How Clean Water Lifted Kampus and His Family Out of Extreme Poverty

Life was a struggle in Enchoro, the Maasai village where Kampus and his large family live in rural Kenya. Recurring drought made it impossible to earn a living. Livestock died. Crops failed. Kampus’s wife walked long distances in punishing heat to collect water. And his children were chronically sick with water-borne diseases. Continue reading How Clean Water Lifted Kampus and His Family Out of Extreme Poverty

Two Mothers, Different Worlds

How a Samburu Mom’s Unexpected Questions Changed Me

Written by Heather Nelson, One Village Transformed Communications Coordinator. 

I stepped off the plane and immediately felt the crisp air telling all my senses I was back home. After a week in the dry, scorching climate of Kenya, breathing in the Seattle air reminded me of drinking a tall glass of water after feeling uncomfortably parched the last seven days.

Still, there were two things I thirsted for more than the familiar scenery and drinkable air: seeing (and squeezing!) my two sweet boys I’d left behind while I flew across the world for my first trip to the field with World Concern.

I have the privilege of working as the One Village Transformed Communications Coordinator with World Concern, a vocation that lets me deep dive into the incredible transformational development happening in more than 30 villages in Asia, Africa, and Haiti.

The thing is, my job mostly takes place at a desk. I read technical reports emailed from the field, and I write from the comfort of my office chair. I share exciting updates with One Village Transformed supporters so they can see and feel the impact their gifts are having. It’s blessed work that I care about deeply. But until a few weeks ago, I mostly did this job from my head.

Now that’s changed.

Continue reading Two Mothers, Different Worlds

Finding Hope in Lolkuniani – One Village Transformed

It’s dry in Lolkuniani.

So dry that moms and their children walk up to six hours a day to find water. The riverbeds are bare and dusty, but if they dig deep enough small pools of water gradually appear. It’s this water, brown and murky, they scoop into containers that are so heavy when filled they must use a strap against their foreheads to carry the weight.

It’s a physical burden that represents not only the hardships they face, but the weight of understanding that this is not what it means to live a full, abundant life.

Lolkuniani is ready for a change. Continue reading Finding Hope in Lolkuniani – One Village Transformed

For Girls, School Can Mean Escaping Child Marriage, Poverty, and Abuse

“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 outside primary school.
You can help a girl like Jackline be the first in her village to attend high school.

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.

Girls in Jackline's primary class.
Girls in Jackline’s primary class.

“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.

Listed on this chalk board in Jackline's classroom are some of the struggles girls in rural Kenya face.
Listed on this chalk board in Jackline’s classroom are some of the struggles girls in rural Kenya face.

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.

Jackline and her teacher, who inspires her to become a teacher one day herself and ensure other girls have the opportunity to go to school.
Jackline and her teacher, who inspires her to become a teacher one day herself and ensure other girls have the opportunity to go to school.

“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.”

Happy girls in schoolI 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.

Donate today: www.worldconcern.org/school4girls

Eye Contact: Seeing a woman’s story in her eyes

A young girl in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
A young girl in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

As I walked through a village ravaged by drought and famine, I saw women scavenging for scraps of firewood that they could barter for food to feed their families. I met a young mother who couldn’t have been more than 14 years old. She had two small children to feed and care for, and barely enough food to give them. She went hungry that day so that they could eat. Our eyes met and I reached out to squeeze her hand. In that moment I knew what sacrifice looks like.

In rural Kenya, I met a little girl named Zincia who was in sixth grade and was the only girl left in her class. All the other girls had dropped out of school by her age—some forced into early marriages. Others dropped out simply because there was no water source in their village. Their families needed them to fetch water. This duty consumed six hours of their day, round trip. It is a hard and dangerous chore that leaves no time to even consider school. But one brave little girl managed to grab onto a hope that education would provide for her a better life. I met her eyes and I was humbled by her dedication.

A mom in Haiti.
A mom in Haiti.

In Haiti, I had to force myself to look into the eyes of a mother who lost a child in the earthquake. The same day she buried her child she was out looking for work. She had three other children who needed her. There was no time for self-pity or even for grieving. Her children depended on her and so she got up and did what she needed to do so that they would eat that day. As our eyes met, I was no longer a humanitarian; I was just a mom who saw my sister’s suffering.

