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.

IMG_9243 IMG_9193 IMG_9540IMG_9604IMG_9607IMG_9612IMG_9634IMG_9642IMG_9663IMG_9644

Sister Kim // Part II

She knew little more than the title of her next life chapter: Uganda. Its sentences had yet to be formulated, its paragraphs were waiting to be compiled. She was particularly unaware that this new so-called chapter would turn out to be more of a series – a life commitment.

In 1985, pursuing the unfamiliar, Chung Yoon Kim, referred to by most as Sister Kim, packed her life and moved from South Korea to Uganda. With the support of World Concern, she began to make lasting imprints on villages across the country, and they accepted her as one of them.

In a span of 30 years, Sister Kim established a fully functioning health center in the very rural village of Goli, opened a nursing training school, founded a prison ministry, and built a mountaintop retreat center.

This is Part II, in what could easily be an endless part blog series, on the life and legend of Sister Kim.

Before you continue reading, make sure to check out Part I.

“In 1967 I was talking with a nursing school friend about how we could one day go to Africa. We were just dreaming and talking casually, and then we forgot about it.”

It’s nearing nightfall and Sister Kim and I are perched on dining room table chairs on her front porch, basked in the late afternoon sun. A breeze makes its way through the rustling branches of the trees she planted in order to keep the area cooler. Mosquitoes begin to saturate the evening air, buzzing to tease ears and tickle vulnerable ankles.

After graduating nursing school in South Korea, Sister Kim moved to the U.S. to continue with her studies. She was, and still is, the only one of her seven siblings to live outside of Korea. Sis Kim spent the subsequent years working in between the U.S. and South Korea.

During the late 1970’s, Sis Kim found herself working relentlessly in inner-city Philadelphia.

“I was very busy back in America,” she tells me. “I was very committed in a Korean community and had a full time job in the hospital.  I assisted others with a lot of translations. I was working 24 hours a day, I had no sleeping hours.”

In an effort to save money, serve others, and above all, please God, Sister Kim poured her entire being into her every minute of every day.

Sis Kim & Goli Health Center Staff.

As is apparent in Sister Kim as a now 73-year-old woman, her perpetual energy and committed work ethic are deeply integrated parts of her character.

Despite her sacrificial Philadelphia lifestyle, Sister Kim continued to feel like she wasn’t pleasing God.

“When I was working I gained a lot of money and offered it all to the Lord, but it wasn’t pleasing Him.”


Perhaps it wasn’t that He wasn’t happy with her work, but rather He had something else in mind.

Curious how such seemingly selfless work could possibly displease the Lord, I prod Sister Kim for a further explanation.

“I knew He wasn’t pleased because I couldn’t pray,” Sister Kim replies. “So one day I went to a vacated room in the city and decided to pray until I heard an answer. I closed all of the doors and windows and just prayed.”

Sister Kim prayed for three days straight.

“At sunset on the third day, I was suddenly reminded of the conversations I once had with my nursing school friends- you said you wanted to go to Africa. I knew this was my answer, so I left the room and went back home.”

In what can only be described as complete faith, Sister Kim spent the next few years pursuing moving to a foreign country to do a professedly foreign work.

“As soon as I arrived in Uganda and stepped onto the ground, a peace overcame me,” Sister Kim recalls, tears welling in her remembering eyes. “Any worries about Africa I had once had were all gone. In me was only peace – and this peace has not left.” 

Curled up on my chair, I physically feel as if I’m swimming in the details of Sister Kim’s narrative. As I listen, I envision phrases and quotes swirling above her head. One of her comments is bold and italicized – it stands out from the rest:

“I thought I was humble but, unknowingly, there was pride within me.”

[Heeeelloooooo...reality check. Her words like a scalpel to my core - I was left to dissect my character, my life, and my intentions. I’m sure Sis Kim had no idea that in sharing her story, her raw words spoken over cups of lukewarm tea were sharpening and molding me.] IMG_9377

Sister Kim’s first eight years in Uganda were spent working at a health center and establishing a nursing school in a village called Kuluva. Originally a school of 70, Kuluva is now equipping over 250 nursing students.

