The high-school scholarships are arriving in Bangladesh, and girls are grinning from ear to ear.
A small team of our staff recently visited a handful of Bangladeshi villages, and got to see first-hand how your gifts are not only making a difference, but bringing smiles to young faces.
We met some remarkable girls who, after bravely sharing their fears of becoming child brides, couldn’t stop thanking you for giving them a one-year scholarship to stay in school.
For many girls living here (some as young as 10), child marriage is a terrible reality, and one that won’t seem to go away. It’s a generational problem that’s fueled by warped cultural beliefs and choking poverty; the effects of which see desperate parents marry their daughters off to alleviate the financial burden of care. So when 16-year-old Happy learned that her father had plans to marry her off, she threw herself at his feet and begged him to change his mind. It’s heartbreaking to know that girls like Happy are losing their childhoods and being placed in danger, largely because their parents see no way out.
The solution is education, and girls like Happy rely on the generosity of people like you to help make it happen. The more time we spent with Happy, the more we realized what a scholarship gift really meant. She (like every other girl we met) cried tears of joy and relief knowing that she could now attend school and avoid child marriage.
“Without this scholarship, I would already be married,” shares 15-year-old Dipa, who wants to become a doctor when she’s older. Dipa has such a heart for learning that it’s hard to imagine her not in a classroom, let alone bound to a complete stranger. But like Happy, getting married was a fear that Dipa lived with daily until her sister did something unthinkable.
When Dipa was just 13, her sister volunteered herself to live as a stranger’s wife to save Dipa and give her the chance to stay in school. “I was sad and I felt lonely when my sister got married and left,” explains Dipa. “She didn’t want to get married, but she knew if she did it would take the pressure off me,”
But as Dipa grew older, the risk of her being married off returned, as did her fears. So when your one-year scholarship arrived, Dipa couldn’t stop smiling!
She feels safe for the first time in years and now has the confidence to finish school and chase her dreams—maybe even one day marry the man that God has intended.
In the rural villages of Bangladesh, girls like Dipa and Happy are smiling once again thanks to you.
It’s 7:30 a.m. when our little team of four load up our Jeep and head to Sri Nathkot.
This mountaintop village is just a three-hour drive from our hotel here in Pokhara, a popular tourist town in Nepal. The earthquake that rattled much of this region seemed to have mercy on this town with most of the buildings surprisingly still intact. But we’ve learned that just a few hours away, the village of Sri Nathkot was not so lucky. This community, home to around 150 people, has suffered major damage.
As we begin our journey, the clouds lift just enough to offer us a glimpse of Fish Tail, a majestic peak, not much lower than the famous Mt. Everest. Nepali driver barely took much notice. Living in the foothills of the Annapurna Mountain range, these sights have become commonplace to them.
We drive for a few hours and abruptly come to the end of the road. To this point, the earthquake had been quite selective, leaving most of the villages we passed through untouched. But ironically, as we leave the pavement behind and drive onward down dirt roads, the damage shows the magnitude of this earthquake. Homes are destroyed, some flattened, others partially collapsed. But almost all are uninhabitable. It was suddenly very easy to see how in just 90 seconds people’s lives were torn apart.
We press on towards Sri Nathkot, to visit with one of World Concern’s partners who has been working to help the survivors of this disaster. As we approach the foothills surrounding the village, the road narrows and the terrain changes dramatically. We carefully negotiate switchbacks etched into steep hillsides, mindful of the 100 foot drop-offs just a few feet from our tires.
As we make our way up another switchback, we see ahead that the road is completely impassible – for hundreds of yards, rocks had been placed in pile after pile by a local group of Nepali trying to improve passage up the mountain. We decide to turn around, go back to the fork in the road and try the other way. Our driver has not been this way before, but believes it to circle around and eventually provide access to Sri Nathkot.
The three hour mark has long passed, yet we press on and climb again for what seems to be an endless zigzag of switchbacks, each one taking us higher up the mountain. Then we reach a village. We stop and ask if this is the way to Sri Nathkot. and to our relief it is, but it’s still a couple of hours of driving on this ‘road’.
We arrive at a second village, and we’re told the same thing; a few more hours. With each turn, I’m convinced the road is becoming more and more impassible yet amazingly, we manage to climb higher. At this point, the driver tells us that he has never driven a road like this before (would have been nice to know before departing), but he’d brought us this far, so we push on.
By now, the sun is setting below the mountain tops and we are led only by the dim headlights on our Jeep (and a lot of faith!). We joke that it may be better we don’t see where we’re headed as the view in daylight, while breathtaking, was at times quite terrifying.
The sun quickly set and the moonlight was obscured by clouds, making it so dark that I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. But around (what felt like) one more switchback, we saw the glow of light coming from a small village….Sri Nathkot. We had arrived!