Through my work with World Concern, I have walked in some of the neediest places in the world. It’s hard to see some of the things I see … until I remember that God sees each of those that suffer and He knows them by name. Sometimes what I see makes my cry. Sometimes I want to look away… But I am always amazed by the resilience and strength I see too in the women I meet. And they—my sisters—are worthy of respect and dignity, not pity.

A woman in South Sudan.
A woman in South Sudan.

March 8 is International Women’s Day. The first International Women’s Day was observed in 1911. Now, more than 100 years later, the need to see, recognize, and respond to the issues women face in developing nations remains great. They each have a story of sacrifice, resilience, hard work, and determination. And, I am committed to maintaining “eye contact” with them until they and their daughters are truly seen.

Ilova no longer fears snakes, buffalo, or cholera

It’s noon, the least ideal time of day for interviewing and taking pictures. Stomachs are rumbling, the brisk morning air has been swallowed up by the afternoon heat, and the sun is positioned directly over our heads.

Ilova
Ilova

Ilova Kokoto and I move into the shade of Ilova’s meager brick home. She lives here with her daughter and granddaughter. Natural light streams through the doorway and frames Ilova’s face – exposing her wisdom-induced wrinkles and deep brown eyes. “I’m not able to know my age,” Ilova shares, but it is apparent that she has lived to see a thing or two.

We are in Basuba, a rural village in Lamu county – a detour off of the journey up Kenya’s coast, the road toward Somalia.

“Life in Basuba is difficult. For many years, we have suffered from famine due to numerous droughts,” Ilova explains in perfect Kiswahili, an infamous attribute of Kenya’s coastal region.

Resting her chin on her weathered hands, the mother of four continues, “Until two years ago, we had no clean water. We traveled far to collect dirty water, and many people died from cholera.”

Though proud of Basuba’s recent clean water improvement, Ilova further informs me about the village’s ongoing challenges – many of which will soon be considered a shida (Kiswahili for trouble) of the past.

Take hygiene, for example. When World Concern first visited Basuba, the community was living naively in hygiene indifference. Having never been educated about the importance of drinking clean water, relieving oneself in a contained area, and washing one’s hands, preventable diseases were rampant among local residents.

Because of their partnership with World Concern, Basuba’s residents are now able to collect clean water in this djabia.
Because of their partnership with World Concern, Basuba’s residents are now able to collect clean water in this djabia.

In the past three years, World Concern has partnered with the people of Basuba to install a large djabia (a clean water catchment pictured above) and 20 latrines.

Peter standing proud.

Ilova laughs recalling her defecation memories of the past. “When we would relieve ourselves, we would have to go deep in the bush. Even at night. Sometimes I would encounter snakes and buffalo and have to run for my life. It was very hectic.”

It did not require much consideration for the Basuba community to insert latrine use into their daily routines. Ilova explains, “The toilets are nice, we are using them often. We now don’t have to go where there is a lot of danger.” 

Sitting on the dirt in Ilova’s doorway, I cannot help but feel overwhelmed by the glaring simplicity that is such an immense issue – an issue that is lessening both the quality and length of human life all over the world. Simply put, many survive without available, clean water and hygiene education. These should be a basic human rights, yes?

Though the people of Basuba still suffer from poor farming conditions, World Concern’s partnership has transformed a significant part of their daily life. According to Ilova, “Because of the toilets, we don’t feel the sicknesses we used to have. We used to complain of stomach issues but we no longer do because the conditions are clean.”

Peter Okongi, a Basuba primary school teacher who has been translating for me throughout the interview, proceeds to chime in (though I will toot my own horn a little here – I could understand about half of Ilova’s sentences. Mimi nimefahamu!), “When I first moved here, there was no clean water and no latrines. Clean water was very difficult to find. People could travel between 4 – 5 km to collect unhygienic water. My students would often complain of stomach ache. Even me, I was often sick.”

Ilova outside her home.
Ilova outside her home.
[Right to Left]: Ilova, her granddaughter Basho, and her daughter Ahaldo.
Beautiful Ahaldo.
Beautiful Ahaldo.