During her time in Kuluva Sister Kim dealt with a gamut of challenges. A war in Uganda was being waged and patients with missing limbs were entering the health center on the daily.

“We were running out of resources and had to recycle whatever materials we could find,” she describes.

While simultaneously tending to wounds and organizing prayer groups, Sister Kim was suffering from monthly spouts of malaria.

“It was not a big deal,” she casually shares. “I always knew when the malaria was coming because I would begin to feel heavy and achy.”IMG_9286 IMG_9231

There reached a point when Kuluva nursing school became sustainable. Sister Kim appointed a local principal and declared it time to head back to Korea and the U.S.

“I told God, ‘Isn’t that enough?’” she says. “But he did not answer me. Then the Anglican diocese called me back to Uganda – I felt frustrated. What should I go back for? So I spent another three days in secluded prayer.”

Again, on the third day, God answered her cries.


“A verse came to me that I still have on my wall to this day,” Sister Kim energetically shares. “So I moved back to Uganda.”

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self…to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.  Ephesians 4: 22-24

Dusk has turned to nightfall and the mosquitoes have migrated around artificial lights. Sister Kim and I sit comfortably in silence, processing stories unforeseen and stories yet to come.

For more on Sister Kim, read Part III here.

 

Sister Kim: The legend of a life lived for others. // Part I

In the year of 1941, unbeknownst to a rural Ugandan community, a distant sister and unparalleled pioneer was born.

Her given name was Chung Yoon Kim, but most (an underestatement as you will soon read) refer to her as Sister Kim.

If it were possible, I would love to write an entire six part blog post describing Sister Kim. I would tell you that she is incredibly selfless, hospitable, intentional, prayerful, hilarious, driven, energetic, resilient, beautiful, and every other positive adjective that when combined only scratch the surface of her character. But Sister Kim wouldn’t like this because, well, she really is that selfless. [I consider it a minor accomplishment that I was able to spend four plus hours interviewing her, as this required that she talk about herself.]

Instead, I will tell you about Sister Kim (still in the form of a series) via voices from the gamut of communities, projects, and individuals who have been transformed in the last 30 years.

IMG_9555In 1985, prior to the advent of widespread internet access, Sister Kim courageously packed up her few belongings and moved to a land she knew little more of than it’s name: Uganda.

“To be honest, I did feel fear,” she explained. “But the very moment I descended from the plane’s staircase and stepped onto the red soil, I was overcome with a sense of peace – and this peace hasn’t left me since.”

Sister Kim attributes this peace entirely to God. It is a peace that has kept her through Uganda’s 20 year civil war. A peace that has caused her to remain in a very rural village when other missionaries fled. A peace that pervades so much of her being that for 30 years, Sister Kim has lived and worked in a culture that’s not her own, learning to speak an entirely new language (among endless other cultural nuances), all the while living alone – without any immediate family or a husband.

“I never feel fear,” she pragmatically promised. “Why would I feel fear when I know why I’m here?!”

Indeed, Sister Kim, beyond a shadow of a doubt, knows why she is still living, working, and thriving in a very remote Ugandan village.

Located in Nebbi, a district in northwest Uganda that is situated between Gulu (an area known by many due to its recent history involving the Lord’s Resistance Army) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (one can literally see the DRC from the town’s center), Goli village is home to Sister Kim and the level three (soon to be four) Goli District Health Center.

When she first arrived in Goli, the so-called health center consisted of a couple of thatched-roof huts. Inside these semi-permanent structures, doctors dealt with everything from fistula to leprosy, all while a variety of critters crawled overhead.

“There was a time I saw a cat crawling above us while we were administering surgery. But I prayed, and the patient never became infected.”

And that’s what she does. If there’s one word to describe SIster Kim, it is prayer.

For the last 22 years, Sister Kim has woken up at 4:30 am to attend a 5 am prayer service. Every. Single. Day.

