinking about how this trip impacted us. We worked with a crew of 14 Haitian guys clearing rubble by bucket line. Blake and I live a pretty modest lifestyle, but showering with a bucket and eating two small meals a day really made us think. We were able to tour a tent city and so many people trusted us enough to answer tough and honest questions about money, lifestyle and what they really need.
We are very interested in making Haiti a part of our lives. We would love to go back at least once a year. Also, learning fluent Creole has been a goal of ours. In the next two to three years, we would actually like to start the adoption process and adopt one or two orphans.
I do photography and I also knit. In the past few months, I have realized that I am meant to create for a living. It’s been a hobby for years, but I am now ready to make a life of creating.
For the month of February, I have decided to give 35-40% of all earnings from my business to World Concern to use for microloans or goats in Haiti – I love the idea of giving goats! I know that the more ways I can reach people and help, everybody will benefit.”
Wow! Thanks Diana and Blake for all you’re doing for the people of Haiti.
Haiti held it together. Although the one year anniversary of the earthquake was met with anguish and questions about the country’s future, Port-au-Prince did not resort to riots and widespread violence.
Being there first hand, I did see anger, as I witnessed people shouting at each other, arguing about housing. I heard what sounded like gunfire and saw people drinking heavily. But as I traveled through the city on Jan. 12, 2011, most people were not like that. They were simply remembering all they’ve lost, all that changed in 35 seconds of terror one year ago.
In parades and services great and small, many people dressed in white, the color of mourning. Many cried, prayed, and sang songs. I heard a report about thousands of people marching on the street, frustrated that there isn’t more progress in rebuilding. I saw many churches in session, with special one-year anniversary services.
At the site of what once was the Hotel Montana, a service was held, recounting the pain of that day, and praying for continued healing. Nearly all that remains of the destroyed main hotel is a vacant lot, with some rubble still visible on a hillside.
World Concern works through community groups as we equip neighborhoods to rebuild. We teamed up with a neighborhood group called Sove Moun and held our own service, with prayer, songs and stories. We felt that just remembering, and acknowledging Jan. 12, was important.
You hear a lot about the resiliency of Haitians. I agree with this. In the past week, I’ve seen many smiles and heard hopeful stories after the disaster. And the fact is, there has been much progress. It’s a story that has been grossly underreported, which is easy to do, as reporters look at the vastness of what remains to be done, rather that what has been accomplished.
Although about 700,000 have found homes or shelter since their earthquake, about 810,000 Haitians still want a place to live. No question, this healing takes time, especially in one of the most challenging political and logistical environments imaginable.
So, in spite of Haitians being resilient, and rolling with whatever disaster they’re faced with, I know that it still hurts. Like any humans, they want stability in their lives. They want a chance for their children to go to school. If given the choice, they would prefer not to endure disaster, followed by disaster.
One year after the quake, if you see smiles, know that they may be smiling through a lifetime of pain that you and I may never experience. Please continue to keep Haiti in your prayers.
I am glad that the eyes of the world media are scrutinizing what is happening in Haiti one year after the earthquake. Organizations have been stepping up their game in the last couple of months. Everyone wants to look like they’ve done a lot at the one year mark. After all, more than a billion dollars has been committed. And at one year, people want results.
So one year later – what did the world’s investment in Haiti yield?
If you look across Port-au-Prince right now, you may come to the conclusion that not much constructive has happened. I can see how someone would think that – especially if they are visiting for the first time. The UN says 810,000 people remain homeless. Cholera has killed thousands. Haiti’s displaced live in fraying remains of tent cities, intended to last months, but instead lasting a year … and counting.
In the last year, aid organizations have had mixed success. Some of the newer ones have faced a steep learning curve. More established organizations like World Concern have faced logistical frustrations, with some shipments being delayed in ports for weeks, even months, for example. And every international and domestic aid group must work in the context of Haiti’s supremely challenged government and fragile transportation network.
The fact is, Haiti’s government itself is in flux – with a violently disputed presidential election still unresolved. I expect that the backlash of the election recount will likely send the country into violent protest once again in the coming weeks.
So why am I optimistic about Haiti? Why do I think Haiti has a future – and remains a worthy investment?
I am optimistic because I see positive changes. I am optimistic because I see lives being touched, and even saved.
The good news for you if you have compassion for those who are hurting: you can make a real difference. If you invest in someone’s life in a meaningful way, it changes them.
Most of all, we should continue to invest in Haiti because of this: every human life has meaning. I am a Christian and have read the clear command from God to serve those who are poor and suffering. For believers, it is a spiritual calling.
Let me tell you about a man named Widzer. He lost his daughter in the earthquake, as well as his home and his job. When World Concern met Widzer, he was homeless. We paid him to clear debris in his own community through our Cash for Work program, which uses Haitians to help their own country. Then, we helped Widzer build a temporary shelter for his family of eight.
What Widzer did next was impressive. He saved some money through Cash for Work and invested in his home – and his wife’s business. She now once again is selling in the market, and Widzer has made his small shelter a home, finishing it with a covered porch, toilet, kitchen and more.
He told me, “When you receive something, you are supposed to build upon it. We added a kitchen, we added a toilet. We added things that would allow us to live together safely and comfortably.”
This story is not perfect, as Widzer remains underemployed. But because we offered him opportunities that provided long-term hope, he began to see life was worth living again. He sees a reason to try – a reason to plan for the future – and that’s often the biggest obstacle.
Something also worth noting is that Widzer remains in his community, instead of in a remote camp. I realize that every situation is different, but World Concern believes that whenever possible, we should keep people close to where they lived before – if not on the same property. We have seen that by doing this, they’ll have a better chance of restarting a job or educating their children.
The good news is that the humanitarian community has touched thousands of people like Widzer, although I do wish there were more like him, one year in.
As for numbers, we have measurable results. Let me be clear: I can only speak for World Concern. Here are a few ways we’ve helped thousands of people in Haiti restart their lives since the earthquake:
100,000 people received disaster assistance
7,091 Haitians employed through Cash for Work program
1,284 houses have been repaired for Haitian families
530 transitional shelters have been constructed
989 livelihood grants were given out, getting Haitian business owners back to work
To achieve these figures, it took an incredible amount of work. And even when you consider World Concern with all of the other assistance, there is likely much more left to do – than what has been done already. And that’s where it is helpful to look at a fuller picture.
1. This was a catastrophic disaster, one of the largest of our time. It killed 230,000 people, and directly affected 3 million people – that’s one out of three people in the country. Even if all of the non-profits and government agencies were working perfectly in the last year, there would still be years of work to do. We anticipate 5-10 years is a conservative estimate to “rebuild” Haiti. And know progress HAS been made. The UN says nearly half of the 1.5 million who were homeless now are off the streets.
2. The goal should not be to “fix” Haiti in a year, or spend all donations in a year. The goal should be to make meaningful progress toward a Haiti that is equipped to take care of itself. The best life-changing assistance is long-term community development, not dropping food rations off of the back of a truck (though there is a time and place for that). In order to positively affect someone’s life in a meaningful way, to empower them to be educated, to have a safe place to live, to have some reason to go on – it often takes years of relationship. This is not instant gratification, and it is not for the faint of heart.
3. Don’t paint a broad brush stroke as to the effectiveness of humanitarian agencies. Check them out. Do your research.
The reality is, one year out, Haiti remains of the edge. About a million people. They are real people like Widzer. I hope the media continues its scrutiny. At minimum, it means Haiti will not be forgotten. While we cannot “fix” Haiti in a year, we can make progress. World Concern is one part of this – and you are too. Together we can be committed to helping people long term – one life, one family – at a time.
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.