And as I reflect on this marathon journey that ended over 12 hours after it began, the reality of World Concern’s commitment to serving the most remote communities hit me. They truly go where no one else goes. There is simply no valley too deep or mountain too tall.
While we rested in Sri Nathkot that evening, my thoughts moved towards the people already here and the tragedy they’d just survived. I looked forward to meeting them, hearing their stories, and seeing how World Concern is bringing hope back to this isolated community.
In Sri Nathkot and beyond, World Concern is quite literally working at the end of the road to transform lives.
When Karima was just 8 years-old, her father left. And she took it hard.
She had not lived a day without him by her side. This man had protected her, and worked to keep her in school. So when he abandoned her mother and two sisters, Karima’s world came crashing down. Nobody came to console her. Nobody was there to wipe away her tears.
And sadly things would only get worse.
Karima’s village is in Bangladesh, and while she was too young to know it, it’s a country where many young girls are married off as child brides. Bangladesh has the fourth highest rate of child marriage in the world, where 1 in every 5 girls is married before they turn 15.
Mired in poverty after her husband left, Karima’s mother managed to survive in a small dilapidated shack, no bigger than your average kitchen. She fiercely protected Karima, and fought to keep her in school, knowing that an education was the only thing that would help her escape this life.
So she did what any mother would—she worked to find a way.
But with no money, and never having worked before, it was close to impossible. She finally found a day laboring job but the wage was small, barely enough to pay for food. There were days when the family would go without just so Karima could stay in school. It was an overwhelming sacrifice and money was quickly running out.
In Bangladesh, stories like this are far too common. In this article, a 15-year-old child bride sadly reflects on her situation saying, “We were very poor. Sometimes we would eat every two or three days,” she says. “Even though they [parents] really wanted all three of their daughter to study, it wasn’t possible –so they got me married.” Her older sisters married at 11 and 12.
So for Karima’s mother, it was no surprise when a friend suggested her daughter be married off as a child bride. This is the shocking reality for girls like Karima. They have no say, no choice. Their only hope of avoiding this terrifying prospect is to stay in school.
At World Concern, we consider every child precious. And for that reason we’re focusing our efforts on preventing girls like Karima from becoming child brides, by doing all we can to keep them in school.
We do this by providing scholarships for girls like Karima. The scholarship gives them an education and keeps them from being married off too young.
I recently visited remote villages in South Sudan; a brief visit that has left me journeying through unexplored trails in my own heart.
One experience especially stands out.
It started during a village meeting, in which several ladies in Mayen offered to take me to their homes, to witness the impact of our projects – each terming her household as the “most transformed.” So I settled on visiting just three who stated that their houses were nearby.
Strapped for energy and time, my plan was to make a quick dash and back; but some plans don’t unwind as neatly – at least not in the field.
In an entourage of about 10, composed of residents and World Concern staff, we set off and immediately picked pace.
We walked and walked, trudging through snaky paths set on brownish grass amidst isolated huts and trees as the hot South Sudan sun stared down at us.
After a non-stop 45 minute walk, I let my protests be known. “I will go no further,” I swore. “Let’s turn back now!”
“But we’re just near,” the translator said, a line he repeated whenever I aired my calls of surrender, which was several times more.
It would be an eternity before Angelina Mir’s house came over to meet us. By then I had protested a handful more times hesitatingly agreeing to keep going each time. What’s the use of walking all this way and returning without a story? I kept thinking.
We finally arrived, worn and dusty. My interior was that of an angry man.
Angry at myself for suggesting the trek, angry at myself for forgetting to carry a water bottle, angry at the residents for ‘lying’ about the distance, angry at our vehicle for being unable to snake through the slender paths, and thorny shrubs – places never before driven on. . .
Then it dawned on me.
This heavy trudge for me was a normal walk for residents. My discomfort at having no drinking water for just a few hours, was a way of life for them (we only came across only two shallow wells, whose water we wouldn’t pour on our heads let alone drink). The hunger I felt was a lifestyle for them.
The people we serve live with these inconveniences every day.
Yet under the seemingly hopeless situation, they are determined to make their lives beautiful.
Angelina for instance borrowed a loan of 200 SSP ($36) from a micro-finance group started through World Concern. That loan ended up saving her son’s life. Four-year-old Marco Anae urgently needed surgery. His stomach had swelled and become intolerably painful from an intestinal blockage. He vomited spurts of blood and lost consciousness as it swelled on.
Although the normal reaction for community members is to sell livestock when in need of money, being a member of the Buak kukopadh (Let us go after something good) micro-finance group saved her income, as well as her son’s life. “I didn’t sell a goat. It’s a long process which involves taking the goat to the town center where it may stay for up to two days before anyone purchases it,” she explained.
