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.
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.
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.
Through our Global Gift Guide, and with the help of our donors, we’ve given goats to needy children and families for years – enabling them to have nutritious milk, and earn an income. But until today, we’ve always been on the giving end of things …
Our team that is responding to the drought in Northeastern Kenya and Somalia visited a town called Amuma, about five miles from the Somali border where we are building water projects. The town has no water source, so we are trucking water in to meet the immediate need. But with hopes of rain coming soon, we are repairing and improving a large water pan, which will be filled by the rain and sustain the community for up to four months.
The team was there today to select the contractor from the community that will do this work. Rather than bringing workers in from the outside, we’re involving the community to make the decision. We see this as their project, and therefore engage them in the process. The team met with the chief, elders and counselor (local politician), then with a representation of the community. Sealed quotes were opened in their presence (a very transparent process), and all parties signed an agreement that they would be a part of the process and were happy with what was happening.
After visiting the site of the project, the community members were so happy, they presented the World Concern staff with a gift – a goat!
They said, “Not since independence (1963), has any organization ever been so consistent and transparent” with them. They were so happy we are working with them, coming in early to ask questions and learn from them, finding ways to keep the work in the community and allowing them to participate and to make decisions – all in an honest and transparent way.
The team was truly humbled and honored to receive such an expression of gratitude from the community of Amuma.
I love to ponder the famous question: If you were stuck on a desert island and could only have one type of food with you, what would it be?
Would it be something sweet? Savory? Healthy? Fattening? (It would be your only food, after all) Mine changes based on my mood, but alternates between avocados, giant prawns, chocolate and filet mignon.
I also love to cook and share food with people. What better occasion to spend time with people than over a meal?
However, it’s difficult to celebrate food on this World Food Day, Sunday, Oct. 16. The world is facing a food crisis of unimaginable proportions. The famine in the Horn of Africa is the worst in decades. Four million people in Somalia don’t have enough to eat. The majority of those worst affected are children – 450,000 under age 5 are malnourished.
Even as the rains begin in Southern Somalia and Eastern Kenya, the ground is too dry to absorb water. It will likely take several successful rainy seasons before crops can be supported and the effects of drought are diminished. Meanwhile, food prices will continue to rise – and people will continue to die.
So this Sunday, I encourage you to think about food in a new way – and take action to help those affected by this famine.
Host a potluck meal on Sunday. Share the video Eyewitness to the Famine with your friends, and invite them to donate whatever they would have spent on a meal at a restaurant that night to help feed families caught in this crisis.
Less than 25% of children in South Sudan are in school. Of those, more than 80% are in temporary shelters.
The area around the village of Kuajok has been especially hard hit by the poverty and desperation of new arrivals from the north, coming with little to no resources. One impact has been a large influx of children in need of schooling. In their classes, which meet under trees, 30 teachers try to manage 3,000 multi-level students. Without the structure of a classroom, teachers have difficulty keeping order and the children’s attention.
If they have them, children bring plastic chairs to class along with paper and pencils. They shift their chairs during the school day to stay under the shade of the tree.
In partnership with UNICEF and Sudan’s Ministry of Education, World Concern is constructing 300 thatch school shelters to accommodate 100 students each. Community members clear the land in preparation for the construction
and own the shelters upon completion. A typical school site has three shelters. The half-walls are made of plastic sheeting and strong braided wood strips, coated with mud plaster. The roof is plastic sheeting with thatch — a cool retreat from the hot sun. And a place to learn.
Find out more about how World Concern is educating children in struggling communities like Kuajok.
World Concern staff member Susan Talbot, a technical specialist in commodities, logistics and disaster response, is in South Sudan this month.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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!
World Concern staff member Susan Talbot, a technical specialist in commodities, logistics and disaster response, is in South Sudan this month. The following is her account of a visit to one remote village where we’re working.
Today, our team traveled to Menaba, a three-hour journey by Landcruiser over a road that would be impassable to most vehicles. We are accompanied by tsetse flies that swarm over the windows and hood. Phillip, our security officer based out of Nairobi, says the flies are wondering why they can’t find blood on this elephant. It’s the end of the rainy season and the grasses on the sides and at times in the center of the road are 6-8 feet tall, snapping as the vehicle charges through and over them. As we hit flooded holes, the muddy water splashes on the windshield.
As we reach Menaba, our staff is finishing up distributing food – salt, dried beans and sorghum – to women with children. Some are displaced from other parts of South Sudan and others are returnees from Darfur. They’ve been settled in a nearby camp for about a year. Hunger and malnutrition are evident in the toddlers’ patchy hair. This is the end of the hunger gap, which starts in April. The gardens are producing and the marketplace has peanuts, tomatoes, watermelons and cucumbers. But the families in the camp have no land to farm and no resources to buy food. The women greet us like long lost relatives; so welcoming, so grateful.
