Small, domed tents and makeshift tarps appeared, seemingly
out of nowhere, in the expanse of the Somaliland desert.
For a few hundred families, including Maryan and her
children, this was home.
Small, domed tents and makeshift tarps appeared, seemingly
out of nowhere, in the expanse of the Somaliland desert.
For a few hundred families, including Maryan and her
children, this was home.
Tiila had a choice to make.
Either she could keep her baby, or
give her baby away.
She longed to hold her child, to watch her grow and learn to talk and laugh, but Tiila knew that wasn’t possible. Because if she kept her daughter, her little one wouldn’t survive.
Mothers had no way to feed their babies. Drought decimated crops, water supplies, and livelihoods. Families left their homes in search of any sort of food for their children.
The drought continues to withhold the rain in Somalia, but in villages across Somalia, a bit of hope is breaking through.
Arms that once measured in the red are now in the green, and mothers are breathing deep sighs of relief.
There are some places in this world that are difficult places to live. The desert of Northern Somalia (Somaliland) is one of those places. The only thing interrupting the endless view of sand, rocks, and tumbleweeds is an occasional range of low mountains along the horizon. In the middle of the desert, clusters of homes comprise tiny villages. Once a week, the women from these towns walk for an entire day to the hills to get water—the only source of clean water for miles.
“It is so far,” explained Shamse, a young mom who lives here in the desert. “I walk from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. and still only return with a few jerry cans – whatever I can manage to carry.”
The water she manages to bring home last only a few days. When the jerry cans run out, Shamse and her children are forced to drink salty, contaminated water from a nearby hole in the ground. “It makes us sick,” she said.
Many children in this community have died from diarrhea and other water-borne diseases. “As a mother, I feel so sad,” she said. “But there is no doctor here when the children get sick.”
Shamse’s conflict depicts the life-or-death dilemma that many others in the community face every day. The nearest access to clean water is a long and arduous day’s journey away, but local water sources are contaminated and unsuitable for human consumption. It’s a threat that fills Shamse with dread and exhausts her even before she rises from her sleeping mat.
But there is a solution, and it starts with a gift from above — rainwater.
In this region, it rains as little as two or three days a year. But when it does, it rains hard—often causing flooding, as the dry desert ground cannot absorb so much water all at once. Check out this video clip of a flash flood in Somaliland.
We help communities build large underground water storage tanks called berkads. These berkads collect, channel, and filter torrents of rainwater, capturing it for use between rains. The result of just one day of rain: enough clean, fresh drinking water for an entire community for months. In fact, one berkad can hold up to 80,000 gallons of water – that’s enough water not just for drinking, but also for growing crops and keeping livestock healthy and alive.
With berkads, moms like Shamse have access to clean drinking water that is safe for their children and close to home. Some women are even able to earn income from selling the water if a berkad is built near their home.
Along with this life-saving source of water, we provide hygiene training and improved sanitation (latrines and toilets), leading to better health for families in need.
We’ve seen this system work in other communities in the region, but there are many more families waiting for clean water. You can be a part of this and help needy communities build berkads and other sources of water — bringing help and hope to Shamse and others.
Providing clean water for families is the first step to move beyond barely surviving, and toward lasting change. Your gift saves lives and transforms communities long-term. In addition, your year-end gift by Dec. 31 will be matched, dollar for dollar, providing clean, life-saving water to twice as many children and families.
“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:
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.
“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
In my travels, I experience all kinds of environments, from tropical jungles to barren deserts. Yet no other place has left such a deep impact on me as northern Somalia (also known as Somaliland).
We traversed an elevated plateau, ringed by mountains, known locally as the Ogo. Were it not for the intense heat, I would have believed we were on the moon. Wind whipped up the sand, filling my teeth with constant grit. The air sucked all moisture from my body. My throat was sore and my tongue was swollen.
There are no roads, and the landscape is littered with rocks and small shrubs. We drove for hours hardly passing anyone, only seeing a few people leading a herd of camels into the horizon. It’s a lonely place.
Most people in Somaliland are nomads. Livestock (camels, goats and sheep) are the only way of life in a place with so little water. These animals walk hundreds of miles each week across the Ogo, traveling from one waterhole to the next, and whole families move with them, carrying their homes on their backs. The last few years have been especially hard, as rains have come less and less frequently, and wells dry up.
Years of drought and desertification, coupled with conflict, are making the nomadic way of life much more risky. Rains are fewer and far between. I’ve visited places that get rain two or three days per year. Ironically, so much rain falls in one day that it causes walls of water 15 feet high to roar down dry river beds, washing away whole families. Between the constant wind and these flash floods, soil is eroded away and the high central plains are mostly bare rock, with a few inedible shrubs.
In Huluul, we met a widowed mother. The scar on her face and the weariness in her eyes are deceiving. She is not even 25, her four children under 7. After her husband died, she couldn’t manage raising her young children and taking care of his herds. As the animals died off, one by one, all hope of a future for her children died with them.
Like so many others, she moved to towns like Huluul to start over. Unfortunately, this has put a heavy burden on the meagre water supply in town, and threatens the health and lives of many more.
