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.”
Last week we said goodbye to our Emergency Coordinator Tracy Stover as she boarded a plane for Dadaab, Kenya, where hundreds of thousands of refugees are in need of food and water. Watching her heavily loaded backpack disappear into the crowd at Sea-Tac airport, I found myself wondering, can one person really make a difference?
Tracy will be serving in the midst of the worst crisis facing the world today. The U.N. estimates 12.4 million people are now in need of humanitarian assistance. Half a million children are at risk of death from famine.
Figures like this cause us to wonder if even thousands of aid workers and millions of dollars can make a difference.
But Tracy is not going alone. She and the rest of the World Concern team working in the Horn of Africa have the support of donors. Like an invisible, potent force, those who are giving to this cause are making it possible for aid workers to save lives.
Can one person make a difference?
Anyone whose heart was touched by the tragic passing of 9-year-old Rachel Beckwith knows the answer is yes. Rachel’s legacy will live on for decades as entire villages will have clean water for generations to come because of her selfless act.
You can make a difference too. And you don’t have to do it alone. Most people will help if they are simply asked. Here are a few ways you could do that:
Host a dinner for friends. Ask each person to bring a potluck dish to share. Present some information about the famine in the Horn of Africa. Include stories of people who are hungry and in need. Ask everyone to consider donating whatever they would have spent on a nice dinner out to help families survive this disaster.
Sixty dollars can provide food and water for a family for a month. Think about that: the cost of one meal in a restaurant can keep five people alive for an entire month.
Hold a garage sale or rummage sale. Round up some friends at your church and ask members to donate unused clothing and household items for a charity sale. Donate the proceeds to help in the famine relief.
You can also dedicate a birthday, anniversary or even a day’s work to the cause. World Concern partner One Day’s Wages is raising funds to support the famine response. Check out their personal fundraising tools and think about what you could do to create your own fundraiser.
Our team pulled out of Dadaab shortly after breakfast, on the road to Somalia. It’s a dry, dusty road, with thorny bush on either side. The road itself is badly rutted, so weave along the ditch, following two tire tracks in the sand. Occasionally, we jump up on the road and dip down the embankment to the other side, continuing the weaving through acacias, sand flying in little rooster tails behind us.
Following closely is our security escort, a good natured sergeant in the Administration Police, and three kids so green they barely shave. They get sent to the border fresh out of school, to work them in for a few years. Now, they chase behind us through the thorny wasteland.
The only sign of life are the dik-diks, meercats, and the birds. The birds are also a sign of death. The road is littered with cattle carcasses, at least one every kilometer, and the Marabou storks gather around them. I have never seen so many Marabou storks before. They are the undertakers of the animal kingdom, overdressed in their black coats, strutting awkwardly around, and omnipresent at a funeral. As we pull into Liboi, I notice the storks are bigger than the goats, or even a small child. And they are everywhere.
While we take some tea in Liboi, it starts to rain. Irony. Rain in a drought. But this isn’t really rain. I only notice it on my specs. It’s such a fine drizzle, my clothes don’t get wet, and the ground is no less dusty.
We head on, through a few checkpoints, and we are there. It comes as a bit of surprise, really. Our escort actually had to pull us over, so we didn’t cross the line. The Somalia border is signified by a stone. “That tree is Somali,” said our guide, “and this tree is a Kenyan.” As we waited for our vehicle from Somalia, we walked past the stone and looked around.
This was it. I was in Somalia. There were bullets in some of the trees, a battle had been fought here. One of the soldiers handed me a shell. “Your souvenir,” he said.
I returned to Liboi for a few hours, while I waited for the team in Somalia. At the borehole, warthogs jostled with goats for water. They told me even giraffes and gazelles came into town to get water now. “What about the lions?” I asked. There are about 20 out there, was the response, but they haven’t come into town. Later I met a refugee, who had seen a man killed by a lion attack in his travels.
I visited the school. It was Saturday, but the boarding students were still there, sleeping through the heat in their dorms with insufficient mattresses, hanging their laundry to dry from the broken panes of glass in the windows. Three hundred boys aged 12 and up, their parents nomadic, trying to finish primary school. They have 2 toilets, neither has a door. During the week the school swells to 800, and with their pipes broken, they can’t afford the water required for the kids to wash their hands before meals.
