Nearly a week has passed since Cyclone Idai devastated three of the most vulnerable countries in Southern Africa, Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe, and the full extent of the disaster and the needs are still growing.
Sometimes it feels as though the world is on fire. Each day of 2017 brought a new story that reminded us that we live in a world seemingly settled on top of tinder, full of angry people running around with match in hand. We see the flames of war, terrorism, sexual violence, racism and continued violence against the refugee and immigrant raging around us and growing in intensity.
When people think of Haiti, they often think of incredible poverty, disaster, dependence, and despair. But there is another story. It is one of the church stepping into communities as beacons of light and agents of change, offering help and hope to struggling families.
What do you do when the tragedies of this world seem like they just won’t stop? What do you do when so many already-vulnerable people suffer even greater hardship?
I think I might already know what you do. Because I’ve seen you do it. And I’m hoping you might do it again. But first, a quick look back at the past few weeks...
When a Category 4 hurricane struck Haiti earlier this month, hundreds of our donors sprang into action, donating thousands of dollars, even as the initial damage reports and death tolls were still being reported.
Then, less than three weeks later, when Iraqi-led forces launched a military offensive to free the city of Mosul from ISIS, donors once again jumped to the aid of those who were being displaced by the conflict, donating thousands of dollars even as the media was just beginning to report news of the attack.
Thank you, is an inadequate, yet a very sincere response. We are profoundly grateful that you have trusted us to extend your compassion to people in great need around the world. The only reason World Relief is able to so quickly come to the aid of the vulnerable in places like Haiti and Mosul, is because YOU make it possible.
At the same time, I know how critically important it is for World Relief to be ready for the next crisis or disaster.
I know from experience that we best stand with the vulnerable when we are prepared for disaster and crisis before it even happens.
How can you help us prepare to be ready wherever and whenever disaster strikes?
- Give a one-time gift to World Relief’s general fund. This allows us to earmark funds for future disasters, as well as provide health and child development programs, refugee and immigration services, economic development and peace-building initiatives to the devastated, the displaced, and the marginalized worldwide.
- Commit to give to World Relief on a monthly basis, ensuring sustainable transformation in the areas we work. In over 20 countries, throughout Africa and Asia, we’ve built partnerships with over 5,800 local churches, allowing us to quickly deliver aid and recovery through these partnerships, just like we have over the past few weeks in both Haiti and Mosul.
Once again, thank you all you do on behalf of the vulnerable. Together, let’s commit to never give up, and do all we can to be ready to act.
President, World Relief
[The following videos and blog post are detailed updates we've received from Joseph Bataille, World Relief's Country Director in Haiti, about the relief efforts taking place in Haiti in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew.]
Every year, my wife and I choose a new part of Haiti to explore for our anniversary. Our country is a gem, full of hidden treasures. And every year, we celebrate by uncovering one of these treasures together.
This past July, we explored Grand’Anse. We began with one of the furthest reaches of the region, Anse d’Hainault. The two and a half hour drive from the entrance of the city of Jérémie was scenic, but to tell the truth, it was a bit exhausting. We had already driven 6 or 7 hours that morning to get to Jérémie. We could only hope that this additional 2.5 hour, slow-paced, rocky trek, would be worth it in the end. After all, we would still have to drive back in a couple of days.
We came up on the main stretch of the town of Dame Marie. It was almost evening and the sun was preparing to set. The colors of the sky dancing and glistening as they reflected off of the sea made us forget all about our uncomfortable drive. The people of the town—not accustomed to receiving many outsiders—each watched from the front porch of their homes as we passed by. Life seemed beautiful and simple. Children played in their yards and in the streets. Men tended to boats and nets after a day of fishing. Women conversed and laughed as they finished various late-afternoon tasks or as they braided each other’s hair, while they relaxed on the front porch. All the while, the sun, the sea, and the sky danced in the background. Beautiful and simple indeed. We took in similar scenes for the last half hour of the drive to Anse d’Hainault.
