One Year Later – Reflecting on the Anniversary of South Sudan’s Conflict

Below is a blog post I wrote for the World Concern blog regarding the one year anniversary of South Sudan’s most recent conflict. Please take a minute to read it and stay engaged. 

In December 2013, the world’s newest nation, only two years into a season without war, plunged back into crisis-mode. Though the explanation for this eruption of conflict is far from definitive, one thing is clear – South Sudan is still hurting.

Because today is the one year anniversary of this newest conflict in South Sudan – a land that has suffered almost continuous war for over two decades – we (the world) need take time to remember that this war persists and tensions are only growing. And, as we so strongly believe at World Concern, we remind ourselves that war is about so much more than politics and land and resources. It is about the thousands, if not millions, of people whose lives are torn apart.

According to the UNHCR, South Sudan now has more than 1.4 million internally displaced people who have been forced to flee their homes. Additionally, tens of thousands of people (at this point an exact number is difficult to track) have lost their lives.

Though there has always been community tension and a scarcity of resources, we have never ceased to see the country for its potential to transform. When South Sudan gained independence in 2011, we celebrated with them. Unfortunately, the celebration was short-lived. South Sudan has faced immense challenges over the past three years. The recent conflict is bringing the nation to the brink of famine and starvation continues to be a very real risk.

Since the country’s independence, World Concern has focused on empowering South Sudanese communities to move beyond a state of relief and toward long-term development. Eager to farm their own land, feed their own children, and be educated, people have been more than willing to take part in their community’s development. In fact, many of the communities we partner with now have their own gardens, banks, savings groups, job opportunities, and thriving markets.

But many others were displaced from their homes and land when violence came dangerously close to their communities. As a result, hundreds of thousands were unable to plant crops before South Sudan’s annual rainy season. Because of this, many will go hungry this year. And too many are still homeless, living in squalid camps, waiting for peace.

Mary (right) and her newborn son sit inside a vacated school they now call home.

Last February I traveled to South Sudan to visit Internally Displaced Person (IDP) camps, sit with people, and listen to their stories. Among the many painful narratives shared, I will never forget Mary YarTur’s. Nine months pregnant when violence broke out in her village, Mary had no choice but to run.

“Both of my neighbors were killed when we were running,” she solemnly explained. “My uncle was also killed.”

After days on the run, Mary and others settled outside of a closed school building. Two days later, she went into labor.

Women sit outside of the school where Mary gave birth.

Women sit outside of the school where Mary gave birth.

“At the time I delivered I was feeling bad. My body was in pain and it was not well,” she shared. “During the time I came from my home in Unity State, I was running with little food. Then I delivered right away when I arrived here.”

In the three days I spent visiting camps, Mary was one of five women I met with newborn babies – a small representation of the thousands of children that have already been born without medical assistance beneath trees, outside of buildings, and underneath haphazard shelters.

A silhouetted pregnant woman rests at an IDP site.

A silhouetted pregnant woman rests at an IDP site.

“My child was delivered outside, now they have problems,” Mary told me. “I’m not feeling better now. The food we have to eat takes a very long time to cook – and when I eat it it gives me stomach pains. So, I don’t eat much – I feel weak and faint. I live in fear because I don’t know where my husband is and I sleep in the open, many days without food and no income.”

Sick, taking care of a newborn, husband-less, without food, homeless – it’s no wonder so many people feel hopeless.

A Bleak Future Without Development

Because of the recent crisis, funding for development projects has reduced. Life-saving disaster response efforts are vital, but without the ability to fund long-term projects, the country’s development comes to a halt.

Hundreds of thousands of displaced families have fled northern South Sudan to Warrap State, where we work. With no choice but to build makeshift shelters on land that was once someone else’s farms, their presence is a cause for tension and puts a strain on local resources.

The majority of the people we serve know at least one person who has been killed. Thus, a large portion of a family’s resources and time have been spent on hosting and traveling to burial services.

Additionally, the South Sudanese pound continues to lose value against the American dollar, skyrocketing import costs and consequently making many resources unbearably expensive.

“Foreign exchange is low. Prices of commodities are rising every day. Many markets are in short supply of essential commodities,” said a World Concern staff member in Warrap State. “The chamber of commerce has attributed this to lack of dollar in the market. Given that he country heavily relies on import of food, fuel, and almost all essential commodities, shortage of dollar in the market spells doom for ordinary citizens of the country.”

Much of South Sudan’s younger generation was born into war, thus all they know is war. When asked, many say they would love to live in a world without war, yet most of them have no idea what that would look like. Because of this, instilling the notion of hope and the possibility of change can be a very complex process.

We believe that we have been called to South Sudan for a reason. And we believe that reconciliation, peace, and healing are possible. We know that the One who created us all, can surely bring hope and peace to the seemingly hopeless circumstances in South Sudan. And despite the horrible things we, as humans, do, He is still holding out for us, waiting patiently and moving us toward a world renewed.

So today, this morning, this evening, whenever you read this, though you may feel bombarded by a world of painful things, we ask that you remember South Sudan and pray for peace.