In a small hotel, I found 100 refugees sleeping in the carport. They were waiting for evening to continue their journey. My guide told me to take their picture – that they said it was okay. The women covered their faces and looked away. They asked if I had any food. I didn’t – not for 100 people – and I felt like an idiot. The children all have watery diarrhea. I urge them, when they get to the camp, to take all their children to the clinic. “They will help you in Dadaab,” I said. I hope I’m right. I take the pictures, get in the car, and drive off. This is the part I hate.
When I met the team, they seemed a bit stunned. “It’s different over there. The ratio of soldiers to civilians is 4:1. Everyone has a gun.” And yet, the situation is really the same. Not enough food, not enough water, and not enough health care. They visited a hospital with most of the equipment intact, but holes in the wall from mortars and bullets. The roof had been destroyed in parts, and other walls were cracked and falling. An NGO is subsidizing water costs there, so at least the water is not too expensive.
We headed back to Dadaab as the sun began to set. Along the way we met a refugee family and their goats. “We left Kismayu 30 days ago,” they tell us. “People are starving to death there.”
The family of nine sleeps where night finds them, all their belongings on a donkey cart. They lost all their cows, and decided to leave before their goats died too. The woman is pregnant, and the oldest child is about 12. “Many of our people are going to Dadaab. Being in the camp is better than the drought.”
I found two packs of biscuits and a carton of juice in the boot. Our guide, a better man than I, gave them fare for the bus he knew was coming, so the mother and children could ride for 50 kilometers. The red sun slipped below the horizon into night.
World Concern is one of the first NGOs to be able to help in southern Somalia since Al-Shabaab, the militant group that controls the area, lifted a ban on humanitarian aid groups coming in. Learn more about our response and donate at www.worldconcern.org/crisis.
The term “famine” is not used loosely. In fact, there hasn’t been an official famine since 1984-85 when a million people died in Ethiopia and Sudan. Many of us remember the shocking images of hollow-cheeked, emaciated children on the news.
After multiple consecutive seasons of failed rains, the Horn of Africa (Somalia, Northeastern Kenya and Eastern Ethiopia) – is experiencing the worst drought in 60 years. The region is on the brink of famine.
In order to declare a famine, three conditions must be met:
Lack of resources to meet basic food requirements
Acute malnutrition rates above 30 percent
The mortality rate reaches five people per 10,000 per day
Somali refugees are experiencing the first two of these, and Kenyan populations, the second. Acute malnutrition in the region is the highest since 2003, according to USAID. More than 10 million people are affected.
The forecast is bleak. August is expected to be dry. About 1,300 people a day are crossing the border from Somalia into Kenya, landing in ill-equipped, over-crowded refugee camps.
Skyrocketing food prices, conflict, and limited humanitarian access have added to the crisis. Between January and April 2011, food prices increased more than 25% in Kenya. Maize prices in Somalia rose 117% since May of last year, according to the UN. Most of these populations are entirely dependent on livestock for income, but animals are dying at a rate of 40-60% above normal in Ethiopia. In some parts of Kenya most severely affected by drought, water is being trucked in.
“The current situation has been looming for some time; predications and scenarios spoken of three months ago are now, sadly, coming to fruition,” said World Concern Senior Director of Disaster Response and Security Nick Archer.
Our staff in Kenya and Somalia are assessing the needs of people in Eastern Kenya and Somalia this week. We already work in the region, and have for many years, developing clean water sources and more in drought-affected communities.
With the announcement that Al Shabaab, the militant group in control of Southern Somalia, having lifted its ban on humanitarian agencies entering the area, we’re considering resuming work in the Juba Valley – an area so plagued by conflict, we had to leave several years ago.
The faces of starving children from past famines still haunt us. Millions of concerned people around the world responded to the Ethiopia famine with donations. In a crisis, our instinct is to help. As the word “famine” teeters on the tips of officials’ tongues, we’re thankful to be able to do something. You can help World Concern respond by donating here as we deliver water and more to families enduring this crisis.