The rest of our visit in Grand’Anse was equally beautiful. From Anse d’Hainault, we traveled to the city of Jérémie. The family of Alexandre Dumas (author of “The Three Musketeers” and “The Count of Monte Cristo”) hails from Jérémie, as do other notable Haitian writers. This historic city is rightfully known as “The City of Poets.” Traveling further to a hidden cove called “Anse du Clerc.” We sat mesmerized by the crashing of waves into the bay as we drank in beauty that few have the pleasure of seeing. All this while enjoying freshly caught fish served over boiled plantains, and of course, fresh coconuts to drink.
Even more beautiful than the scenery, as usual, were the people that we encountered. We met with our friend and my colleague, Esther, when we traveled back to Jeremie. She showed us around over the next couple of days. Each day, Esther’s aunts fought over the “privilege” of getting to feed us. Every home that we visited had a table prepared; they would hear nothing of the meal that we had just eaten two hours earlier. They showed us around proudly, wanting us to love their town and region at least half as much as they do. They would give us everything, if we would ask, but would receive nothing but good company in return. Each evening we stayed with Esther’s godparents, in their home, set proudly in a Garden of Eden by the sea.
Last Saturday, I visited that place again. The house was still there, and so was the sea, but the garden was gone. So was everything else.
The town of Jérémie was full of piles of debris stacked high. All along the ride through other parts of Grand’Anse, I saw homes that I don’t remember seeing before. Each had lost the trees that had once shielded them from view. Nearly all had also lost their rooftops and many had lost walls as well. With Grand’Anse accounting for a major portion of the nation’s remaining forest coverage, it was devastating to see the hills and mountains, literally stripped bare by Matthew’s winds. At the time, with images coming slowly and rarely, I could only imagine what Anse d’Hainault at the tip of the island might look like in the aftermath. I couldn’t bear to imagine what happened to the people of Dame Marie and their simple and beautiful life.
Nothing was the same in the region. That is, nothing except for the people. Esther’s aunt was excited to see us, yet slightly upset that we surprised her, because she didn’t have a chance to prepare a meal for us. She gently scolded her niece for not calling her in advance (although telephone lines were mostly cut off). Esther’s godparents were still the king and queen of hospitality and, despite the devastation, her godfather still wore his usual smile that you can be sure he’s had on his face since childhood. His wife insisted on preparing a goat for us, despite having lost several goats and their garden in the storm and despite the fact that we had brought our own provisions.
When visiting pastors in Pichon last week, the pastors, who had advance notice of our coming, would already have fresh coconuts ready for us to drink or something else for us to “taste” as we walked along the road. We would look to the few trees that were left standing to see if we could figure out where these gifts were coming from, but we found no sign that there was more to come. We were being offered their best. Their last. Their all. And they refused to be denied the opportunity to be hospitable. Wherever we went, there was a sadness in the air, but over and over we were awestruck by the palpable goodness that remained in the hearts of a people who still wanted to hope.
That same charity and goodness has all but become a national phenomenon. Many miles away, on the first Sunday morning after the storm, churches in the capital were gathered as their usual custom. Surely, the faithful came with the usual personal desires that they wanted to ask God to fulfill, but that day, they also shared a common heaviness. Together, they lifted the burden of those suffering after the hurricane in prayer. Many also began collecting funds and items to send to the victims in distress.
In Les Cayes, that same afternoon, our staff met with a group of pastors, all of whom have churches that have sustained damages. As we discussed with them the importance of preaching the gospel by loving acts, together they resolved to see to that the homes of their more vulnerable neighbors are rebuilt, even if it meant that their church buildings were the last to be repaired. We recently met with a group of pastors in Duchity (Pestel, Grand’Anse) who have agreed to do the same.
Late last week, I participated in a meeting with more than 200 Haitian church leaders in the capital. The purpose was to join together collectively to reach out to the affected areas with short, mid, and long term relief efforts. We had similar conversations with our partners in the capital. All of them excitedly agreed that the primary responsibility for relief must go to the local church. In Belle Anse, church leaders are assessing the damages together, while reflecting on ways to help those who were hit the hardest. Immediately after the storm, some even worked overtime to finish a home that they had begun to build months earlier for a single mother of three. After many months of being stalled by various obstacles, they finished the project in only a few days.
I could fill pages and pages with the difficulties and hardships that are still yet to come. But I would rather put a final exclamation point on what I have attempted say so far...