And please continue to pray for South Sudan’s leaders – that they would lead with integrity. South Sudan was recently ranked the 5th most corrupt nation in the world. Also, pray for safety, healthy, and strength for our field staff – they are the hands and feet of world Concern.

Please consider giving a gift to bring hope and life to the people of South Sudan.

In the midst of pain, in the depths of suffering, under the tarps of IDP camps and tin roofs of refugee shelters, we know that there exists a surpassing peace and hope for a world transformed.

 

It’s Giving More Than A Dam – Community Projects In Somaliland

Fresh soil sprays over my head and makes its way into the crevices of my camera. I am standing in the heart of what is soon to be a massive dam – and it appears that the entire community is out to dig.

We are in a remote village of Somaliland – one of 30 villages where World Concern has recently implemented cash-for-work and cash-for-livestock programs. And by the look of the community’s willingness to cooperate and the sheer amount of physical labor taking place, the new program seems to be going on well.

“After the men shovel the dam, I help carry the sand out of the dam and put it in a large pile,” Sahra, a middle-aged woman dressed in a maroon hijab, explains.

In Somaliland, male and female labor roles tend to be separate and defined – women cook and gather water while men deal with livestock – but here, in this oversized dirt pit, everyone is working together. Taking in my environment I watch men, women, youth, elderly, and even disabled folk hard at work. I see a woman who had to be at least 75-years-old and ask her to hold up her tool and pose for the camera. Without hesitation, she proudly looks at me as a huge gaped smile spreads across her face.

Later, taking a moment’s rest from the equatorial sun, inside of Sahra’s one room home, she tells me, “The work we are doing with World Concern is going well. We have built a large sand dam – we have worked 15 days every month for three months.”

Finding paid work in the remote villages of Somaliland is unlike any other job hunt – essentially, the market doesn’t exist. Thus, this cash-for-work and livestock program is a real game changer, and the community knows it.

Sahra and her children inside their home.

Sahra and her children inside their home.

“I am happy to do any work,” Sahra said. “Sometimes I sell a goat for money, but otherwise I don’t have a job outside of the home to do.”

Sahra is not alone. The majority of her community survives by participating in petty trade (such as selling flour, tea, and sugar) and rearing livestock. Though a single goat may bring enough money for a small family to survive for period of time, it is not a sustainable income.

Getting To Work

Men work together to carry dirt out of the dam.

Men work together to carry dirt out of the dam.

World Concern is currently partnering with 30 villages in Somaliland. Working with local leaders, they identify the most vulnerable households within each community. These households are then given the opportunity to work in return for cash or livestock. This is a two-fold project – 1) households are given jobs that enable them to better provide for their families and 2) World Concern teaches them how to be better stewards of their land and prevent future disasters.

This is a win-win.

“Before World Concern came, we did not have the proper materials or knowledge to prevent flooding,” Sahra explained. “This work is good because we are benefiting by stopping our floods, catching water, and gaining livestock as a payment.”

A woman rests above the dam.

A woman rests above the dam.

32-year-old Yasin, a member of the World Concern household identification committee, also shared his perspective on this new job opportunity, “There are many impoverished households in this community. Many are without an income.”

Yasin doing his part.

Yasin doing his part.

Taking a break from shoveling, he continued, “Along with other projects, we have learned to build dams for the animals. These dams will provide them with drinking water and more grass will grow for them to eat.”

When I asked him why it’s so important that they build such a large dam, Yasin told me, “In the past, floods would frequently ruin the things inside people’s homes and kill their livestock. This happened many times.”

After hearing this, I started to wonder if the dam was actually too small.Frequent floods?! Ruined homes!? But, according to the locals, the dams they have built are already serving their purpose in preventing disasters.

“Even after World Concern leaves,” said Yasin “we plan to continue with this work because it is good and we have been given many examples.”

A program that brings a diversity of community members together as a single, strong body – to build dams that will prevent potential disasters, catch clean water, feed their animals, and earn them an income? I’m sold.

Looking out from the dam. Yes - remote in the truest sense of the word.

Looking out from the dam. Yes – remote in the truest sense of the word.

Renewal in the Unrecognizable. // Tessou, Chad

I can’t honestly claim that I’ve ever been displaced. I’ve never been forced to leave my home, nor have I experienced the assumed feelings that are correlated with returning to a place that was once familiar, only to find that that place has transformed into something utterly unrecognizable.

To the most minor degree my recent return to Tessou, a small village tucked within the foothills of Eastern Chad, simulated these feelings of displacement, this sense of disorientation.  And the craziest thing is that these feelings came after I’d only been to Tessou ONCE before, for only ONE DAY.

The Tessou I saw one year ago.

The Tessou I saw one year ago.

In 2004, the Janjaweed (a horribly violent rebel group) attacked Tessou, forcing its residents to flee – leaving all possessions, and even some family members, behind. For years afterward the people of Tessou resided in neighboring villages and, primarily, Gassire Internally Displaced Persons camp.

Talk about displacement.

Weary and fed up with living off of someone else’s land, where they were unable to farm or provide for themselves, the community members slowly started returning to their home. But they came back to Tessou only to find it completely deserted and charred – all homes had been burned, livestock stolen, and possessions demolished.