Since 2008, World Concern has been crisscrossing the Ogo plateau, working in small villages and towns to turn the tide on water shortages. Through introducing rainwater tanks in schools, clinics and public buildings, repairing and protecting wells, and teaching schoolchildren about public health, a crisis is being averted.
In Huluul, increased water supply has meant economic growth. The town social committee is providing food, shelter and water to this young mother and many others. Her children have access to food and water at school, and the health clinic has fresh water as well. For one woman—and many more with your support—water means life, and new hope.
Note: This article was originally published on the Huffington Post Impact X blog on Oct. 10, 2012.
Getting food into the hands of the hungry in the Horn of Africa is about to go high tech. Seattle-based humanitarian organization World Concern is piloting a new mobile phone app in the drought-stricken region, aiming to streamline the process of tracking food distributed to hungry families and payment to local merchants.
World Concern has been distributing food and emergency supplies to families affected by the Horn of Africa drought since July 2011. As famine spread throughout the region, aid organizations struggled to reach millions of people, especially those living in southern Somalia. World Concern distributed vouchers to hungry families who were able to purchase food from local merchants. The system supports the local economy and helps ensure food reaches those in greatest need.
This method has been extremely effective, even in dangerous and hard-to-reach places. More than 30,000 vouchers have been distributed so far, each representing a two-week supply of rations for a family of six.
The new mobile app allows field staff to use a tool they are already carrying (a mobile phone) to record data in the field (instead of a pencil and paper), and negates the need for re-entry into a computer at a later date. This saves time and reduces the risk of errors.
The system tracks beneficiaries and the food they receive via bar codes that are scanned into a mobile phone. Merchants have an I.D. card with a barcode, which is also scanned so they can be paid via wire transfer almost instantly.
The mobile app was developed by Seattle start up ScanMyList, whose founder, Scott Dyer, created a mobile application to help retail businesses track inventory. When Dyer saw one of World Concern’s vouchers, he realized the same system could help the humanitarian organization reach people during a disaster more efficiently and track aid more accurately.
Dyer traveled to the Horn of Africa with World Concern to kick off the pilot program, which will put the new technology into action in the field this month, as 4,000 food vouchers are distributed in Eastern Kenya and Southern Somalia.
“Not many people can say they’ve birthed an idea and seen it to fruition,” said Dyer. “It’s super exciting.”
The real brain behind this technology is the custom database, which is not only programmed to receive data from mobile phones, but to “think” about what it receives. The database will identify possible duplicate entries, flag significant variations in data, and crosscheck entry errors. Then, the database is programmed to generate custom reports in real time. World Concern staff can view these on a website, seeing exactly how many meals are distributed immediately.
“This technology will enable our staff to report on their life-saving distribution in real-time, increasing our ability to respond to immediate needs as they arise,” said Chris Sheach, deputy director of disaster response for World Concern.
While the “famine” has officially ended in the Horn, the long-term effects of such a severe drought and crisis will be experienced for many years to come. As NGOs shift our response from disaster to development—teaching pastoralists who lost their herds to farm and other forms of livelihood diversification—there are still many hungry people to feed. This new technology will enable us to do this even more quickly and efficiently. It can also be used in other types of disasters, particularly in cash-for-work programs.
Recently I’ve been thinking about home. This happens every time I travel, and I know I’ve been on the road too long when I hear Michael Bublé in my head, “Paris and Rome, but I wanna go home…”
But my recent trip to Somaliland made me think of home in a different way. As a self-proclaimed “global nomad,” I like to say that I can be at home anywhere, but honestly that’s not true. I can survive anywhere for a period of time, but changing beds every two nights for three weeks is not enjoyable, and coming home to an empty room is lonely. (Queue the Bublé…)
In Somaliland, I spent time with real nomads. Not only do they move with their herds of camels and goats from place to place in search of water, they often do this away from all other social contact for weeks, maybe months at a time. My wife and I may not see our family very often, but at least we have church, colleagues, and neighbors. True nomads just keep moving, but in Somaliland that is changing.
Years of drought and desertification, coupled with conflict, are making the nomadic way of life much more risky. Rains are fewer and far between. I’ve visited places that get rain two or three days per year. Ironically, so much rain falls that day that it causes walls of water 15 feet high to roar down dry river beds, washing away whole families. Between the constant wind and these flash floods, soil is eroded away and the high central plains are mostly bare rock, with a few inedible shrubs.
Driving across this expanse of desert, not passing a vehicle for days, it is easy to see the comfort of the nomadic life, as well as the struggle for existence. It’s very peaceful—just a few wild animals, the sky, vast stretches of land, quietly grazing herds. But the daily trek for water can be 30 or 40 miles, and there is no health care, no education, no places of worship. You live alone, and you will likely die alone. Why then does this way of life persist? Why is it so heartbreaking to see nomadic families lose everything, and be forced to live in villages, where they make less than 50 cents a day?