Haiti has a lot of good things. The best of all these things are its people. Haiti is gold. The Haitian people themselves are diamonds—hard-pressed but not hardened, and refined by many years of adversity. When they pull together, nothing is impossible to them.
The local church is full of such gems, and across the country, near to and far from the disaster, they are pulling together. They are helping one another and looking out for the weakest among them. World Relief is privileged to know some of the best of them. They are a light to their communities. World Relief is working closely with these leaders as they help their communities to recover shelters, gardens, livelihoods, and autonomy. But we refuse to let our work to be the basket that covers and hides the goodness and the light of God’s love that is already present. Rather, we are working in such a way to put that light on the lamp-stand, where it belongs, that the world will see their good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:15-16).
The nation is full of people with hearts of servants who are more than ready and more than willing to carry the weight of their vulnerable neighbors. Our job in this time is to help them to find the resources that match the largeness of their hearts and to equip them with skills and knowledge to build back better. Our mission is to help them to accomplish their mission.
That has always been our mission, and it will never change. We empower the church. They seek out the least, the last, and the lost among them, and together we make a world of a difference.
If you have already donated, please consider a second donation to Haiti’s hurricane relief efforts, or a general donation to World Relief’s other work around the world. Also, we invite you to share a link to this page with your friends and family.
Since Monday, when Hurricane Matthew struck Haiti, we've been getting reports from our staff and local partners in the country. The situation grows worse by the day. Please consider taking action and donating today.
Haitian officials are reporting that at least 400 people have died, and the death toll is likely to continue rising. The UN Office for Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs is also reporting that 350,000 residents are in need of immediate aid.
Because of our longstanding relationship with churches throughout Haiti, World Relief has a built-in system to deliver that aid, one that empowers local leaders in Haiti to lead their own relief efforts.
As the death toll continues to climb and reports of widespread damage and destruction pour in, now is the time to act.
For the sake of the men, women, and children of Haiti, please donate today.
[This post comes to us from a team member in South Sudan, however we’re choosing to keep the author’s identity private at this time.]
In most parts of the world, Independence Day is something to celebrate. It’s a day to remember past sacrifice and to celebrate the victory of a battle hard fought. And yet, last week’s Independence Day in South Sudan was a different story.
July 9—a date that has been celebrated in South Sudan since the country gained independence in 2011—was greeted this year with heightened vigilance, rumors of violence, and little sense of victory. Fireworks did not end in awe-inspiring bursts of color and grace, and families were not underfoot admiring the spectacular display. The color in the South Sudanese sky that night was brought instead by tracer ammunition and accompanied by the reverberating staccato of heavy weaponry.
As we settled into Thursday evening, I could hear the distant bursts of gunfire. It’s been a while since it’s been this loud and this consistent. It’s been a while since tensions in Juba have been this high. That’s why, when my phone rang that night, my brain began anticipating several scenarios. In the end it was a warning from one of my security guards. “Security isn’t good…stay in your compound. I’ve taken shelter with a brother because I can’t make it home.”
I offered my thanks for his update and a few shallow words of encouragement. What can you say when this nation finds itself once more on the edge? Where a slight nudge is sufficient to ignite a conflict with unimaginable consequences.
Friday brought that nudge.
While the details are not entirely clear, here’s what the weekend held. There was heavy fighting on Friday at the Presidential Palace while the President, First Vice President, and Vice President were meeting–resulting in significant loss of life. Saturday was calm by comparison, but Sunday was chaos.
Hundreds have died and thousands have fled. The peace negotiated almost a year ago is over. Staff are at home, reporting fighting in their neighborhoods. They are lying on the floor, hiding under beds, and reporting that they do not know if they will survive the day. I expect the worst.
My heart breaks for this nation and for these people. Please pray for the following:
- Our teams in South Sudan, as we finalize safety and security plans for World Relief staff and volunteers.
- Our work, as the nation spirals back into chaos.
- This nation. It has been reported that war has been declared; we do not know what tomorrow will bring but we trust that this will not be the end.
Because of the generosity of donors, World Relief was able to help Preemptive Love provide food and other essential items to 500 families in Fallujah.