Tessou one year ago.

Tessou one year ago.

But to the people of Tessou, no matter its ravaged appearance, the land remained their home. And in this once familiar, now unrecognizable village, it was time to begin anew.

I arrived in Tessou in July of 2013 to find a small number of dilapidated huts haphazardly situated on, what appeared to be, a massive dirt compound. Within the compound was a single tree – the only remaining evidence of a once populated and lively village. Everything I saw was brown – from the ground to the huts to the dirt covering people’s bodies. Because the nearest water source was an hour walk away, cleanliness was a low priority.

Last month I once again found myself  sitting in a World Concern vehicle, bumping along the road from Goz Beida to Tessou. I was anxious to return. Stories of had been circulating about the community’s transformations, but I had yet to see them for myself.

As our car pulled up to a village so densely surrounded in sorghum, trees, and maize, I figured we must be lost. This was not the Tessou I knew. Why were there so many homes? Where was the group of men and women sitting under the single tree? Why was everything so…green?

I did not recognize Tessou one bit. I felt disoriented. But this time it was for the best of reasons.

In the last year, partnering with World Concern’s One Village Transformed program, the people of Tessou have rebuilt their village from the ground up. In fact, they have far surpassed their state of development prior to the Janjaweed attacks!

Tena drinks from Tessou’s first clean water pump.

Firstly, Tessou now has clean and accessible water. This is huge.

“Before we got our new well, we used to walk one hour each way to collect water,” shared 20-year-old Tena. “But now Tessou is better. We have clean water that we can use for preparing our food, drinking, bathing, and for washing our clothes.”

According to Tena, people no longer get sick from drinking water, “If they get sick, it is caused by something else.”

“Now that we have a water pump we can use the water for food, we can wash our clothes, and we can bathe easily,” 35-year-old Fatuma said. “We no longer have to travel to collect water at the local, dirty source.”

In addition to improving overall community health, having access to clean water has allowed the people of Tessou to efficiently build thousands of bricks.

“We are working on making bricks to be used for a school and maybe even a health center,” Tena explained.  “If there is a school here, I want to go. I want to be a big woman like you.”

And then there are the agricultural improvements – since moving back to the village, many people have returned to farming. And because they now have accessible water, their farms are flourishing. And because their farms are flourishing, World Concern is partnering with the farmers to develop their skills even further.

One more thing – Tessou is now home to organized savings groups.

“I am the president of our community savings group,” shared Fatuma. “Each woman involved contributes money. Together we have bought some bags of seeds and have even hired people to cultivate our seeds.”

As a gathering of 25 women, Fatuma’s savings group hopes to save enough money to contribute to purchasing a community mill. The group also serves as a distributor of loans, “If a member is in trouble or wants to start a small business, she can borrow money from the group and pay it back later.“

Both Tena and Fatuma’s testimonies are two prime examples of the transformations that are possible when a community is empowered and willing to develop themselves. The unrecognizable Tessou that I recently experienced is so full energy and motivation that it is palpable – these people are ready to improve their way of life. And, most importantly, they are elated to be the hands and feet facilitating their own transformations.

Fatouma (in green) stands proudly next to some of the members in her savings group.

 

With GRATITUDE // Love, Somaliland and Chad

It might not be Thanksgiving here in East Africa, but we will gladly seize any opportunity to let you know what we’re thankful for. In the last year, we’ve come up with an extensive and beautiful list of reasons to be thankful and we think it’s best you hear it directly from the source.

Below are some words of gratitude and stories of thankfulness from our brothers and sisters in Chad and Somaliland.

From our corner of the world to yours, HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

————————————————————————————————————————————-

Sahra Ali / 30-years-old / Mother of 3 children / Somaliland

“The work we are doing with World Concern is going well. We have built a large sand dam – we have worked 15 days every month for the last three months.”

“Before World Concern came, we did not have the proper materials to prevent flooding.”

“This work is good because we are benefiting by stopping frequent floods, catching water to be used in the future, and gaining livestock as a payment.”

“Before World Concern built two berkads, we did not have enough water in our village. These berkads provide us enough water. They have also benefited us because some people were paid money to help build them.”

 

Yasin Suleman / 32-years-old / Father of 9 children / Somaliland

 “With the assistance of World Concern, we are working to build half moons and other dams. This will block future floods from harming our village.”“World Concern trained us on how to make these dams and provided us with tools and food.”“We are also building dams where the animals eat, so that the animals will have drinking water and more grass will grow for them to eat.”“In the past, floods would often ruin the things inside people’s homes. This happened many times.”“Even after World Concern leaves, we plan to continue with this work because we have been given many examples and we can already see the benefits.”

 

Saynab Suleman / 35-years-old / Mother of 6 children / Somaliland

“World Concern helped us form a women’s self-help group, which has now become a community. Before this group, we never met together as women. Now we are strong – if someone is sick or needs help, we can assist one another.”“We use this group to help each other and find ways to improve our economy, such as giving out loans to group members upon request. Many use this money to open shops and start other small businesses.”“I plan to take a loan to use to open a small shop. I want to sell things like juice, rice, and sugar. I will then use the money from my shop to pay back the loan and to pay for my children’s health care and food.”“I teach the women in my group Somali language and math. The women can now do basic reading and writing. Because my parents did a good thing for me, by putting me in school, I want to give the other women access to learn.”