A Nairobi native, 36-year-old Peter was assigned to teach in Basuba three years prior – just before World Concern installed the djabia. Frustrated that his students frequently missed school as a result of their poor health and the distance of the remote water locations, Peter is particularly jovial about the community’s recent improvements, “Even school attendance has increased. Students used to travel so far that they sometimes had to stay a night away. But now that the water is available, more are able to attend school, where we are also teaching about hygiene.”

In front/inside of Basuba's school.
In front/inside of Basuba’s school.

Ilova’s gorgeous daughter and granddaughter step into the home, plopping themselves into plastic chairs. Looking at her loved ones, Ilova warmly expresses, “Now that the toilets are built, we are no longer afraid. We feel supported.”

Snakes, buffalo, and cholera be gone. “We feel supported.”

Support empowers people live with dignity – to live a quality of life that is deserved by all human beings. Empowered with clean water and education, in partnership with World Concern, the people of Basuba are jumping across stepping stones toward holistic transformation.

Here’s the most beautiful part: with education, training, and proper equipment, on their own, the people of Basuba are going to be able to maintain a lifestyle that includes clean water and hygiene for years to come.

#WeAreOne – Kenya’s Unity Shines Through Crisis

I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

This is senseless. I am speechless. We are all shaken.

As many of you are acutely aware, for the past several days the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, has been under siege in what appears to be a very organized and intentional terrorist attack. Though the true motives behind this horrendous act are not yet fully known, here are some things I know:

Innocent lives were lost. And innocent lives should never be lost.

One’s race, religion, economic-status, age, gender, or political affiliation have never, will never, and should never be reason enough to rob an individual of his or her life.

Despite the obvious tension looming over Nairobi, Kenya’s largely diverse and culturally rich capital city, home to about 4 million people, life continues to move forward.

Kenyans are extremely resilient people.

If you have been following Kenyan Twitter accounts over the last two days, you will have seen this popular hashtag attached to many Westgate Mall tweets: #WeAreOne.

Carrying a complex history sewn together by the threads of colonization, suppression, tribal violence, political corruption, and economic difficulties, Kenyans have managed to continually strive toward unity: unity in the home, unity in the larger community, and unity as a nation.

Out of the dark events of the past hours, a bright light that is the Kenyan people’s commitment to human unity has been a shining reminder that We Are One.

Amidst the weekend’s tragedies, numerous beautiful stories have surfaced – sweet reminders of God’s kingdom on earth. The following is a brief recap from a Nairobi resident’s Twitter account:

#WestGate

Little children pushed other children out of harm’s way. Children pulled children to safety.

Kenyan police run into harm’s way for us with no helmet, no bullet proof vests and regular shoes.

A Muslim man wrote a short prayer on a piece of paper for a Christian man he was hiding with and helped him to memorize it in case the terrorists asked him to say something from the Quran.

Secretary General of the Red Cross put on a volunteers vest and went on site to work with his paramedics.

The Kenya Defense Forces went in there like superheroes.

No hospital turned a patient away.

Blood banks were full before they were empty again.

#KOT outrage on NY Times images made them pull those images off.

Heaven was filled with prayers and questions.

We will prevail.

“We are as brave and invincible as the lions on our coat of arms.” – President Uhuru Kenyatta.

As this sickening event continues to plague the media – as speculations make their way into many a conversation – I encourage all of us to use our words wisely. No matter who committed these atrocities, no matter what innocent victims have lost their lives, we are one. As difficult as it is to stomach, we are all God’s sons and daughters. Somali, Kenyan. Black, white. Rich, poor. Male, female. Old, young. Al-Shabaab, Kenyan Military.

In the aftermath of such events, it is common that previously existing stereotypes, labels, and divisions are only widened and strengthened.

I encourage you to pray for those who will fall into these stereotypes and categories. I urge you to remind them that they are loved and valued. I urge you to think and process before you speak.

I urge you to pray. Pray for the victims and the families of victims. Pray for Nairobi. Pray for Kenya’s government. Pray for the future of this beautiful nation.

Pray for the persecuted and, equally important, the persecutor.

#WeAreOne

“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.

