Tag Archives: Development

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.

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.”

World Concern: Going To The End Of The Road And Staying There. // Part I

Today I want to share with you Part I of a II piece series I wrote in response to the following questions:
1. What makes World Concern different than other development organizations?
2. Is being a faith-based organization (FBO) more of a challenge or a strength?
My hope is that you find this both informative and thought provoking. I’d love to hear your responses/questions! (best to share these via commenting below or emailing me at kellyr@worldconcern.org)


World Concern staff meet with a village in Magai, South Sudan.

World Concern staff meet with a village in Magai, South Sudan.

“Concern Worldwide, right?”

“No, World Concern…”

Initially, this common exchange led me to assume that in East Africa, World Concern is not well known.

As a medium-sized Christian non-governmental organization (NGO) based out of Seattle, Washington, World Concern tends to be less known in heavily aid-concentrated areas for one simple reason: This is not where they work. In addition, World Concern may not be your stereotypical Faith Based Organization (FBO) with proselytizing as the main goal, but rather compelled by their faith to be committed to long-term development and restoring human dignity, even if it means humbling and adapting with lessons learned along the way.

Let’s Take a Trip.

I have a pretty incredible job. I work for World Concern in a regional position covering South Sudan, Chad, Somalia and Kenya. Based out of Nairobi, I spend most of my waking time in the field getting to know World Concern’s projects and beneficiaries. Gathering thousands of photos and many an interview, I work with the beneficiaries to share their stories with the outside world.

Interviewing a World Concern beneficiary in Tessou, Chad.

Interviewing a World Concern beneficiary in Tessou, Chad.

Basically, I get the best of both worlds – life in ‘the field’ coupled with life in one of the world’s largest international development hubs.

Due to my line of work, the aforementioned conversation is one I’ve found myself repeating with multiple people in the east African expatriate community. Surprisingly (to me), these conversations tend to occur most frequently in Nairobi, or other cities with a high concentration of development organizations such as Gulu, Kampala, Kakuma, and Juba.

I’d like you to join me on a trip to rural, I mean rural, Chad. Specifically – let’s scoot on over to Goz Beida, located in the Sila Region of eastern Chad.

Now ask someone there if they know about the projects and village partnerships headed up by World Concern. Chances are you will hear a contrasting response.

As we continue on our way to Goz Beida, allow me to paint a picture of our journey leaving from Nairobi.

Many a time have I flown in a large plane, that takes me to a small United Nations (UN) plane, that then drops me in on a dirt runway next to a Land Rover, that then drives me on a 2-5 hour journey miles outside of an already rural town (Goz Beida) to an even more rural village. At this point, we’ve arrived at a World Concern project site; in our case Harako, Chad.

Half of the time in the field I am flabbergasted that: (a) The local staff have any clue where in the heck they are driving (it is safe to say that there is a 0.03% probability that our journey to the field will involve paved roads, or any roads at all) and (b) World Concern staff is conscious that these villages even exist, let alone have meaningful relationships with the local people.

Traveling to project sites, it is rare to see another NGO present. Though the jolting drives may be cause for future back problems, I’m encouraged that World Concern targets villages with off-the-map locations; those that tend to be few in population. For some, the latter is reason enough to throw in the towel and say, “The effort is not worth it.”

Karona, a World Concern partner village outside of Goz Beida, Chad.

Karona, a World Concern partner village outside of Goz Beida, Chad.

Call me dramatic, but I’ve never felt more at the ends of the earth than I do visiting World Concern’s partner villages, whether in Chad or elsewhere.

On assignment in South Sudan, laying alone in a tukul (a traditional hut) in a compound surrounded by a flimsy four-foot tall stick fence, I found myself thinking, “I have never felt further from anything or anyone I know. This could be it.” This goes without mentioning that the ‘guard’ is equivalent to half my weight.

Strip away the romanticism of partnering with the most vulnerable of the vulnerable, and the sexy (yet false) idea that merely digging and building a gushing well equates to a better quality of life and a village transformed. Now you can see development work in remarkably remote locations for what it is – a constant uphill battle. (Cue timely ‘Amen’)

From what I have observed, this is an ongoing internal struggle for World Concern – an organization that implements projects such as wells and desires to celebrate their impact, but at the same time is aware that this is only a fragment of long-term transformation.

Working it Out in Chad

Let’s go back to Goz Beida, Chad.

From 2004 to 2011, Goz Beida was a hotspot for international NGOs. Refugees and Internally Displaced People (IDP) were pouring into the area from every direction (some have flippantly referred to Chad as a large dumping pot for refugees, IDPs, and immigrants). The crisis was tangible and the aid money was flowing.

World Concern beneficiary in the Jabal Refugee Camp, Goz Beida, Chad.

World Concern beneficiary in the Jabal Refugee Camp, Goz Beida, Chad.

In 2011, the Chadian government announced “A Year of Return” for all IDPs – encouraging them to move back to their villages and for all NGOs to halt their operations within the camps.

In other words, the government declared the crisis over (naturally, it wasn’t).

Cut-off from large non-private funds, World Concern was left to work with an impossibly low budget. Still committed to their beneficiaries– they had to make a tough decision – remain and search for outside resources or move out with the rest. In a few brief months, nearly all compounds in Goz Beida were vacated, making World Concern one of the few remaining NGOs in a development ghost town.

Barely scraping by on private funding, World Concern fought for outside support in order to move out of giving relief and towards development. The people of Chad clearly needed more than handouts – and World Concern was learning to see the bigger picture. Their beneficiaries needed a way to save themselves from a repeat disaster.

“On average, almost two disasters of significant proportions are recorded every week in sub-Saharan Africa since 2000. Few of these ever hit the global headlines but they silently erode the capacities of Africans to survive or prosper,” states the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR). “In order for development activities to be sustainable they must also reduce disaster risk.”

“Investing in the cost of reducing disasters can be 10 times (some say 40 times) more effective than helping people recover afterwards,” explains Chris Sheach, World Concern’s Deputy Director of Disaster Response.

Despite its immense importance, it seems that obtaining private donor funding for disaster risk reduction (DRR) is surprisingly arduous.

Creating an appeal and encouraging donors to give money during a disaster? Attractive. Fundraising for the purpose of long-term development, with the goal of preventing future disasters and reducing risk? Not so attractive.

Currently, the work of World Concern in Chad is entirely based on private donors; well-meaning churches, individuals, families, and groups across the U.S.

“The long-term, low-cost investment in sustainable community development and DRR is much more effective and efficient than just ‘helping people’,” continues Sheach. “Effective in that it leads to bigger and better things, and reduces losses. Efficient in that it’s a better use of money.”

Yet, DRR is still less dazzling than handouts and quick-response aid. The sad but simple truth is that long term development just isn’t sexy.

It doesn’t produce instantaneous results, and it sure can’t be packaged in a pretty box. It is complex and its process is often difficult to fully comprehend unless you have either been to the field or worked in development. And even then, the answers may still evade those of us working in development – and the complexities definitely still exist.

The longer I spend working in the field of development, the more I am exposed to harmful practices – I have seen the effects of organizations whose work instills more harm than it does help.

Does this make me disheartened and, unfortunately, overly-critical (as is a common characteristic of many development workers)? At times, definitely yes.

Has this made me more understanding of where World Concern has come from and their vision for where they are working to go? Again, definitely yes.

Stay tuned for “World Concern: Going To The End Of The Road And Staying There. // Part II”, which will focus more on the question:
Is being a faith-based organization (FBO) more of a challenge or a strength?