“We hope to use this group to develop our community. Women in Cala Caule see our group and see that it is good. There are some women who are considering starting another self-help group.”

 

Mohamed Adam / 40-years-old / Father of 10 children / Somaliland

“Most all households in Cala Caule are farmers. We recently benefited from a World Concern agricultural training. We learned how far apart to plant our seeds, how to use pesticides, and how to deal with germination. We were also given seeds and tools to benefit our farms.”“Because we now know how to space our seeds, our trees have been growing faster. Before the training, this mango tree was growing much slower.” “Before the training, we knew very little about pest control. Now our plants are growing without hindrance. In my farm I’m currently growing cabbage, onion, salad, papaya, mangos, bananas, lemons, and maize.”“In the World Concern Disaster Risk Reduction training, we learned how to prepare for floods – that we must arrange our items in a certain way before we flee. We also learned that during droughts it is good for us to divide our herds into two and sell half of them for money. We built these walls to block future flooding.”

 

Zenaba Adam / 45-years-old / Mother of 7 children / Chad

“Thanks to World Concern’s training, this is our first time to farm together as a community. We take turns on the farm in order to help one another.”“We used to get 10 bags of sorghum in rainy season and 4 in dry season. For this year, I’m hoping it will be much more!”“Though we haven’t harvested yet, I am thanking God for the progress and for what I hope will come.”“I am happy for World Concern’s help and I ask that they continue to assist us.”

 

Mademi Mahamat / 34-years-old / Father of 7 children / Chad

“World Concern has been working with our community to sensitize us about better living.”“They distributed to us horses, carts, and plows.”“We have been able to use these tools to farm and we thank God that it has gone well.”

 

Fatuma Bourma / 35-years-old / Mother of 6 children / Chad

“I no longer fear the Janjaweed (rebel group). Life in Tessou is much better than the camps because we are free to farm.”“Before the World Concern training we had never heard of a tontine (savings) group, but we now see the benefits and plan to continue with the group.” “We are collecting this money to be used for a future common goal. Right now, if a member is in trouble, she can borrow money from the group and then later pay it back. We hope to use our saved money to contribute to purchasing a community mill.”“Now that we have a water pump we can use the water for food, we can wash our clothes, and we can bathe easily. We no longer have to travel to collect water at the local, dirty source.”

 

Tena Hamid / 20-years-old / Chad

“Before we got our new well, we used to walk one hour each way to collect water. Now Tessou is better because we have water.”“Having clean water helps because we can now use it to prepare our food, for drinking, and for washing our clothes.”“People no longer become as sick. If they do become sick, it’s not from the water.”“The community is making bricks to be used for a school and maybe even a health center. If there is a school here, I definitely want to go. I want to be a big woman like you (referring to myself and Rose, our interpreter).”

————————————————————————————————————————————–

Water.
Financial savings.
Community development.
Education.
Flood prevention.
Improved Health.
Economic opportunities. 

WE. ARE. THANKFUL.

“Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer. And let faith be the bridge you build to overcome evil and welcome good.” – Maya Angelou

Villages Transformed: Chad

In July of 2013, I made the trek to the Sila Region of Chad. At the time, my main objective was to document the beginning stages of World Concern’s One Village Transformed projects in 10 different villages. During a period of 3 weeks, I interviewed over 40 individuals and captured more than 4,000 photos. While in the villages, I listened to countless horrific stories of rebel attacks and displacement. I also heard stories of hope, resiliency, and a tangible eagerness to move forward and develop their communities into what they once were… and more.

One year later, in October of 2014, I had the opportunity to return to this scarcely documented and highly fascinating place. As can be rare in my line of work, I was able to reunite with people and communities. And this time I brought photos – frozen moments to serve as evidence of the ‘before’. Each photo tells a story of the major transformations that are taking place in Amkharouba, N’djamena, Harako, Tessou, Karona, Maramara, and Amkereribe villages – the ‘after’ and what is yet to come!

While in Chad, I was surprised to find that I barely recognized any of the villages. This was due in part to the recent rainy season, bringing with it bountiful crops and lush surroundings. It was also due to the fact that these villages are developing! Many now have clean water, schools, and better constructed homes. People look cleaner and are visibly more healthy.

Take a look at the following photos and see if you can see a difference from my photos taken over a year ago. Hopefully, you also don’t recognize these villages.

34-year-old Mademi tends to his improved harvest. “We have been learning about better planting practices and how to transplant seedlings," he shared. // Raibandala Village,, Chad

34-year-old Mademi tends to his improved harvest. “We have been learning about better planting practices and how to transplant seedlings,” he shared. // Raibandala Village, Chad

“After returning from the IDP camps, we had to start a new life, but now it’s going well.”

“After returning from the IDP camps, we had to start a new life, but now it’s going well.”