 In closing, here are some words from World Concern’s Kenya Country Director, Peter Macharia:

“Westgate is a lovely place and Kenya is a very beautiful country. With 68 confirmed dead and many more people still inside the building with 10-15 gunmen, my heart sinks. I sincerely congratulate our police and army for the rescue of the more than 1,000 people from the building and my condolences to those who have been left by their loved ones. As the president said, we will not be cowed. Kenya will rise again!

World Concern has accounted for its entire staff in Kenya and we are glad no one was injured or killed by this despicable and devilish terrorist act. We continue to pray for those who lost their loved ones and hope that those still being held hostage will survive. We also pray that this will never be witnessed again in our country. We also pray that Somalia will soon find peace. The Westgate attack gives a glimpse of what has become the norm in
Somalia.”

Water Changes Lives

ExOfficio GM Steve Bendzak with World Concern staff members in their new shirts.
ExOfficio GM Steve Bendzak with World Concern staff members in their new shirts.

This week, I’ve been traveling in Kenya with ExOfficio, a generous company that has outfitted our field staff with new shirts.

Yesterday, we visited two villages in Kenya that have been dramatically changed by access to water.

In the first village, Naroomoru, Maasai boys danced for us, singing a special song about how World Concern and their water pump has changed their village. Incredible. Before the pump, villagers were drinking out of a disease-filled lagoon. The kids in the village were sick all of the time. Typhoid, dysentery, diarrhea…

School kids in Naroomoru, Kenya are healthier and doing better in school because of clean water.
School kids in Naroomoru, Kenya are healthier and doing better in school because of clean water.

The teacher in Naroomoru was telling me he once had to call for a medic because a child was having uncontrollable diarrhea and needed to be rushed to the hospital. No more. With clean water, hygiene and sanitation, this plague of diseases has ended.

School performance has also increased, as the children are not sick. The school’s rating in the area has increased from about 160 out of 180 schools in the area, to about the 30th best performing school out of the 180 schools. Huge.

The second village, Mpiro, now has a water pan—a protected man-made pond for providing water for livestock. Before the water pan, the villagers had to walk their animals for three hours, round trip, to get water at the base of a mountain. This area is filled with dangerous animals. One man told me about his nephew being trampled to death by an elephant. Now, the access to water is 5 minutes away.

We enjoyed a dance performance by Maasai boys in their village.
We enjoyed a dance performance by Maasai boys in their village.

In Mpiro, we and our clothing partners from ExOfficio had the opportunity to work with the villagers as they planted sisal, a drought-resistant plant, along the edges of the water pan. This planting helps protect the berms of the water pan from degradation, and reduces the amount of crud that blows into the pond.

An incredible day—to reflect on how blessed I am to have unlimited, clean water—and a reminder of the dramatic ways life can change for the better by partnering with villages to tackle these problems head-on.

For more on water: http://www.worldconcern.org/water
For more about ExOfficio: http://exofficio.com/

A young donor’s response helps educate a girl

The following is an excerpt of a letter we received from a 20-year-old woman. She enclosed a fifty dollar bill to help educate a young girl in a poor country. It touched our hearts to hear how she was able to put herself in Jovia’s shoes, and to see how God uses people to help transform the lives of those in need.

Dear David Eller,

letter-for-blog4I received your letter about this 14-year-old girl named Jovia. I was touched by your letter and I was shocked to see that these girls are getting married at such a young age. I cannot imagine being married at my age, which is 20, let alone 14! My heart goes out to these young girls.

I received my paycheck at work and discovered I had less hours this week. I wanted to give to Jovia and her cause, but was struggling with how I was going to make it work. I was really praying about it and I didn’t know what to do, so I set the letter aside.

One morning, I was reading my Bible and this portion of scripture caught my eye:

“If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”  (1 John 3:17-18)

I read those verses and paused. Memories of my high school years filled my mind. There were so many fun, exciting, embarrassing, sad, and interesting situations that I had growing up. I have some of the most lasting friendships from high school.

I know Jovia would love to continue having those experiences and friendships in her teen life. Those are what start to mold us into who we are today. So to get married right off the bat so young would be missing out on a part of your life that has not been fulfilled.

I glanced around my room and saw all the beautiful luxuries I had compared to Jovia. I have a comfortable bed with a pretty bed spread, sturdy furniture, many nice clothes, purple painted walls, and carpeting. I know I am blessed, and to read about this girl who doesn’t have anything close to that, and her only hope is for her dream of attending school this year to come true.