Two weeks ago, Iraqi military forces began ground operations around the city of Fallujah to reclaim it from ISIS. Within the first week, 500 families were liberated but left without food, water, or shelter. However, because of your support, that quickly changed. Here’s how:
Our partners at Preemptive Love Coalition provide aid and relief on the front lines of the war against ISIS. They operate behind enemy lines in some of the most dangerous and heavily militarized zones of the Middle East. As ISIS cuts through the region, leaving death and destruction in its path, Preemptive Love follows behind, giving food, shelter, and essential non-food items to families affected by the conflict.
Two weeks ago, as the Iraqi-led military operation against ISIS drew closer to Fallujah, Preemptive Love anticipated the humanitarian crisis that would unfold as the conflict reached the city. In need of immediate funds to supply aid for thousands of people, Preemptive Love reached out to a number of its partners, including World Relief.
Thanks to the donations many of you regularly make to World Relief, we were able to quickly give Preemptive Love $20,000 to provide food, mattresses, medicine, and hygiene products to the families of Fallujah. Because of your support, 500 families in Fallujah have food! That’s no small accomplishment.
When you make a donation to World Relief, you make it possible for us to fulfill our calling to stand with the vulnerable—both by expanding our operations, and by allowing us to give to organizations like Preemptive Love.
Thank you for your commitment to the vulnerable, and your trust in World Relief. Your support for our organization and organizations like Preemptive Love means the difference between life and death, and between hope and despair for so many around the world.
Editors Note: What follows is an excerpt from another update received from Maggie Konstanski, World Relief's Disaster Response Manager. (Read Maggie's first update.) Maggie writes from Iraq, where she is currently working with local leaders to assist families forced from their homes because of the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Iraq.
Editors Note: What follows is an update recently received from Maggie Konstanski, World Relief's Disaster Response Manager. Maggie writes from Iraq, where she is currently working with local leaders to assist families forced from their homes because of the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Iraq.
Since last May, this is my fourth month here in Iraq, and I am enjoying being able to come back to friendships and appreciating the comfort of familiarity. Local shop owners know me and are happy to see me, friendships are strengthening and my love for this place grows.
Some things have changed even since my last trip here. The frontline has been pushed back in some places, opening access to some locations and creating new opportunities. There are new tensions, however—new groups being targeted by violence, with civilian communities caught in the crossfire.
Another change is the temperature. Many homes here are built to stay cool in the hot summers, which means they are incredibly cold in the winter. The key to staying warm is to have four walls, a sturdy roof and a heater, luxuries that many of the displaced do not have. It breaks my heart to know that many of my friends are cold through the night, while I enjoy a warm, dry and comfortable night of sleep. These are the disparities that are so hard to comprehend. Honestly, the more I learn, the less I understand.
It is hard to explain, but even though my heart aches over these disparities and the injustice and horrors of conflict, I keep coming back to hope. While the realities of war and conflict are devastating, and the losses many, it is in these same places that I see courage, hope and love on a scale I could never have imagined. I get to spend my days with people who have lost much and suffered deeply, yet daily choose to serve others and build towards the future. I am surrounded by peacemakers. Their courage astounds me.
This week I had the privilege of training a group of local trainers who will train others in facilitating child-friendly spaces, running support groups for youth and providing psychosocial support to their communities. If the love, generosity and courage that I have seen in these people and so many others is any indication, then I believe we can pray for peace and healing with great hope. It is hard sometimes to not despair, but I now can count some of the most courageous people I have ever met as friends, sisters and brothers. What a privilege.
Like a tsunami, waves of terror from the Paris attacks are crashing upon American shores. Valid questions pour in about the U.S. refugee resettlement screening process.
Below is an update from our Disaster Response Manager, Maggie Konstanski, in Iraq. The best way I can think of to describe what it is like being here is whiplash—constantly being thrown back and forth between two extremes you did not know could coexist.
Jenny Yang is Vice President of Advocacy and Policy at World Relief. She was recently in Jordan with a delegation from Refugee Council USA to assess the situation facing Syrian and Iraqi refugees, and urges that we do more to help these refugees in their critical time of need. Three young girls were huddled under thick blankets in their makeshift, cement-walled house in a compound in Mafraq, Jordan, near the border with Syria. It was cold and rainy and they hadn’t left their compound in days. The three sisters, aged 3, 6, and 7, had fled Syria a couple years ago with their mother who feared for their safety. The father’s whereabouts are unknown. Their resilient mother dreams of returning to her homeland with her daughters, but doesn’t know when or if that would be possible.