This ritual is both a reflection and causation of Sister Kim’s unprecedented selfless nature. She prays because she knows and believes in the one who made her – and this is the reason why she is in Goli.

Sister Kim prays because, she will tell you until her face turns blue,:

cannot do anything.”

 

 

A Man and His Camels // A Series of Eyewitness Accounts [Part II]

The following is a brief Eye Witness Account [Part II] as shared by Saleban – a father and camel herder in Faraguul, Somaliland. 

I am uncomfortable.

The UV rays are direct, piercing through my thin cotton shirt. I immediately feel fatigued and sunburned. I’ve been sitting in the Faraguul afternoon sun for a total of 25 minutes.

While I had been sitting inside an air conditioned vehicle, 40-year-old Saleban had been walking for 3 hours, alongside his 30-strong herd of camels, to reach our meeting point. After using a tethered rope attached to a weathered plastic jerry can to draw countless litres of water, he finished rehydrating his long-necked beasts and proceed on the redundant 3 hour journey home.

Saleban does this every day.3 - Faraguul, school wat, well_999_288-138

Faraguul is a rural village located in the Sanaag region of Somaliland, the self-declared independent state of Somalia.

The climate can best be described as a semi-desert; Its flat, arid land stretches seemingly endless distances. Stoic trees can be found sparsely scattered between Somali homes and small variety shops.  A dried river bed divides the tiny village from a number of shallow wells, whose salty water is consumed by the antiseptic tongues of hundreds of camels and the lips of parched goats.

Though Faraguul is divided by a ‘river’, it is more a hallucination of what could be; the land is frequently plagued by devastating droughts.

“I travel this far because this is the nearest water source for my camels,” explains Saleban, his lanky figure leathered from a lifetime spent in the desert sun. “The journey makes me feel tired.”

Recently, World Concern partnered with the Faraguul community to rehabilitate 4 of their shallow wells.

“Before, the wells were made of wood,” says Saleban. “They were not covered so the water was very dirty. Even my animals didn’t like the taste, so they would only drink a little.”

A shallow well pre-rehabilitation.

A shallow well pre-rehabilitation.

I can’t even begin to imagine the exhaustion of walking six hours every day to water animals that refused to drink.

“Now the wells are better,” Saleban continues.  “They are properly covered and made of quality materials. My animals drink a lot of water.”

Though the number of hours Saleban spends walking in the scorching sun has not decreased, there are still tangible improvements. With healthier animals, Saleban is encouraged, in energy and spirit to provide for his family of ten.

Saleban's son cools off in the noonday heat.

Saleban’s son cools off in the noonday heat.

According to recent reports, only one in three people have access to safe drinking water.

Though progress is being made, 2.9 million Somalis are currently living in a state of humanitarian crisis. Like South Sudan, the situation in Somalia rarely makes headline news, but the severity of the crisis remains very real.

Let’s not forget our dear brothers and sisters. Stay informed:

  • 2.9 million Somalis are in humanitarian crisis
  • 50,000 children are severely malnourished
  • Women in Somalia face the second highest risk of maternal death in the world and babies are at the highest risk of dying on the day of their birth
  • 1.1 million people are displaced within their own country
  • Polio has returned, with 193 cases recorded in the last year
  • Just 30% of the population has access to clean drinking water
  • Fewer 1 in 4 people have access to adequate sanitation facilities
  • 1 in 7 children are acutely malnourished

Further reading:
Somali Children ‘at death’s Door’
Somalia risks “catastrophe” as warning signs echo 2011 famine – agencies

Strapping on collected water for the journey ahead.

Preparing collected water for the journey ahead.

Strapping on collected water for the journey ahead.

Recently rehabilitated shallow well.

Recently rehabilitated shallow well.

 

Neither Here Nor There // A Series of Eyewitness Accounts [Part I]

The following are brief Eye Witness Accounts from Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) living in Wau, South Sudan.