"I hope to use the money I borrow from my World Concern women's farming group to one day pay for my children's school." - Kouboura Mahamat

“I hope to use the money I borrow from my World Concern women’s farming group to one day pay for my children’s school.” – Kouboura Mahamat

This is hospitality. // Ambarto Village, chad

This is hospitality. // Ambarto Village, Chad

"During the war the rebels came and took all of our belongings. Because we have no clean water, our village is developing very slowly. But, we are thankful for new farming training from World Concern. I farm 6 acres: 2 acres for children, 2 acres for feeding, and 2 for trade." Mahamat Adam // Ko

“During the war the rebels came and took all of our belongings. Because we have no clean water, our village is developing very slowly. But, we are thankful for new farming trainings from World Concern. I farm 6 acres: 2 acres for my children, 2 acres for feeding, and 2 for trade.” Mahamat Adam // Kouraii Bechir Village, Chad

WIth the help of World Concern, Mahamat and his farming group were able to pay for a few horses.

WIth the help of World Concern, Mahamat and his farming group were able to pay for a few horses.

Groundnuts!

Groundnuts!

Kouraii Bechir, Chad

Kouraii Bechir, Chad

Time to let go after a long day in the field. // Ade, Chad

Time to let go a bit after a long day in the field. // Ade, Chad

Life of an aid worker. // Ade office, Chad

Life of an aid worker. // Ade office, Chad

Beautiful Sylvie. // Ade, Chad

Beautiful Sylvie. // Ade, Chad

Home. // Ade office, Chad

Home. // Ade office, Chad

When the solar power runs out... // Ade office, Chad.

When the solar power runs out… // Ade office, Chad.

Yaya and his daughter (one of his nine children). Yaya recently helped build thousands of bricks for the villages first ever school. // Amkereribe, Chad

Yaya and his daughter (one of his nine children). Yaya recently helped build thousands of bricks for the village’s first ever school. // Amkereribe, Chad

WATER! // Amkereribe, Chad

WATER! // Amkereribe, Chad

This group of ladies is preparing to operate Amkereribe's new mill. Not only will this business benefit their families, but it will improve the village as a whole.

This group of ladies is preparing to operate Amkereribe’s new mill. Not only will this business benefit their families, but it will improve the village as a whole.

We meet again! // Miriam Souleman, Amkereribe, Chad

We meet again! // Miriam Souleman, Amkereribe, Chad

Ready for school! // Amkereribe, Chad

Ready for school! // Amkereribe, Chad

Momma lovin'. // Amkharouba, Chad

Momma lovin’. // Amkharouba, Chad

Pumping water from the new well at dusk. // Amkharouba, Chad

Pumping water from the new well at dusk. // Amkharouba, Chad

IMG_1021

Guess which water is from the new well and which is from the wadi?? // Amkharouba, Chad

Guess which water is from the new well and which is from the wadi?? // Amkharouba, Chad

Evening light in Goz Beida, Chad.

Evening light in Goz Beida, Chad.

Harako Village is heading into their second year of school... ever. The community made all of the bricks for this building and the children already speak French!

Harako Village is heading into their second year of school… ever. The community made all of the bricks for this building and the children already speak French!

IMG_1718 IMG_1702

Fixing up desks after their first year of wear and tear. School is back in session! // Harako, Chad

Fixing up desks after their first year of wear and tear. School is back in session! // Harako, Chad

Remember my friend Kaltam? Updates: she has another baby and she LOVES photos. // Harako, Chad

Remember my friend Kaltam? Updates: she has another baby and she LOVES photos. // Harako, Chad

Blacksmiths in Harako, Chad.

Blacksmiths in Harako, Chad.

The best interpreter and assistant. Meet: Aime.

The best interpreter and assistant. Meet: Aime.

Welcome to Karona - the village in the hills.

Welcome to Karona – the village in the hills.

Hassanie pumping glorious water from  Karona's first clean water source.

Hassanie pumping glorious water from Karona’s first clean water source.

The journey to gather water. // Karona, Chad

The journey to gather water. // Karona, Chad

The Chadian noonday heat is not a joke. // Karona, Chad

The Chadian noonday heat is not a joke. // Karona, Chad

Fatuma shows us her home that burned in the recent fires. Due to their resiliency, and your assistance, the community of Maramara were quickly able to rebuild what was lost.

Fatuma shows us her home that burned in the recent fires. Due to their resiliency, and your assistance, the community of Maramara was quickly able to rebuild what was lost.

More clean water! // Maramara, Chad

More clean water! // Maramara, Chad

Standing in front of Maramara's FIRST school.

Standing in front of Maramara’s FIRST school.

Meet Rose, another interpreter (and model) extraordinaire.

Meet Rose, another interpreter (and model) extraordinaire.

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These straws are woven together for homes, fences, and more. They are quite practical, but also dangerous due to the region's dry and windy seasons. // Maramara, Chad

These straws are woven together for homes, fences, and more. They are quite practical, but also dangerous due to the region’s dry and windy seasons. // Maramara, Chad

The walk to collect clean water in a village I hardly recognized. // Tessou, Chad

The walk to collect clean water in a village I hardly recognized. // Tessou, Chad

Tessou, Chad.