At a time when many of us are enjoying the snow because it affords us a day off work or school, for the thousands of refugees in Jordan, it means cold, wet, and windy conditions in flimsy homes made out of plastic and metal. As a huge snow storm recently blanketed the Middle East, strong winds blew away the tents of 100 refugees in Zaatari refugee camp leaving them with no shelter in the cold rain. A recent UNHCR report found that almost half of refugee households have no source of heat and at least a quarter have unreliable electricity.
Jordan is hosting over 600,000 registered Syrian refugees, which represents approximately 10% of its population. Many fled starting in 2012 when the Syrian crisis began, and have experienced tremendous suffering, including torture, physical ailments, and the death of loved ones. The response of the Jordanian government has been generous, as many of the Syrian refugees have enjoyed free health care and education for their children.
But the refugees face new challenges as the Jordanian government is being stretched thin and recently announced they are cutting health care to the refugees as well as enforcing stricter guidelines about who crosses the border. Two-thirds of Syrian refugees across Jordan live below the national poverty line, and one in six lives in extreme poverty. While the international community has responded with robust humanitarian assistance, the situation is reaching a straining point.
Many parents are marrying off their daughters as young as 12 or 13 years old to much older men, believing such a relationship will offer some form of protection. Children are pulled from schools because they can work to provide for the immediate needs of their families. “What is the point of education,” one parent told me, “when there will be no opportunities for our children to use their education in the future?”
The violence in Syria is not expected to end in the next several years which means the refugees are faced with the ongoing dilemma of not being able to return home as well as facing real protection challenges while living in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and other host countries. The international community must do more to not just provide assistance but also burden share by resettling a larger number of Syrian and Iraqi refugees.
While the desire for many Syrians is to eventually return home, the reality is that they will not be able to in the near future, if ever. Their homes were destroyed and they face little hope of integrating in their host countries. Resettlement can be an extension of solidarity to host countries that are shouldering so much while offering hope to refugees so they can pursue the dignity of work and education for their families without the daily uncertainties and fears of having no home to live in or even being returned to Syria.
The United States has only resettled 148 Syrian refugees last year, and 32 the year before. In all, the United States resettles less than half of 1% of the world’s refugees. For countries like Lebanon, where refugees make up a quarter of their entire population, and Jordan, where the refugees make up a tenth of the population, the United States’ strong tradition of welcoming the persecuted from around the world must be expanded to receive the victims of this recent conflict, the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II. Resettlement won’t solve the region’s problems, but acting sooner rather than later will alleviate the burden on Jordan and other host countries, and it will ensure a better chance for long-term stability for the refugees caught in the middle.
To learn more about how you can join us in responding to this crisis now, visit https://worldrelief.org/iraq-syria.
From midnight on December 17, 2011 to dawn the next day, Typhoon Sendong swept through northern Mindanao in the Philippines. The resulting flash floods claimed more than 1,000 lives and left over 51,000 displaced persons regrouping in temporary evacuation centers. Most of these centers are in the city of Cagayan de Oro where World Relief is joining local partners to bring needed relief.
World Relief responded rapidly after the flooding, collecting used clothes, blankets and other personal items needed by the survivors. Food and non-food items have reached over 1000 families so far. Addressing the most significant needs has meant dividing the work; some of our team members are assigned to purchasing and repacking supplies, some joined the trauma intervention while others are in devastated areas and evacuation centers with the assessment team. With TGCF-BALIKATAN(KEDRN), a group of evangelical partners, World Relief helps to monitor and control the traffic of supply distribution.
New needs have surfaced. Potable water is still unavailable for many residents lining up at water refilling stations. The local government is distributing tents to move families from evacuation centers to relocation sites, but the tents are too few. Sanitation is also a major problem as the lack of clean water is compounded by few toilets. An outbreak of disease borne by contaminated flood waters has started to claim the lives of flood survivors. World Relief has responded with hygiene kits to help contain the disease and it has decreased. All of these are an ongoing invitation for World Relief to stand for the most vulnerable.
