World Refugee Day: Love in Action

After fleeing their home in Myanmar and resettling in the U.S., refugees Wai Hinn Oo and his wife, Nang Shwe Thein recently celebrated five years of life in Oshkosh, WI.

After fleeing their home in Myanmar and resettling in the U.S., refugees Wai Hinn Oo and his wife, Nang Shwe Thein recently celebrated five years of life in Oshkosh, WI.

How Loving Our Neighbors Makes Space For Success


For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” — Galatians 5:14

 

Original reporting and photo below courtesy of Noell Dickmann/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin


We can’t wait for June 20th. It’s World Refugee Day and World Relief is ready to join with activists and advocates to bring awareness and focus to issues facing refugees around the globe. We believe that truly loving our neighbor can be the key to moving displaced men and women from simply surviving to truly thriving.

Originally living in Myanmar, Wai Hinn Oo and his wife, Nang Shwe Thein, dreamed of safety and a place to live in peace. They’d spent a decade living in fear, being wrongfully arrested and forced into labor. Hinn decided they could stay no longer. Finally, in the middle of the night, they fled their home. Hopping trains with no water and terrible breathing conditions, they made it to Kuala Lumpur, where they lived as undocumented refugees for six years. But when it was time to give birth to their first child, they knew they needed help. Without an option of returning to Myanmar, and unable to provide adequate safety for their child in their current conditions, they reached out to the UN Refugee Agency. After being vetted for two years, the couple was finally resettled, an ocean away, to Oshkosh, Wisconsin by World Relief. In fact, Hinn and Thein became the very first family resettled by World Relief’s then-new Fox Valley office. And while they felt lucky to be safe, they were unsure if they would be able to survive the unknowns they still faced in an unfamiliar country, with a new culture, and a new language. After years of hiding and running, they couldn’t have imagined the feeling of being welcomed that awaited them.

In partnership with World Relief Fox Valley, members of Water City Church joyfully greeted the family at the airport and provided them with a modest, yet fully stocked, apartment and a “Good Neighbor Team” to fill their fridge and welcome them into their new home and community. In addition, World Relief offered the family ongoing resources, training and education upon which they could build their new lives. Hinn and Thein were welcomed as neighbors into a community of support, which gave them just what they needed to begin the hard work of resettling. They are so thankful for the way a local church on a different continent embraced them and for the continued support and encouragement they have received from World Relief.

At World Relief, we believe that to love is to welcome. That’s why we continue to commit ourselves to resource, support and welcome refugees from all around the world. Loving displaced people means seeing them, not simply as a number or as a group in need, but as unique individuals with stories to be celebrated and honored—their losses and victories, their survival and resilience, and their contributions and cultures.

This past February, Hinn and Thein celebrated a significant milestone as they marked five years of life in Oshkosh—a span in which they started a family, purchased a home and became actively involved in their work and community. Their story is a beautiful and successful example of what is possible when we take Jesus at his word to welcome and love one another as neighbors.

As we approach World Refugee Day on June 20th, we invite you to speak up for refugees—advocate by calling lawmakers and congress members, download a World Relief prayer card and commit to praying for refugees in a specific area, and consider donating to help World Relief show refugees great love by extending a much needed welcome.


Margaret Hogan is a writer living outside of Chicago with her husband, Blaine, and two daughters, Ruby and Eloise. She worked at Willow Creek Community Church as Performing Arts Director for the high school ministry before she left to work as a freelance writer. She currently writes for World Relief, and continues to write scripts, articles, devotionals, curriculum, for churches and nonprofits all over the county. Most recently, Margaret authored The Hope Book for Willow Creek’s Celebration of Hope.

The Current State of Refugee Resettlement in the U.S.

Susan Sperry, Executive Director of World Relief Dupage Aurora, has worked within refugee resettlement for over 15 years. Susan says, “The shocking thing is that many refugees we work with now have been displaced far longer than I have done this work. They are the true experts on the realities of displacement and resettlement, and I encourage you to read stories written by refugees to learn more about their experiences.

Recently, we asked our social media followers to submit questions to be answered by Susan, along with Alison Bell, Senior Resettlement Manager at World Relief Dupage Aurora. Susan notes, “Each resettlement office around the country has threads of continuity and similarity, but also a lot of difference. The responses about local programs for refugees are based on programs offered in the western suburbs of Chicago, and may not fully reflect individual local agency programs.”

 

Susan, can you help us better understand: Who is a refugee?

A refugee is someone who has had to leave their country and can’t return due to persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or social group.
 

How does a refugee end up in the U.S. and what role does World Relief play?

Refugees are first given “refugee status” by the United Nations, which then refers groups of refugees for resettlement in countries like the U.S. With 21.3 million refugees worldwide according to the UN, the proposal that the U.S. welcome 50,000 represents .002%. The U.S. evaluates these groups and agrees to accept a certain number each year. Then each refugee must undergo a thorough vetting process including security screening, in-person interviews with U.S. officials, biometric screening and medical checks. Only after refugees pass each step will they be admitted to the U.S.

