Tag Archives: World Concern

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.

 

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

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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!

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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.”

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.”

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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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.

——————————————————————————————————–

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.”