Tessou, Chad.

Ade Abdallah was not born blind. "Some years ago, I got a very bad headache and then I started to lose my sight. It is not easy to be blind in these circumstances, but I have been able to do things like help make bricks for our future school." // Tessou, Chad

Ade Abdallah was not born blind. “Some years ago, I got a very bad headache and then I started to lose my sight. It is not easy to be blind in these circumstances, but I have been able to do things like help make bricks for our future school.” I told him that his eyes are beautiful and asked to take a photo of them. He agreed. // Tessou, Chad

Rose enjoys a groundnut break. // Tessou, Chad

Rose enjoys a groundnut break. // Tessou, Chad

Tessou, Chad.

Tessou, Chad.

Bountiful Crops in Magical Light

Exhausted from a full day of travel, my colleagues and I piled into the back of our World Concern Land Cruiser. Thankfully, taking the place of Chad’s unforgiving sun, the cool (er) evening air began to breathe across our weary skin, bringing with it refreshment and renewed energy. We were on our way from Ade to visit a small village called Raibandala. As we drove, the tantalizing rhythms of Congolese music seeped out of the car speakers and into our ears while we observed the slanting sunlight generously bathing the rustling cattail grass and the endless fields of sorghum.

The land surrounding our vehicle was lush – a drastic change from the Chad I had seen in July. Apparently the rains had been plenty, the farmers had been working tirelessly, and the soil had returned the favor.

The Sila Region in Eastern Chad consistently suffers from droughts and floods – making life difficult for its many farming inhabitants. Whatever crops are harvested will be eaten, kept in storage, and sold in the local market. So when the rains are good, families have enough to eat. And when the rains are scarce, families struggle to scrape by until the next harvesting season comes around.

Arriving in Raibandala, the staff and I were warmly greeted by 45-year-old Zenaba Adam. Along with the rest of her village, Zenaba had recently received farming tools, seeds, and technique training from World Concern; her face-claiming smile evidence that she was eager to show us her bountiful crops.

“We formed farming groups in order to contribute money to purchase seeds and tools from World Concern,” Zenaba explained. “In the past there hasn’t been much rain, so our farming has suffered. But this year the rains have been good and we have been improving because of our new knowledge, seeds, and tools. Our farms are looking much better.”

Zenaba is in charge of the farming group in Raibandala. By merely observing her confident composure as she toured us through her fields, it wasn’t hard to see why she was selected as the leader.

“This is our first time to farm together as a community,” Zenaba proudly proclaimed. “We take turns to farm in order to help one another.”IMG_9879

Each farming group also operates as a savings group.  After harvest season, the members will put their earned money from their shared farm into one pool.  This money will then be given out to individual members in the form of loans – bolstering each farmer’s ability to improve his or her personal farm and yearly income.

Currently, World Concern is partnering with farmers in over 30 villages in Chad, empowering hundreds of people with the knowledge and tools to bring health to their farms, families, and communities.IMG_9969 IMG_9971 IMG_9985

“Though we haven’t harvested yet, I am already thanking God for the progress and for what I hope will come,” shared Zenaba, glowing in the magic (to any photographer) evening light. “I am happy for World Concern’s help and I ask that they continue to assist us.”

I am not meant for dust and darkness.

If you had asked me how I was feeling five minutes prior to this conversation, it would have been impossible to lie – I was exhausted and my drooping eyes were evidence. Days of driving on poorly maintained dirt roads in inadequate cars and sleeping in a new bed every night was wearing me thin. To clarify, I was not miserable, just plain tired.

We were sitting on floral printed foam couches in a one-room home, nestled between a few of the DRC’s endless rolling green hills. As my supervisor and I sat in a daze, the two men hosting us (we will call them John and George for the sake of anonymity) began to talk.

“I did many, many bad things to my neighbors. It was war, so we killed and raped – we did many horrible things,” John shared. “But now we are forgiven.”

Looking directly into his eyes, as if trying to see deeper, to better understand the meaning of his seemingly contrasting statements, I woke up – every bit of my sleepiness immediately disappeared.

Without requiring any prodding, the men continued to share. Though their stories were painful, they were clearly willing to tell them – to shamelessly testify about transformation and reconciliation.

“After the war ended, a group of us did not feel well with ourselves. We could not focus on our work or our families and we knew something was wrong,” said George. “Some of us, with the help of church leaders, came together and began to talk about our problems.”

“We learned that what we did was wrong, but we have been forgiven,” explained John. “In God’s eyes, no one is ever beyond forgiveness.”

John and George spoke with conviction and passion – as if speaking directly from their renewed hearts.

“The leaders of our group helped us to understand that because we have been forgiven by God, we must also seek forgiveness from those we hurt. So we have.”

John, George, and the other men in their group traveled to the neighboring village, where they committed most of their crimes.

“Walking to the village, we did not know how the community would accept us. We knew we could be killed, but we were willing to take this risk.”

Upon reaching the village, John and George gathered everyone together. They proceeded to publicly confess everything they had done, and ended by seeking the community’s forgiveness.