Within only a day of borrowing, she was on her way to hospital – a journey that entailed a two hour long trek carrying Marco before boarding a vehicle to the next town. The loan helped facilitate expenses to the hospital and Marco’s new nutritional demands as the surgery was offered at no charge.
Her group of 21 women has so far saved 2205 SSP ($400) from which they borrow loans to boost their business and repay with interest. Angelina owns a total of 13 goats, one cow and lots of chickens. Besides boosting individual finances, some of the members have their spiritual lives nourished at nearby Pascal Catholic church. Through afternoon adult literacy classes at the church, Angelina is now able to write all her group members’ names!
Some views along the way:
On our way back, my mind was heavy in thought contemplating how impatient I have been whenever residents show up an hour or two later than scheduled. I realized it takes them just as long to walk to our meeting areas – even longer when rain falls; and mostly they come with parched mouths, empty stomachs, having already handled hundreds of roles, that especially make a woman who she is in the areas we work.
Yet they smile.
They have a strong will to keep going no matter how rough the trudge is.
This experience has brought me face to face with myself. Until now I thought I was patient, determined and perseverant among other countless virtues, but the people I met in South Sudan beat me at it. They roundly beat me at it.
Through One Village Transformed, World Concern and several partner churches are supporting Mayen village through protection of clean water, food production, livelihoods and robust microfinance. The project is a journey we’re taking alongside the community. You can be part of it. Here’s how.
At World Concern we work hard to alleviate the suffering of the poor and provide the tools that will empower them to lead full and productive lives. I am so incredibly grateful for your partnership and support that makes this important work possible.
I’m writing today to share something that has been on my heart recently. I care deeply about the poor and vulnerable in the world, and I know you do too. I cry with the mother who cannot feed her child. I grieve with the father who has lost all means of providing for his family as war rips through his village. My heart breaks for precious children who will not grow to their full God-given potential because their little bodies are ravaged by preventable diseases.
I am moved by compassion to make a difference in all of these areas. At the same time I am keenly aware that so many of the obstacles that we face in reaching those beyond the end of the road cannot be overcome by hard work alone. We absolutely need the intervention of God. We need the Lord to move on our behalf providing, protecting, and enabling us to do this work.
With this in mind, I am committing myself this year more fully to prayer. At World Concern we are all about seeing lives transformed from poverty to the abundance of life. We also know that the work of transformation is a spiritual work and therefore must be approached by spiritual means. In Psalm 127:1 we read, “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain.” This means that our hard work alone won’t accomplish all we hope to see. We need God’s help.
World Concern is joining all of CRISTA Ministries in dedicating this week to prayer and fasting, and today I invite you to join us. Please pray that God would bless the mission of World Concern as we labor to serve those who are precious to His heart.
Specifically, please pray:
that World Concern would extend its witness both with those we serve and those who partner with us in our work.
that World Concern would extend its reach into more communities where the vulnerable are at risk.
that God would miraculously provide qualified staff and ample resources to expand our reach and witness.
Drop me a note and let me know that you will add World Concern to your prayers this week.
Greetings from Sri Lanka! I’ve spent the past week and a half seeing our projects, meeting our dairy farmers, and spending lots of time with our Children’s Clubs – a safe haven for children at risk of trafficking.
I have two stories that really stand out to me that I want to share with you in the hopes that they will touch your hearts and encourage you today. You make this possible and are just as relevant in these stories as our staff on the ground.
We met with a family from the “untouchable” caste. The four children were abandoned by mother. Their father was killed in the war. The grandparents are caring for the children as best as they can. The grandmother is blind and the grandfather crippled, making supporting this family nearly impossible. Both of them received their injuries from the war.
One of these four children is a precious little girl who is being abused by local fishermen. Some days they don’t have food to eat. The day we visited was such a day. The little baby was cared for by the older sister (8 years old). He just cried and cried.
World Concern is intervening in this small community of 15 families. We have plans for small gardens, goats, Children’s Clubs, and other life-giving, life-saving interventions. Before we left, we prayed for this sweet forgotten family. Forgotten by most, but not by God, and not by World Concern.
Tonight we stopped at the hut of a young mother. She has five children. They have absolutely nothing. The clothing on their backs is all they have and when it is washed they have nothing to wear until it dries. The father too was killed in the war. This mom has no hope and tragically tried to take her own life and the life of her baby. The little one died. She survived. She is completely broken in every possible way.
Our compassionate staff is working with her and her situation. I wish you could have seen the tender way they met with her, cared for her, and prayed with her—it would have brought tears to your eyes as it did mine. They will look after her needs and the needs of her family, walking with her for the long journey.