In the midst of this crisis, World Relief was able to reach out to three Muslim communities devastated by the flooding. Muslim leaders were deeply appreciative that Christians would extend love and care to them. We are grateful that as we bring food and supplies to flood victims, we are also able to live out God's desire for mercy and reconciliation.
Recently, team members determined that over 300 families are "undocumented." Instead of living in evacuation centers, they have constructed shacks out of the scraps they found along the highway. Their only hope is churches and organizations, like World Relief, who are determined to find and help them. Please pray for these "undocumented" victims of Typhoon Sendong, that they would be welcomed into homes and given the safety net of God's provision.
Driving through Port-au-Prince after the earthquake on January 12, meant seeing every version of brokenness imaginable; collapsed buildings, flattened cars, and streams of people ready to tell their stories of loss. World Relief Haiti with its staff of over 40 national employees did not escape the trauma. Befriending the staff meant entering into their stories. World Relief’s building collapsed during the earthquake and one of the pretty, young program managers, Nerlandé Pierre, had to be dragged out, thankfully suffering no permanent damage.
Fougeré, a driver for World Relief, tried to describe the horror of Jan. 12 and its aftermath. He told me on one long drive that he had vomited every day for a week, that he was unable to think or function several weeks, and that he had to pass a building where his friend, trapped, called out to him until he died. Fougeré could do nothing to help him. Foungeré’s family was left without a place to live, especially difficult as he has a handicapped daughter.
Madame Elima, the employee who has worked the longest for WRH, lost her oldest daughter to the earthquake. This daughter was in her last year at a Haitian university. I heard that Mme Elima and her three small adopted children lived for a time in a tent on the median of a busy road.
Life is split for most people in Haiti into before the earthquake and after the earthquake.
However, there are signs of progress. Though articles abound on the mismanagement of aid money given to help Haiti and the tragically slow progress, many of us who live there day to day see progress everywhere. Fewer streets are impassable due to rubble. Buildings have been repaired or taken down and the materials used to rebuild. Haitians are healing and moving on. Last year, every church had a memorial service on Jan. 12th, and the beauty of standing room only congregations with candles in their hands, praying, brought hope like nothing else.
I look at World Relief Haiti and am so encouraged by the nearly one million coffee trees planted in Thiotte, the houses built in Leogane, the wells giving water to hurting communities. Carrefour Feuille has a school now, built by WRH. Our staff of over 40 continues to strategize on how to reach the most vulnerable through a network of churches. Many are committed on a small or large scale – Haitians and ex-pats – to rebuilding Haiti. Many are thoughtful and compassionate. No one is foolish enough to imagine that Haiti is “out of the woods” or that there are not enormous and complex problems needing years and the gospel to address. We know that partners around the world will not forget the long-term commitment necessary which was so evident just after the earthquake two-years ago.
Nerlandé, the program manager in charge of OVC, Orphans and Vulnerable Children, just married and the staff went to celebrate with her. She will not forget her time trapped in the rubble of the old World Relief office, but she is joyfully starting a new life. Recently, Fougeré built a small house on some land he bought a while ago and has moved his family into it. Mme Elima, a faithful and respected worker for World Relief, has housing now and continues to diligently serve the children at 40 churches giving vaccinations and health advice.
This feels like progress.
-Tina O'Kelley, World Relief Staff Writer (lives in Port-au-Prince, Haiti)
Yesterday was a difficult day to process for our team. We saw two villages that spoke of their complete lack of resources and livelihoods, and their almost total reliance on scant relief food and assistance from a few non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the distant Kenyan government. This vulnerable and disempowering situation has left many Turkana people wondering what the future holds for their children and their way of life. Will they be able to return to the pastoral life that they have lead for generations now? Is a nomadic, pastoral life sustainable or possible in today’s world of state borders, urban living, land titles, and chronic drought?
These are difficult questions that need to be asked for the long-term food sustainability of this arid region. However, to see and be a part of this future, first, the people of Turkana need food and clean drinking water. This is crucial.