It’s about home. Home is not your living quarters, whether a hotel room, a grand palace, or a bundle of sticks and a tarpaulin. Home is not who you’re with, but who you miss. Home is about a sense of purpose, a feeling of well-being, regardless of services and amenities that are available. Home truly is “where the heart is.” But what does this have to do with me and Somaliland?
In disaster recovery theory, we do not accept that we can enable a return to pre-event conditions. This is especially true in slow-onset disasters like droughts, where it is difficult to even set a time and place which is accepted as normal. Rather, there is a move towards building a new normal—a safer, more resilient, and more risk-adverse normal. In Somaliland, this means smaller herds, diverse income sources, and improved rangeland and water management. Technically sound, but for the old man who just wishes he could die the way he was born, on an open plain to the sound of camel bells and the blowing wind, it’s hooey. Recovery must be something you can believe in.
In my mind, recovering from a disaster is about accepting a new sense of the word normal, and embracing a future that is quite different from the past. It’s about acknowledging the inevitable march of progress, and anticipating the opportunity for previously unknown joys. It’s about coming home to a new home.
Maria Abdi arrived in Dhobley, Somalia, with her five children and nothing but the clothes on their backs. She fled her hometown of Afmadow because there was no work there and the children were hungry. A relative paid her way to travel to Dhobley after Maria pleaded with them, having heard there was assistance here. But there was a charge for luggage and she couldn’t afford it, so she came empty-handed.
“I need everything a human being needs—all the basic necessities,” she said.
Maria’s family is among a new influx of arrivals in Dhobley, a transit point near the border for those traveling from Somalia to the Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya.
World Concern has been responding to the crisis in Dhobley since August, but staff members are seeing a sudden sharp increase in new arrivals. Ongoing drought and conflict in other parts of Southern Somalia are to blame for the influx. However, some people are returning from the refugee camps in Dadaab, citing insecurity and lack of food and other support in the camps as the reason for leaving.
“We visited the areas where families are settling in Dhobley and conditions are bad,” said World Concern Africa Director Buck Deines. “Most live in very temporary shelters, inadequate to protect them from the harsh weather. In some cases the shelters are nothing more than sticks and mosquito nets. We saw the interiors of several shelters, and in most cases, the families have no supplies of any kind.”
Deines estimates there are approximately 12,000 people that have settled in makeshift camps and are in immediate need of help. World Concern is planning to distribute vouchers that will supply families with a two-week supply of food, as well as emergency supplies like tarps, blankets, cooking pots, water jugs and more. However, additional funding is needed to respond immediately.
World Concern has been supporting people affected by the famine and drought in the Horn of Africa for nine months, and the recent increase in displaced families presents an urgent need.
Khayro Yussuf sits inside her shelter made from faded garments and held together by rope. Two metal cups are the only possessions inside her tent, except for an orange flask, which a relative uses to bring her tea.
She fled her village after three of her brothers and her uncle were killed in front of her. Khayro and her children came to Dhobley, fearing for their lives.
She received some food rations, but when she put it on a donkey cart, the owner of the cart took off with her only food. “When he realized I was not a resident and that I didn’t know where to go, he ran away with it,” she said.
Shortly after arriving, Khayro sent her son to Dadaab. “I was afraid he would be absorbed by militia … I never wanted my son to carry a gun or to join such kinds of groups,” she said.
Her daughter is staying with her in Dhobley. “If she is to die, she will die here with me,” said Khayro.
To learn more about the current situation in the Horn of Africa or to donate, please visit www.worldconcern.org/crisis.
Baby Adey’s mother must have felt desperate as she lay sick and bedridden in her home in Garissa—an area of Northeastern Kenya badly affected by the Horn of Africa drought. But as a mother, her own illness was surely not as frightening as her child’s.
Our health workers in Garissa—where one in three infants is underweight—discovered Adey and her mother during a visit to their home. They were too sick to travel, so we went to them. Adey’s father told us his wife hadn’t been able to breastfeed because she had no milk. Six-month-old Adey appeared tiny, weak and lethargic.
The average 6-month-old baby girl in the U.S. weighs 16 lbs. Adey weighed just 4 lbs. 6 oz.—less than most newborns. She was malnourished, dehydrated and had an upper respiratory infection.
World Concern staff transported Adey and her mother to the hospital, where the baby received antibiotics, fluids and emergency nutrition. Her mom, who was also malnourished, was treated for her illness and given nutritionally fortified porridge.
Three weeks later, a much happier, healthier baby Adey was discharged from the hospital weighing 8 lbs. 2 oz.—almost doubling her weight.
Receiving Baby Adey’s story in my inbox reminded me that the crisis in the Horn of Africa is not over. When the U.N. declared parts of Somalia were no longer experiencing famine conditions (in which 30% of children are acutely malnourished and 2 adult or 4 child deaths per 10,000 occur each day), the food crisis disappeared from the headlines. But it’s not over.
At the time of the UN declaration, there were still 9 million people in need of aid in the Horn of Africa. Baby Adey and her family were among them.
Hope has been restored to this family. If you’d like to help us reach more families like Adey’s, please visit www.worldconcern.org/beyondfamine.