Wives who had lost their husbands, girls who had been raped, and children who had seen their parents killed all came to listen to the men’s testimonies.

And they all forgave their perpetrators.

In fact, the community was so moved by the men’s humble confessions that they decided confess their own wrongdoings. You see, the war was not one-sided – it was neighbor against neighbor – everyone was involved in some way.

To this day John, George, and the other men continue to travel to villages affected by the war. Though not all of these villages were directly harmed by John and George, the men confess on behalf of other perpetrators.

“Sometimes we are not received well, but we do it anyways,” said John. “And every time we do this, someone approaches us – wondering why we have chosen to be so honest. This is good because it means we get to tell them about the one who forgives us all.”

Sinking deeper into the foam couch, tears welling up in my previously drooping eyes, I am in shock. The moment seems surreal and I am practically pinching myself, attempting to comprehend this reality.

Forgiveness is not easy, even for the little things. Offering forgiveness is hard and asking for forgiveness is even harder. And I’ve never even had to forgive someone for killing my family members.

The amazing thing is, forgiveness is possible and it transforms lives.

In addition to the many things we need to forgive ourselves and others for on the daily, we continue to see countless stories of seemingly impossible reconciliation and forgiveness in our world. Take the shootings at Westgate – non-Muslims forgave their Muslim brothers and sisters, telling them that they do not blame them for these horrendous acts. And what about the Rwanda genocide, where victims later forgave their perpetrators – and some of them are now dear friends!

None of us are exempt from harming our neighbor, which means that none of us are exempt from forgiveness.

What can I believe,
except that beyond the limits
of my little prayers and careful creeds,
I am not meant for dust and darkness,
but for dancing life and silver starlight.

Help my unbelief
that I may have courage
to dare to love the enemies
I have the integrity to make;
to care for little else
save my brothers and sisters of the human family;
to take time to be truly with them,
take time to see,
take time to speak,
take time to learn with them
before time takes us;
and to fear failure and death less
than the faithlessness
of not embracing love’s risks.
(Taken from Guerrillas of Grace by Ted Loder)

We Are Connected

“And the real name of our connection to this everywhere different and differently named earth is “work.” We are connected by work even to the places where we don’t work, for all places are connected…”        - Wendell Berry

If you happen to have read two or three of my blog posts and newsletters, you may have picked up on my frequent Wendell Berry name-drops. Basically, I think he’s the bee’s knees.   [While writing this post, I discovered that he and I share a birthday…all the more reason to like the man.]

An outspoken poet, author, and activist, Berry inspires and challenges humanity’s response to environmental and social justice issues. He is most infamous for his stances on environmental degradation and the importance of community.

In the polluted, expansive, and bustling city that is Nairobi, it is more often than not that I feel disconnected from nature and the land. Yet, removed from side-walks, exhaust fumes, and sky-scrapers, it is obvious that every surrounding detail is intertwined: Cows graze on freshly sprouted grass from recent rains; people collect water from deep wells and water-pans filled by these same rains, using it to hydrate themselves and boil their tea; trees are cut down in copious quantities and made into balls of charcoal, later used to boil the collected water for that same tea.

Navigating my way through Nairobi, I often wonder, “There must be a balance, some way for us to feel connected to the earth, no matter our surroundings.”

If, as stated by Berry, “all places are connected,” shouldn’t humanity be compelled to be good stewards of every inhabited place?

The following photo essay tells the story of land – it’s integral role and unmistakable connection to the people and places in which World Concern works.

The pictures and quotes serve as reminders that stewardship and care of land is not optional, for in giving to the land we humble ourselves to the one who created it all.

“Good work is always modestly scaled, for it cannot ignore either the nature of individual places or the differences between places, and it always involves a sort of religious humility, for not everything is known.” “…the care of the earth is our most ancient and most worthy and, after all, our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it, and to foster its renewal, is our only legitimate hope.” “Good work can be defined only in particularity, for it must be defined a little differently for every one of the places and every one of the workers on the earth.”IMG_8887

“…it is clear by now that we cannot exempt one place from our ruin of another. The name of our proper connection to the earth is “good work,” for good work involves much giving of honor. It honors the source of its materials; it honors the place where it is done; it honors the art by which it is done; it honors the thing that it makes and the user of the made thing.”

World Humanitarian Day 2014

Today is a very important day.

World Humanitarian Day.

As declared by the UN, WHD is ‘a day to commemorate all people who have lost their lives in humanitarian service and to celebrate the spirit that inspires humanitarian work around the world.’ This year’s focus lies on ‘humanitarian heroes’ – those who risk their lives and sacrifice much in order to assist people in need.

I’ve had the GREAT and humbling privilege of working alongside many a humanitarian hero in South Sudan, Somalia, Chad, and Kenya. A large portion of my colleagues have moved significant distances away from his or her family and community, often even country, in order to live and work in very challenging environments. For example: 120 degree Fahrenheit temperatures, limited sources of produce, consistent power outages, poor to no internet connections, many a large insect, and threats of insecurity.

Below is a collection of photos that barely scrape the surface of development work behind the scenes: life as a World Concern humanitarian worker in East Africa.