Today, in Lokitaung in north Turkana, we hope to see the food distribution that was supposed to have happened yesterday. Maize and beans, brought over difficult roads and long distances, should help feed families for a few weeks, but as many share food with their extended families and neighbors, this food will be depleted well before the next food distribution.
This morning, Don Golden – World Relief’s SVP of Marketing and Church Engagement – is meeting with local pastors to hear and discuss the challenges that their congregations and communities are struggling through. Pray that as we meet these leaders and community members we can better understand not only the current urgency of their hunger and vulnerability, but also how World Relief and the Church can begin to stand for and serve the immediate and long-term needs of Turkana.
In many ways, this morning saw the pinnacle of our media trip journey to Turkana. After days of traveling, we reached the northern district of Lokitaung – any farther north and we would be in Ethiopia. In this remote area, the need is great, but today the most immediate of these needs is acute hunger. 3 surrounding villages – some as far as 4 miles away – walked to a church in Lokitaung to receive maize, beans, and cooking oil. Local pastors and community leaders played an integral part in not only the selection of the most vulnerable in their communities but also the logistics and physical hand-to-hand action of giving out vital food supplies. To accurately describe the mixture of emotions and tensions felt throughout the shuffling, patient lines of men and women is impossible. Often it seemed that murmurs of anticipation to receive food quickly turned to cries of anxiety as some feared they would get nothing and continue in hunger.
While we know that hundreds and thousands more in northern Kenya need food assistance, today we must look to Lokitaung for hope and inspiration. Today in Lokitaung, Turkana hundreds received food for their families.
Much of today was spent in the car, bouncing and jostling our way across the vast and sometimes desolate plains of rocks and dust in northern Turkana. Our intention was to detour to a small village, meet with the community there and then head to Lokitaung where World Relief’s northern Turkana food distribution operations will be based. However, as things do, our plans were significantly slowed down by rocky, rough terrain, mechanical problems, a flat tire and, oddly, a curtain of rain that turned the road into a slipper river. In our car, Pastor David, a man of great heart and vision, guided not only our path, but also gave us great insight into the way of life the Turkana people live. He himself is a Turkana, the group of people for which this northern Kenya region is named after. For generations now, the Turkana have been nomadic herders of cows, goats and camels. Their lives were lived on the move to find pasture and water for their herds. As we continued to speak with Pastor David, it became clear that the pastoral livelihoods of the Turkana people is under serious threat not only from shrinking natural resources but also from a complete shift in the structure of their community.
We inquired about the temporary homes clustered into villages that we saw periodically as we traveled. Pastor David informed us that congregating in villages is in fact not the norm for the people of Turkana. “A Turkana in a village is a Turkana that has no livestock to tend and therefore has given up”.
We stopped at one village and spoke with a group of men, women and children that congregated underneath a large acacia tree. An elderly woman stood and with great fervor told us of the hunger that grips their village. Pointing to the other side of the cluster of huts, she told us that the fresh graves were there, we could see them if we wanted. Later that evening on our way back though that village we saw the new piles of earth that lined the road – 8 people have died in the last month. However, many are reluctant to speak up over these deaths, as they fear the government will further neglect their food assistance needs.
We continued driving north until our car could go no further. We were almost to the border of Ethiopia, with Southern Sudan not too far to the west. “Here”, Pastor David informed us, “Is the poorest village in Turkana”. This bleak title, however, seemed to be a descriptor of circumstances rather than spirit as they greeted us with dancing and song. Their stories were similar to others in Turkana: loss of livestock to drought or raiders, lack of clean drinking water, limited assistance by aid and development organizations and marginalization from Kenyan society. The youngest children, born in the last few months of drought, and older adults that often pass their food on to the younger children showed the most visible signs of malnutrition.
This morning we return to our dusty vehicle for another day of driving. But today is different, because first of all we are here. We are in Turkana, and we are meeting and listening to the stories and realities of the families and communities that are most affected by this food crisis. We are going to Lokitaung, which is another full day’s drive towards the northern edge of Turkana near the Ethiopian border. This area is extremely remote and only faintly connected by a rough road to Lodwar, 10 hours away by car. It is in part because of this difficult accessibility that the World Food Program (WFP) identified this area and requested that World Relief focus one of its food assistance programs here.