I will always think of the little boys with the pond scum mustaches when I consider the developing world’s water crisis. I met them in Kenya this week as the World Concern team was surveying an extremely remote village where we are planning further development.
We drove to a water pan – essentially a man-made pond for water collection. Water pans are usually reserved for livestock, but in this case, a couple of water pans were the community’s source of drinking water. After slipping through a fence made of gnarled branches and walking toward the muddy pond, I saw the water. It was green with algae, and moving with life. Over the surface of the water was a film of muck, essentially – pond scum.
As I was getting video and photos of this water pan, reality set in, as a group of five friends – thin and quiet little boys around 10 years old – came with filthy jugs, out to get a drink. They lined up alongside the pond, dipped their jugs in the water, brought the water to their mouths, and tipped the jugs back.
I knew at that moment that the boys were being infected, as they had been many times before, with parasites and bacteria that would make them sick. We scooped up some of this water in a clean, clear bottle – and with the naked eye could see worms and other creatures flex and swim through the opaque mess.
I could not believe the heartbreaking scene that I was witnessing. But for these little boys, there is no other source of water nearby. As they drank I noticed that around their small mouths was green pond scum.
In many cultures where World Concern works, there is a sense of fatalism. The tragic circumstances dealt to people are their fate, and they just need to accept them. Part of it is religious, part of it is cultural, part of it is just the fact that they haven’t seen anything better. Why would they hope for something they had not seen or heard about?
Here is the truth: God aches for these boys, as do we. What we know that the little boys don’t is that it doesn’t have to be this way. Working together, we are can bring the love of Christ in tangible ways to relieve the suffering that families have endured for generations. It just doesn’t have to be this way.
In communities where we have worked in a more significant way – communities that have seen the benefits of clean water, of sanitation, of education for children, of opportunities to work and save money – we have seen something happen. A spark of realization in the minds of hopeless people that the misery they’ve endured is not the final word. When they get it, mountains move. Children grow. Goals are set. Communities change – long term.
Water is one of the most important ways we can begin the process of this transformation, to show the light of Christ to people who have suffered for so long.
To learn more about World Concern’s water programs, or to help bring clean water to communities like this, visit www.worldconcern.org/water
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.
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.
While it’s sometimes hard to quantify success, one thing is certain – the ripple effect and long-term effects of good development work impact more people for generations to come than any of us will know.
How many future generations will benefit from one child in a poor Kenyan village making her way to university because her high school tuition was paid?
How many lives will be saved from better nutrition resulting from improved farming methods and tools in rural Laos?
On the other hand, because of excellent tracking and reporting by our field staff, there are many occasions when we can quantify results, and they’re often quite amazing.
This week we received a report that details six years worth of work with AIDS orphans in Kenya, Zambia and Haiti. This work was accomplished through the support of numerous partner agencies and funding from donors and USAID/PEPFAR.
The numbers are pretty astonishing:
Awareness was raised to enable support for children affected by HIV and AIDS in 6,495,030 people.
Basic needs were met and support was strengthened for 153,663 orphans.
27,943 orphans received access to formal education or vocational training.
6,759 older children (ages 15-17) were equipped to meet their own needs.
It’s exciting and motivating to be a part of something so great, yet at the forefront of our minds are the individuals among these numbers – individuals like 16-year-old Jacqueline, who lost both her parents when she was in eighth grade. She was left in the care of her elderly grandmother, and had almost quit school when help came her way.
Jacqueline and her grandmother received resources to grow a garden and to raise pigs and chickens for income. They earned enough to keep Jacqueline in school, where she passed her basic exam, earning her a spot in high school. She plans to become a doctor and return to her village, pledging to support other AIDS orphans like herself.
Even if Jacqueline had been the only one, the work would be worth it. But we’re thankful, as we reflect on 2010 and look ahead to 2011 that there are thousands more lives being changed every day.
Marking World AIDS Day today feels somewhat like a glass of cold water splashed in the face, charging the world to refocus its attention on the AIDS epidemic. Does it seem like HIV and AIDS have taken a backseat to other global issues? Could we even risk saying it’s no longer chic to fight this deadly disease?