Since conflict broke out in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, in December 2013, the country has been in a state of crisis. In the last six months, over 250,000 people have fled to neighboring countries and over 800,000 people have been internally displaced. Fleeing their land and tools, millions have watched the harvesting season come and go, left to fear what will happen when cultivation season arrives and there are no crops to harvest.

It is now rainy season, and rather than being thankful for the water that nourishes their cracked, dry land, people are living in haphazard shelters and suffering through persistent floods; stories tell of families wading through water knee-high, others talk of mother’s who are forced to carry their children whenever it rains so that they don’t drown. The UN, National Geographic, and many other news and development agencies are predicting that South Sudan is likely to experience one of the worst famines the world has experienced in over a quarter century. According to the UN, over 3.7 million people, close to one-third of the population, are at risk of starvation.

Much of the recent conflict has been concentrated in Unity State, an oil-rich region. Because it borders Sudan, Unity serves as a hub for a large population of Sudanese traders and refugees.

At the IOM Way-station in Wau, the capital of Warrap State (neighbors to the west of Unity), 130 Sudanese men and their families sit idly under massive tarpaulin structures – the structures are so large that the majority of their temporary residents sleep beneath a single roof.

Prior to moving to Wau, many of the IOM Way-station inhabitants fled to the Unity UNMISS compound as soon the rebels attacked their villages.

“Some of us lived in the camp while others of us remained in our homes for 27 days. We could not come out,” shares Suleman Masam, a Sudanese trader from Unity. “We had only the food and water that what was in our homes to survive.”

As soon as the government regained control of the village, Suleman and thousands of others decided it was time to leave Unity.

“I knew I could not stay there. My shop had been completely looted. I saw dead bodies lining the street; even one of my colleagues was shot.”

Suleman stands at the entrance to his current home with three of his children.

Suleman stands at the entrance to his current home with three of his children.

With his remaining money, Suleman paid for public transportation to take him, one of his wives, and two of his children to Wau – where they reside today.

“I was not expecting what happened to happen. Despite some problems we received from the host community, we had felt safe in Unity,” explains Suleman. “I feel less fear here in Wau than I was feeling at home, but I have nothing to do. I cannot go back to either of my homes – Sudan and Unity. I don’t know what will happen next.”

Salwa, an 18-year-old girl who hitched a ride with her brothers from Unity to Wau, feels similarly, “I can just sit here all day without doing anything.”

Salwa’s story is unique. Not only is she displaced from her home and her family, but of the 130 IDPs, she is one of only five women staying in the Way-station.

 

“I don’t know where the other women are, but I am not comfortable,” explains Salwa. “I cannot go about my life as normal being one of the only women here. I cannot take baths whenever I want and I cannot even sleep without clothing.” (This is notable considering South Sudan’s often unbearable heat – even through the nights.)

In partnership with IOM, Suleman, Salwa, and the other Way-station residents have received World Concern food rations.

But from their perspective, they are still stuck.

“We have some food, but we don’t know when it will come next,” said Salwa.

“I am not sure where I will move next or what will happen in my near future,” Suleman comments, absent-mindedly staring at a child playing nearby. “We want to live in peace. We want to restart our businesses, but right now we have nothing.”

As the conflict and floods continue to plague many regions of South Sudan, I urge you to, most importantly, stay informed. Though it may no longer be making headline news, the crisis in South Sudan is very real. Let’s not forget our millions of displaced brothers and sisters around the world.

For more information:

Food Crisis Worsens in South Sudan as Civil War is Displacing Millions

South Sudan crisis among gravest in history, says UN

South Sudan Crisis: Donors Pledge $600m at conference

World Concern: South Sudan Relief

 

“We Can Now Taste Our Land.” // Fadumo Farming in Somaliland

Last week, while romping through seemingly untouched acres of northern Ugandan bush, an Ecuadorian priest and I kicked our feet through fresh red soil earth and two-foot tall swaying grasses.