These folks are to be acknowledged and, more importantly, celebrated.

Madut and a little boy play with my tripod at an IDP site in South Sudan.

Madut and a little boy play with my tripod at an IDP site in South Sudan.

Vistas on the way to villages in Somaliland.

Vistas on the way to villages in Somaliland.

Meeting with community leaders in Chad.

Meeting with community leaders in Chad.

When all rooms are booked, we camp out at the WFP compound in South Sudan.

When all rooms are booked, we camp out at the WFP compound in South Sudan.

Working alongside farmers in South Sudan.

Working alongside farmers in South Sudan.

When the cell connection is weak...

When the cell connection is weak…

Discussing with locals at an IDP site in South Sudan.

Discussing with locals at an IDP site in South Sudan.

Max leads a rent-to-own discussion in South Sudan.

Max leads a rent-to-own discussion in South Sudan.

Humanitarian eating spots.

Humanitarian eating spots.

Destination: reached.

Destination: reached.

Scouting sites in Kenya.

Scouting sites in Kenya.

Staff give back to the land in Nairobi.

Staff give back to the land in Nairobi.

Meeting spot, Somaliland.

Meeting spot, Somaliland.

Community meetings in Somaliland.

Community meetings in Somaliland.

Nebiyu surveys a rehabilitated water catchment system in Somaliland.

Nebiyu surveys a rehabilitated water catchment system in Somaliland.

One of the most important humanitarian roles: driver.

One of the most important humanitarian roles: driver.

Meeting with a village chief in Chad.

Meeting with a village chief in Chad.

IDPs wait for transport in South Sudan.

IDPs wait for transport in South Sudan.

Sustainable agricultural training in South Sudan.

Sustainable agricultural training in South Sudan.

Being a humanitarian isn't all serious. Chad.

Being a humanitarian isn’t all serious. Chad.

Surveying a dirty water hole in South Sudan.

Surveying a dirty water hole in South Sudan.

Always on the road = views from the car. Chad.

Always on the road = views from the car. Chad.

Humanitarians need tea breaks, too.

Humanitarians need tea breaks, too.

 

 

On the road again, Somaliland.

On the road again, Somaliland.

Another day, another bed.

Another day, another bed.

Going to visit a village... or on a safari?!

Going to visit a village… or on a safari?!

 

 

 

Sister Kim in Quotes // Part III

By now you’ve heard enough about the life and legend of Sister Kim from my perspective.

It’s time the stories of her 30 committed years of service are expressed by some of the individuals those she’s impacted the most.

Reverend Stephen, Diocese Mission & Youth Coordinator

“My relationship with Sister Kim is very close because I take her as my mentor. She molded me. Without her, I would not be sitting in this office – I would be at home.”

“She is forward – if something is wrong, she tells you. But she always does it in a loving way. That is a friend indeed.”

“Without the help of World Concern, we would not have this level of health care. The government of Uganda steps in when they see you are working hard – so when Sis Kim came, they also came in to assist.”

“If we had power, we would actually strengthen her to have more time – expand her days of living on the earth. Sister Kim has an open heart. Whatever you give to her, she will use it on behalf of others.”

IMG_9317Reverend Pons, Diocese Secretary

“We have had less money to take on the capacity of our staff, but Sister Kim has always mobilized funds. She has sponsored many students – including the staff in our health center and the pastors in our church.”

“Sister Kim is so passionate about prayer that it is difficult to get her to take medication when she is sick.”

“She helped establish the first ever health conference in Nebbi and, thanks to her mobilization skills, we currently have two doctors.”

“If it were to be the wish of the people, Sister Kim should be here forever.”

“When Sister Kim is out of this community, it is very noticeable.” 

Geoffrey, Lead Administrator at Goli Health Center

“What I like about Sister Kim is that she is very cooperative, even if challenged.”

“I value her as my mother, sister, and friend.”

“Our staff unite as one body to do our services.”

“Goli is different than other public health centers because we want to show love to the community.”

Anne, Principal at Kuluva Nursing School

“It was very nice to have SIster Kim as a mentor – she’s full of energy and I learned to be the same way.”

“Sister gave scholarships to the best students.”

“She recruited young girls and boys and trained them as assistants because we were short on local staff.”

“You can imagine me trying to step into the shoes of this kind of a person.”

“At first I had no idea where to start from, but she continued praying for me, visiting me, and supporting me financially when necessary.”

“She taught me about trusting in God and persevering, even when things are hard.”

Charity, Nursing Assistant

“Patients feel good to come this way because we have good services and treat them with kindness.”

“All of the staff here are cooperative – we work hand in hand, so we feel good.”

“Sister Kim makes sure there is no shortage of drugs in the pharmacy.”

“Sister Kim paid for and organized my nursing training. This makes me very happy because I did not know what I was going to do.”

“Before I was just at home with no money. I wanted to go to school but had no resources. Sister Kim made it possible for me to be where I am today.”

Over the course of her time in Uganda, Sister Kim has significantly transformed the lives of hundreds of individuals. She would never admit it herself, but her selfless spirit has seeped deeply into the roots of Nebbi, Uganda.

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