The number of people infected with HIV had stabilized in recent years, and the numbers of new cases and deaths have both decreased (due to antiretroviral therapy), but we’re still a long way from reaching the Millennium Development Goal to “Achieve, by 2010, universal access to treatment for HIV/AIDS for all those who need it.”
Nevertheless, we at World Concern are encouraged some numbers of our own, which far exceeded our goals. In supporting children orphaned or left vulnerable for AIDS in Kenya, Zambia and Haiti, 153,663 children were served – 3,000 more than targeted. Many of those children live with caregivers – relatives or foster parents – and we strengthened 39,106 caregivers, 16,000 more than intended. Teenage orphans often end up caring for younger siblings, so we help them with food, education, vocational training and psycho-social support. Nearly 28,000 AIDS orphans received educational support through our projects, which had a goal of serving just 3,600.
Among those encouraging numbers are real people, and it’s important to put faces and names on this disease. One of those helped by World Concern is 15-year-old Japheth, who lives in Kenya.
Japheth was bounced between four homes in his short life. Raised by a single mother until she died, Japheth moved in with his grandmother, but she too passed away three years later. His aunt and uncle initially took him in, but he was kicked out of their home when his uncle learned that Japheth was HIV positive.
He had inherited a small piece of land from his mother, but his uncle snatched that up and sold it.
World Concern learned about Japheth and contacted a local pastor who has been active in our AIDS orphans program and found a foster family for Japheth. With our help, Japheth was also able to redeem the land that was stolen by his uncle. And, we helped him get his school fees covered so he could be back in school.
Japheth is now living in a supportive environment and thriving in school, scoring high enough grades to secure admission into Nijia High School.
World AIDS Day serves its purpose of raising awareness and refocusing people on this issue. But it’s still just a day. We need to remember that people like Japheth don’t need a day to be reminded of the devastation of HIV and AIDS. They live it every day.
Reading the riveting accounts of the Chilean miners’ ordeal this week, I came across a story that described how they survived the first 17 days before contact was established with the world above ground. Not only did they have to ration tiny amounts of food, but they drank water that trickled through the mine from an underground spring. The water, they said, was oily and had a foul taste. But they knew they had to drink it to survive.
People around the world are forced to make this same decision every day: Drink the dirty water that’s available, or die from dehydration. Unfortunately, when they do this, people often become sick from the water, contracting diarrheal disease or parasites, which also result in dehydration and even malnutrition. The cycle worsens when their fragile immune systems make them more vulnerable to other diseases.
When I think of water as it relates to health, I think mostly of thirst and dehydration. But having clean water to drink is only one aspect of how water contributes to health. Being able to wash your body, your clothes, and go to the bathroom someplace other than a field or stream, are vital to good health.
When I used to bathe my children when they were young, I thought of it more as a comfort than a necessity for health. Sure, a mother knows keeping her child clean is important, but bath time was usually more about making sure they smelled and looked decent after a day of being toddlers. I’ve always appreciated being able to wash away the day in the shower or bath, and start the next day fresh and clean.
For many moms around the world, this luxury is not available. Dirty children are often sick children. In poor villages in Africa, touching a contaminated surface or the face of an infected person, then touching your eye can actually lead to blindness as diseases like trachoma are spread this way.
In crowded conditions (i.e. most homes around the world), skin diseases like scabies spread easily from sharing unwashed clothing and bedding. The incessant itching can lead to open sores and dangerous infection. Kids are not allowed to attend school for being too dirty, or displaying the symptoms of scabies. This creates another huge problem—kids not being educated—all because of lack of water.
When I first learned about World Concern distributing bars of soap to refugees living in crowded camps in Chad, I thought, oh that’s nice. Now they won’t smell bad. But running water and a bar of soap are much more than that; they are the solution to stopping the spread of many communicable diseases. The people there use the bars of soap to wash clothes and bathe with. And their overall health is improved. We also teach them the basics of hygiene, like hand washing and using a latrine. It’s amazing how many of them don’t know why this is important.
Since I started working at World Concern, I have become acutely aware of the blessing of taking a shower. I never take that warm, running water for granted, and I want so much to ensure that moms like me around the world have a way to bathe their children at night, making them smell good, and protecting their lives.