It was late afternoon and the muted orange sun hung low on the horizon. I’ve said it once before and I’ll say it again, there is nothing like an African sunset – more specifically, a Ugandan sunset.

As we trudged over anthills and leaped across dried riverbeds, the priest spewed unintentional wisdom from his weathered lips; wisdom that can only come from knowing a before and an after.

“If we would just listen to the earth, it could teach us a few things,” he said, toying with a dried piece of grass.

As we continued walking, examining rocks and tasting salty earth in the form of water pouring from an abandoned pump, the priest continued:

“We really don’t have to do much. In fact, our problem is that we are doing too much already,” he shared. “The land would produce on its own if we would harm it less and love it more simply.”

Picking up my mud-encrusted skirt I turned to walk back to the car, where we’d left our friends roasting local vegetables to celebrate the Easter holiday.

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Fadumo, 45-year-old wife, grandmother, mother, tea-shop owner, goat meat chef, and now farmer.

Fadumo. 45-year-old wife, grandmother, mother, tea-shop owner, goat meat chef, and recent farmer.

Backtrack one month to Ceel Ade [pronounced 'Ehl-Ahdeh'], Somaliland.

“We can now taste our land,” Fadumo explains.

We sit on the dirt floor of her home – a dome-shaped hut patched together with sticks, dried mud, emptied flour sacks, and tattered canvas bags – faded and brown from the wear and tear of Ceel Ade’s arid climate. Fadumo, her seven children, grandchildren, and in-laws all sleep, eat, and live on this small plot of land.

Home.

Home.

But Fadumo does not see the land as small. Forced to flee Ceel Ade during a previous famine, Fadumo and her family lived in an IDP (Internally Displaced Person) camps for over 15 years.

Pointing to the earth, she confidently states, “This is my motherland. Ceel Ade is better than the camp.”

Traditionally pastoralists, the Ceel Ade community is persistently suffering from droughts and famines that plague its arid land.

And for a people whose livelihood, as well as much of their personal value, is heavily determined by their goats, camels, and cattle – the consequences of a drought are truly extreme.

Recently, World Concern partnered with the community to build a number of shallow wells and rehabilitate berkads (a traditional Somali water catchment system). Reducing the effects of the predictably yearly droughts, water is now less of a concern for the people of Ceel Ade.

Fadumo's son shows off his multi-tasking skills - running while carrying water.

Fadumo’s son shows off his multi-tasking skills – running while carrying water.

Accessible, clean water is significant. Okay, more like HUGE. But Fadumo can’t seem to stop talking to me about farming. She’s infatuated.

With the help of World Concern training and tools – Ceel Ade has rapidly transformed into an agro-pastoralist community.

“We are very glad to be able to produce food from our land,” Fadumo shares with great joy – the curious kind of joy that comes from learning something new.

In the last five months, Ceel Ade has grown from a community of zero farmers to over 75. It is notable that multiple locals made sure to point that this is the first time they have ever seen a woman farm. 

A meeting of Ceel Ade farmers.

A meeting of Ceel Ade farmers.

Fadumo shares stories of old and farming anew.

Later, lightly tip-toeing over her newly budding soil, Fadumo says, “When I saw the people in our community growing farms, I requested for seeds. My neighbors taught me what they had learned from World Concern and now I am growing watermelon, carrots, maize, and many other things.”

Fadumo crouches down to run her fingers across a lush head of cabbage. My eyes trail off to the seemingly endless desert serving has her backdrop. The contrast is almost unbelievable and I do not blame Fadumo for never knowing that such cracked, dusty land could harvest such bountiful produce.

“We are thankful for World Concern because they have helped our community to make farms,” she tells me. “Before we did not know that our land had a good taste, but now we know it is good.”

Like others, Fadumo plans to eat and sell her farm’s produce, using the money to pay for her seven children’s school fees and improve the structure of her home.

Fadumo + 2 of her 7 children.

Fadumo + 2 of her 7 children.

And with the genuinely selfless attitude that encapsulates every Somali I’ve met, Fadumo explains, “Yes, it is my goal to eat and sell and give food to my neighbor who has none.”