The Lord is always faithful and guides us with his eye. He moves in wondrous ways…

God bless your ministry!

Click here if you’d like to provide a year of school for a young girl like Jovai for $50.

Let’s do more than talk about educating girls

Malala Yousafzai’s tragic experience of being shot for her advocacy of girls’ rights has brought much attention to the importance of and need for girls’ education worldwide. As Malala celebrates her 16th birthday with a visit to the UN, all eyes are on the world’s response.

Will we simply talk about the importance of educating girls? Or will we do something?

Christine in Kenya.
Christine was the only girl in her class in secondary school in rural Kenya. Now, she’s a role model for other girls in her community to pursue their education.

When I think of the incredible challenges faced by girls in developing countries to pursue an education, I think of girls like Christine.

Unlike most girls her age, Christine is one of the few in her rural Kenyan community to complete her education. Throughout secondary school, she was the only girl in her class. “It was difficult,” she said.

In this part of the world, most girls her age are either married off young—some as young as 10-years-old—or cannot afford to pay school fees. When finances are tight, parents tend to pay for their sons to go to school, rather than daughters. World Concern provides scholarships for girls like Christine to finish school.

Because she did not marry young, Christine and her family were ridiculed by others for their decision to pursue education. She found it hard to relate to her friends. But this never weakened her determination.

A young girl studying in Bangladesh.
A young girl studying in Bangladesh.

Christine is waiting for the results from her secondary exams so she can apply to university. “I want to become a dentist so that I can come back to the village and help others. One day I want to start a school to educate more girls.”

Christine is now a role model for girls in her community.

“The few girls in the area who are not married off are working hard so they can reach the level I’ve reached,” she said. Twirling her braids for a moment, she paused, then said, “I tell them to work hard because life is so hard.”

“In Maasai land, girls are very vulnerable,” explains Jennifer Warabi, the head teacher at a nearby primary school that provides scholarships for at-risk girls. “Parents send boys to school over girls. We have rescued many girls who were married at a young age, and brought them to school so they can continue their education.”

Ms. Warabi has taken a special interest in one of her teen students named Agnes, who was already married and pregnant when she came to the school. She gave birth while living at the school, but has been able to continue her studies. “She’s performing well,” said Ms. Warabi.

The situation in places like Haiti is critical too. Crushing poverty keeps many girls from attending school, and even fewer from completing their education.

It is especially important to support girls in their pursuit of education.  According to UNICEF, only 52% of girls in Haiti participate in primary school and the number drops to 21% in secondary.  The need is obvious, and the solution is simple.  Not only does an education provide increased social and economic opportunities for a girl but it helps break the cycle of poverty in her family and community.

After finishing high school, Manoucha hopes to become a nurse and help people in her rural village in Haiti.
After finishing high school, Manoucha hopes to become a nurse so she can help others in her rural village in Haiti.

Manoucha is 19 years old but still has a couple of years left of high school.  “I like to go to school but I have lost some years because I was sick,” explained Manoucha.

Although she has experienced challenges, Manoucha is committed to finishing high school.  “It’s the best way to help your family,” she said. She also has a dream of being able to help others one day. “When I become older I want to be a nurse because if someone is to get sick I will be able to give them aid.”

World Concern is helping Manoucha finish her education. In Haiti, we do this by providing young people like her a way to earn income and pay school fees. Manoucha received a goat and training on how to care for her goat.

Her goat’s first baby was returned to the program so it can be given to another child. This way, the program can sustain itself and kids are able to learn a skill and are given ownership.

A young girl works hard in her classroom in Laos.
A young girl works hard in her classroom in Laos.

“Once there are more baby goats I will sell them to purchase things I need,” she said.  “It will help me pay for school fees.”

You can help a girl like Christine or Manoucha finish her education, pursue her dreams and change the future of her entire community. As we stand in awe of Malala’s courage today, let’s help her celebrate this milestone birthday by taking action.

Click here to give the gift of education to a girl in need. $50 provides an entire year of schooling in a poor community.

“I want every girl, every child to be educated.” – Malala Yousafzai