Women with toddlers gather under a large tree to receive their monthly ration of Plumpydoz, a nutritional, peanut-based food that addresses malnutrition in 6 to 36-month-old children. Nearly 500 children have been registered at each of seven distribution sites in Raja County. Each family receives four containers per child—one container per week. The child takes a tablespoon of Plumpydoz twice a day. The supplement will help the child grow physically and mentally during a crucial period of development. Without adequate nutrition like this, a child’s health is compromised for the rest of his or her life.
We go over the hill to see World Concern’s school feeding program in action. The children crouch around their common bowl of cooked sorghum, four to a bowl, girls on one side of the yard, boys on the other, eating with their washed hands. The feeding program acts as an incentive for school attendance. It’s good to see so many attending school — about 400.
We are invited to join the school principal and some teachers under a tree for lunch. We sample the same cooked red sorghum the children are eating. I expect a bland taste of cooked grain cereal, and am surprised by the good flavor. Phillip sees a group of boys kicking around a soccer ball and quickly organizes a competitive drill, then divides them into teams for a game. He manages to communicate, even with his limited Arabic. Games and laughter transcend language and culture.
I am particularly drawn to a little boy of a young mother. He’s 3 years old and infected by intestinal parasites. Bloated bellies have many causes, but his mother confirms she sees the worms in his stool. After spotting him, I notice several others in a similar state.
I have experienced the heartache of having a child die from an incurable condition. When I make eye contact with this mother, I see the question on her face. Do you have something that will cure my child? For this mother and this child, hope exists in the form of a tablet that costs 44 cents.
You’ll notice that World Concern has a new logo – and tagline. We’re pretty excited about this, as it helps you – and us – tell the story about what we’re doing together.
Here’s a little background on how we reached this point.
I’ve traveled around the world and have seen nearly all of the work we do, in some of the toughest places on Earth. Over time, something has stood out in my mind.
I saw it in the life of a businesswoman in Chad. She escaped a war, with nothing but her wits, and built a new business – when given a chance. I saw it in a family in Bangladesh that went from poverty to prosperity, with education, job training, and a fish farm.
A theme that I see, over and over, is the transformation of lives. People who were hopeless, now have reasons to live.
In some ways, World Concern is not unique. There are many humanitarian organizations that seek to do good. And of those, quite a few have Christian backgrounds. In fact, there are several good ones that have either the word “World” or “Concern” in their name.
But what we see that is unique about World Concern is the one-on-one relationships that we build with people and communities, relationships that sometimes span years. We see that we make the biggest difference in people’s lives when we know them, work with them individually, and equip them with the tools they need to thrive.
We don’t just do good. We do good that lasts. In turn, those we help see themselves, and their lives, in new ways.
They know that God loves them. They have value. They can indeed succeed in life.
So – we’re inviting you, along with those we serve, and anyone else with eyes to see, to “witness the transformation.” Our work does make a difference.
We wanted to bring this idea to an icon as well. The icon we chose hints at transformation and new life: an emerging butterfly, motion, and several parts coming together into one unit. Here’s more about our new look.
We truly cannot do it without you.
In the coming months we will also unveil a new website, with features to make us more transparent, and equip you to act.
Thank you for your compassion for the world’s poor!
When we set out to visit the community of Dhobley, Somalia, it came after a security assessment from several people, and the knowledge that whatever the security may tell us, it’s still a dangerous place to go.
The militant group Al Shabaab, which has ties with Al Qaeda, was pushed farther back into Somalia a few months ago, helping Dhobley maintain some order. Security forces from Kenya and Somalia’s transitional government continue to make gains and reclaim territory. Still, news reports I’ve read indicate that Al Shabaab fighters are not very far outside of the community. And it’s clear that Al Shabaab is not far from the minds of the refugees.
When I talk with families fleeing the famine, I hear one thing again and again. It’s not just hunger that has driven families to leave. It’s the lawlessness that has flourished in the failed state of Somalia. I’ve heard horror stories of the innocent being victimized by evil men in unspeakable ways.
Even if these families had moderate success with their businesses or farming in Somalia, nearly all did it while living in fear. With the painful backdrop of poor security, the famine was the inescapable problem that pushed them over the edge, sending them on an uncertain journey for food and water. In order to affect long-term change, security must improve.
Heading to the nearly unmarked border
On a day we traveled to Somalia to work, we left World Concern’s base for famine response in Dadaab, Kenya. This town is home to the rapidly-growing complex of refugee camps you’ve seen on the news, as well as a large UN compound. It takes about two hours to drive from Dadaab to Dhobley, just across the Somalia border. Like other agencies, we have elected to have a security detail join us on the road.
The road to Somalia has no signs, just tire tracks in deep sand on a twisting road through scrub brush. Before reaching the border, we had to stop in the Kenyan border town of Liboi on our way to Dhobley, to get our passports stamped, knowing that there was no similar immigration checkpoint in Somalia.