As the land has shared with her, so she wants to share with others.

My mind trails off to the Ecuadorian priest on that late humid afternoon, “If we would just listen to the earth , it could teach us a few things.”

 

“Its water is soft like milk.” // Opportunity in Isolation

On the outskirts of Gawsawayne, a village that is itself located on the fringes, Amina Daar squats on the dirt floor of her Somali home, chatting with a neighbor.

Born and raised in the village’s minority clan, Amina is accustomed to life in isolation.

“I have always been in the minority clan,” shares Amina. “And because of this, no one can respect me.”

Along with seven other households, 40-year-old Amina and her 12 children are cut off from most all of the village resources and livelihoods.

“There is no water or food. There are no job opportunities,” she pragmatically explains.

Amina, twice widowed (tragically losing her first husband to conflict and her second to hepatitis), is her family’s sole provider. And following abruptly quitting her job as Gawsawayne’s lead circumciser, “It was a job, but it was bad”, she has been without a steady source of income.

Aside from belonging to the minority clan, life in Gawsawayne is challenging on its own.

Amina walks toward her home - one of seven in her minority community.

Amina walks toward her home – one of seven in the minority community.

Gawsawayne is a rural village located in the Sanag region of Somaliland. The climate can best be described as a semi-desert. Its flat, arid land stretches vast distances, as far as the naked eye can see. Stoic trees are found sparsely scattered between Somali homes and small variety shops.

Due to its drastic seasons, either rainy (read: flooding) or dry (read: drought), even the village’s majority clan can barely access enough clean water; they survive on the water collected in a few berkads (rainwater catchment systems) and shallow wells.

Amina drinks water gathered from the dirty, stinky shallow well.

Amina drinks water gathered from the dirty, stinky shallow well.

Amina, on the other hand, is not allowed access to these water sources. Thus, she walks two hours every day (four hours roundtrip) to gather water from a dirty, dirty (seriously, it’s so dirty) well.

“The water from the shallow well is not clean. It even has a bad smell. Its water makes us sick. And the couple of jerry cans I am able to carry are not enough to provide for all of the people in my family.”

For years, Amina’s clan has practiced traditional methods of medicine in an attempt to heal their ever-present stomach ailments.

“We take a stick with fire and burn dots on the skin around the stomach and liver – this helps to ease the pain and rid us of the sickness,” she explains.

Ironically, peering out of Amina’s doorway, the blaring noonday sun can be seen reflecting off of the metal slopes of a nearby berkad. Unfortunately, though it is in such close proximity, this berkad has been out of service for years – its life-giving source now an idle village landmark.

Amina stands in front of the recently rehabilitated berkad.

Amina stands in front of the recently rehabilitated berkad.

After discussing with Gawsawayne’s village elders, World Concern and the majority clan agreed to rehabilitate this now dilapidated piece of metal. Recognizing the need, the elders thought it best to give Amina and her community a beneficial resource as well as another means of income.

With anticipation, Amina illustrates, “When the rains come, the rehabilitated berkad will fill with water. The community has decided that it will be my job to sell this water to other people so that I can make money to feed my family and maintain the berkad.”

Not only will the rehabilitated berkad provide Amina and her family with funds, it will also significantly improve their overall well-being.

“YES,” Amina loudly proclaims, “this berkad will improve our health – we can use it for drinking and washing clothes! I will have more energy every day because I won’t be spending hours collecting water.”

Still stooped on the dirt floor, gazing out of her hut’s humble doorway, in a dream-like state Amina proudly aspires, “When I get enough money I plan to open a small shop…start my own business.”

As is deeply rooted in the Somali culture, whatever one has belongs to the entire community (in a short ten days, I witnessed this beautiful conviction lived out in a genuine manner). Amina’s neighbors, her community and family, will equally benefit from the refurbished berkad.

Still day-dreaming, Amina continues to describe her berkad.

“Its water is like soft milk.”