World Concern is the hands, feet, and face of Jesus here. This is why we do what we do. And we couldn’t do any of this without you. Thank you for partnering with us.
I have never been more humbled and committed to our mission. Pray with me that the Lord will bless this work. It is a light in many dark places.
Sarah Kaczka is a social media intern at World Concern and will be posting on the blog this summer. As a sophomore at Wheaton College, she is interested in journalism and humanitarian aid, and hopes to use her love for storytelling to spread Christ’s love and encourage others.
As an avid reader and aspiring writer, I am fascinated with the art of storytelling. There’s something about a good story that pulls directly at my heart strings, and they often stick around in my mind for days after I hear them. Besides a riveting plot, intriguing setting, and a memorable cast of characters, a good story ultimately requires purpose and development, challenging the reader to consider a new idea or way of thinking. I especially love ones that have a redemptive ending.
Kahinur’s journey is definitely one of those stories.
As a mother living in a crowded urban slum in Bangladesh, Kahinur feels helpless to care for her infant son who has been sick for months. Her little boy likely has intestinal worms caused by the filthy environment and lack of sanitation in the slum where they live. These parasites suck the nutrients from her baby’s food and keep him awake all night, crying in pain.
This sweet little guy rests his head on Kahinur’s shoulder as she talks. His eyes are half closed, and his thin body is limp in her arms.
“I took him to several places for treatment, but nothing is working,” she pleads. Beads of perspiration cover her worried brow. The stifling afternoon heat causes a nauseating stench to rise from the garbage piles in the slum.
“I don’t know what will happen next with my son, and I am scared,” cries Kahinur. “If I fail to provide, then I fear my son could die.”
Parasites, like the ones attacking her baby’s body, can lead to malnourishment, diarrhea, and even blindness. And they stunt the development of a young child, causing permanent deficiencies if left untreated.
I can’t even imagine the fear Kahinur must have been facing in that moment, or her desperate frustration at not being able to provide relief for her son. Here in my suburban home, I am blessed to have doctors and hospitals nearby, never once having to worry about not having access to medicine.
Thankfully, Kahinur’s story continues. After receiving the 44-Cent Cure (deworming medicine), Kahinur’s son was fully restored back to health. Now Kahinur’s overwhelming worry is replaced by joy, and her tears are replaced by peace of mind and gratitude.
As much as I wish the story could end here, the truth is that there are thousands of families still suffering from parasite infections in Bangladesh. And their cries for help are not fictional – they are heartbreakingly real.
But the good news is, it isn’t hard to help. For a small handful of pocket change, we can provide medicine that changes lives. Isn’t that exciting? When I first heard about the 44-Cent Cure, I couldn’t believe that providing immediate relief for sick children could be that simple – but it is. Learn how to get involved and partner with World Concern today.
In Christ, our stories are beautiful ones of redemption and hope. Our stories are important – they shape our identities and are the means by which we connect with one other. It’s so exciting to think that through organizations like World Concern, the story of an American college student, like me, can intertwine with that of a woman in Bangladesh like Kahinur.
How does your story empower you to take action and make a difference in the lives of others?
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.
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.
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.
This is the last of five posts covering key principles in ministry with the poor intended to help churches move from transactional to transformational ministry. In the previous post, we discussed the fact that we are all created to be creative.
5. Transformation through Relationships
“The tasks we think are so critical are not more important than the people God has entrusted to us.” – Sherwood Lingenfelter
Are you like me at work and keep your “To-Do” list within arm’s reach? I’m probably a little weird, but I find it cathartic to scratch stuff off that list. Sometimes I keep scratching through it a little longer than I need to.
Unfortunately, I think we often treat ministry with the poor like a “To-Do” list. We make it more about crossing things off our list than we do about the people themselves. In your church, is it more common to see drives for shoeboxes and back packs full of schools supplies, or mentor programs that focus on being with people? Ask most outreach pastors and they’ll tell you that close to 100 people will sign up to provide a shoebox for every one person who agrees to volunteer for a weekly mentor program.
We forget that poverty is ultimately about people, and ministry is relational. We tend to focus on the material problems rather than the people themselves. “See a problem, Fix a problem.” If ministry with the poor is relational in nature like other types of ministry, shouldn’t it look more like small groups at our churches?
At World Concern, our community development process starts, in most cases, with several months of meeting with the community and its leaders. We want to hear the story of their village, ask them about their vision for the future and their struggles that keep them being where they want to be.
Then, we begin to work with them on the goals they’ve set by building on what they already do well. Seeing lives transformed in this way takes time and requires walking with people patiently through the ups and downs of life. It’s not a quick fix, but it is lasting.
In my next post, I’ll tell you about how World Concern pulls these five principles together in our community development process by telling you the story of one village.
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…
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.
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.