The border has two non-descript markers, short unmarked concrete obelisks set along the road, in a section of sand and scrub that looks like any other. But that was our sign to stop. Our Kenyan vehicles could go no farther. Soon, after we called our contacts in Somalia, an ancient small Nissan transport van arrived, and we switched vehicles, from our Kenyan trucks, to the rented Somali van. Inside were Somali men who run a partner agency in Dadaab, and they would be leading us around town.
Gunfire seems normal
Dhobley was filled with livestock searching for a drink, and small shops like I have seen in other more established towns in Kenya. What was unusual was the military presence. Hundreds of young TFG soldiers dressed in green fatigues held old assault rifles and wandered around, on foot and in the back of pick-up trucks.
Every so often, I’d hear gunshots. Who was firing? I’m really not sure. I’d bet, though, that with no real functioning government, many people are armed. The crack of gunshots are common in Dhobley. People are saying, “Hi, how are you doing!” or “I am angry!” or some other message. But what we did not hear was prolonged gunfire to indicate an actual fight. And so, strangely, I stopped flinching when I heard a shot, and it just became ambient noise.
No hospital, but a medical clinic
World Concern is joined in Dhobley with our partners at Medical Teams International, who work under World Concern in the response. One man and a woman are from Uganda, and usually work in that country. They are extremely talented folks with much relevant experience. Because of the crisis, they’ve been called up. Another man is a physician from Oregon who specializes at diagnosing rare diseases, along with a nurse who is an expert in disaster medical care. Both of them have been in about seven missions with MTI.
The MTI team saw patients in a small clinic. The one story building is under construction, and helps the community compensate for the loss of a hospital. Locals say that Al Shabaab commandeered the hospital when it controlled the town, using the building as a base of operations. During the fight to reclaim Dhobley, the building was more or less destroyed.
Searching for working water wells
While the MTI team saw patients, a team from World Concern drove from water source to water source in town to see how the systems were functioning. After evaluating several pumping stations, we see they need work, and form a plan for how to help. With a large population of displaced people, the demand for food and water has increased. We also notice that people are using a watering hole for livestock as their source of drinking water. This is a guaranteed way to spread disease.
We’re also working here to ensure the hungry are fed. By using a voucher system, those in need are able to buy food from local businesses. We find that this is safer than trucking food down a road that is also home to bandits. And by buying from local vendors, we help the economy.
It is a safe bet that Dhobley receives many more refugees in the coming months. The primary road to the Dadaab refugee camps passes right through Dhobley. With continued unrest elsewhere in Somalia, and the growing famine, more families will decide to leave their homes, and search for a new life in Kenya as refugees.
Working for sustainability – with an eye on who’s really hurting
By helping communities with food, water and more, World Concern is working to help keep Somalis in Somalia, if possible, and out of the overburdened camps. And in our work with communities, we’re also helping ensure those who live in these towns on the border can survive the flood of travelers.
It is a complex problem, happening in a dangerous area, and it will get worse before it gets better. It is a difficult logistical and political equation to ensure long-term stability that will allow us to do the long-term transformational work that the community really needs.
What remains consistent, however, is the desperation from families who find themselves caught in the middle. It doesn’t matter that the security is rotten, and that bad people still roam freely here. The fact is that these families – men, women, boys and girls – need the basics of life. They need food and water, and without it, they will die.
Our goal is to be here long-term, to help the communities become more self sufficient, and less vulnerable. We want to see the communities transform. But the reality for now is that we are in a life-or-death crisis.
With those who are supporting us, we are able to make a small difference in this big disaster, making sure that families we touch will make it through this famine alive.
There is water in Damajale, Kenya today, bringing relief and smiles to the faces of thirsty children and families.
About a week ago, the only deep well in this village along the Kenya-Somalia border failed. The pump, 150 meters underground, was working round the clock and finally quit. Watch the CNN iReport here.
Damajale is one of many host communities that has seen a massive influx of refugees. In the past month, an additional 2,000 to 3,000 people have arrived here, having walked for days – even weeks – in search of food and water.
Fatuma, a mother of eight, was brought to tears when she realized there was no water. She had walked 30 kilometers through the night to Damajale to find only empty jerrycans stacked around the well.
“I struggle to stand here now, because I am so thirsty,” Fatuma said. “I don’t know when I will come back to my home. I may die on the way.”
World Concern is working in outlying host villages like this to get water and food to people there. Repairing and increasing the capacity of existing wells is one way we’re doing that.
In Damajale, we were able to get a new pump flown in, and engineers worked through the night to fix the well.
Today, water is flowing from the well.
To those who have donated to the famine response, the chairman of the elders of Damajale says, “You have come and rescued us. May God bless you.”