The U.S. Department of State has agreements with agencies, like World Relief, to provide services to refugees who are admitted to the U.S. Services begin from the time refugees are met at the airport as they enter the country and continue as the agency completes all of the government required services and other support services offered through local programs and partnerships.
 

The flow of refugees coming in has decreased dramatically in our city. Are refugee applicants still being vetted anew or has the ban stopped that?  

Refugee arrivals to the U.S. have continued this spring, but have been much slower than usual. Uncertainty surrounding the Executive Order led to a pause in most new vetting of refugee applications, so everyone who is currently arriving was already approved for resettlement prior to the Executive Order.
 

I’ve heard the 120-day ban period hasn’t even started due to the Circuit Court’s stay on Trump’s policy. Is this true? If so, how long can it continue? This doesn’t seem fair.

There are currently two court cases in which federal judges have halted the implementation of the President’s Executive Order from March, including the 120-day ban. One is in Maryland and one in Hawaii. The administration has appealed both cases. The decision of the judge in the Maryland case has been upheld on appeal by the 4th Circuit. The appeal of the Hawaii case is still pending. It is likely these cases will require Supreme Court action before we know whether the President’s order will take effect. We’re confident in the U.S. judicial system to consider and rule on these cases.


How have the policies of the new administration impacted your day-to-day work?

With the dramatic cuts ordered in the number of refugees to be welcomed to the U.S., we have lost World Relief offices and some staff expertise due to budget cuts. Our work has shifted to a greater focus on expanding our base of funding and our partnerships with churches, volunteers and community organizations. We also continue to advocate with Congress to maintain the programs and funding needed to provide the services refugees need to achieve stability and move toward healthy integration.
 

Are we able to sponsor refugees or refugee families directly?

While individuals and churches can’t sponsor refugees directly, they can serve as co-sponsors with local resettlement agencies to assist in resettling refugees.
 

Do you have any advice on key strategies countries could implement in order to create effective and inclusive communities, thereby enabling productive citizenship for immigrants?

While we don’t have specific advice for other countries, within the U.S. we highly recommend the Welcoming America initiative. This is a great resource for communities seeking to be more inclusive of immigrants and refugees. The Welcoming Pittsburg Plan is an excellent example of how these resources can be implemented.
 

I've often wondered about the children in this crisis. How many have been orphaned and where do they end up?

Over half of the 21 million refugees in the world are children. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) aids refugees and displaced people around the world, including children. According to UNICEF, in 2015-16, over 300,000 children—unaccompanied or separated from families—were registered after crossing borders alone. They often end up in refugee camps, and face possible exploitation or abuse. The U.S. does welcome some unaccompanied children, but also makes a priority of single mothers with children as part of our humanitarian resettlement program.
 

How can those who live in cities that don't see many relocated refugees best help?

There are so many ways you can help!

  1. Share facts about resettlement with others who may not know much yet.
  2. Pray for refugees around the world, and those resettling into the U.S.
  3. Speak up and advocate with your Congressional Representatives, asking them to maintain policies that welcome refugees. Learn more about one specific opportunity June 12-16, 2017.
  4. Welcome everyone. You may not know any refugees, but you likely interact every day with people who face hardships or feel unwelcome. Find ways to give and serve others in your own community, and contribute to making your community one in which everyone feels welcome.
     

Can you tell us what the first year in America might look like for a new refugee family?

Refugees are faced with completely starting over during their first year, and relationships with people within their own language group and with Americans are vital to their success. During their first 30-90 days in the U.S., refugees receive services to assist them to stand on their feet. These include receiving social security cards, enrolling children in school and starting English classes. During the next three months, adults begin working and learn to pay bills, bank independently and become more familiar with American culture. The latter months are focused on becoming increasingly independent, building stronger English and working toward greater integration into their communities.
 

What kinds of jobs are refugees able to obtain once they arrive in the country? What if they don’t speak English?

Refugees are legally able to work when they arrive to the country, and many begin in entry level jobs in manufacturing, hospitality or meat packing industries, depending on the local jobs available. Even if they don’t speak English, many refugees are able to find their first job with the help of job placement agencies or resettlement agencies.
 

How does World Relief help refugees become economically self-sufficient?

Similar to all immigrants throughout American history, it takes time for refugees to be fully self-sufficient. Initially, refugees are assisted by World Relief or a job placement agency to find a “survival job," usually a low-wage job that helps pay basic bills. From there, we aim to help refugees plan toward future career and financial growth. Learning English is key to long-term financial growth, and World Relief encourages all refugees to continue learning and practicing English. Community volunteers play a key role with both English practice and employment-related networking.  
 

What kind of social services are in place for refugees upon their arrival in the U.S.? Are these services under now under threat?

Initial case management services are provided by resettlement agencies, like World Relief. Longer-term services vary by region, but may include case management, employment services, after school programs, counseling and medical case management. Many communities also provide social services to refugees through mainstream programs or through refugee-specific services offered through private foundations, churches and community groups.

The president sets the number of refugees admitted each year, and funds for services are allocated by Congress. Once Congress drafts initial budget proposals for FY18, we’ll have a better idea of what services may be at risk of cuts.
 

Navigating the complexities of U.S. laws, systems and social services must be daunting for new refugees. How does World Relief help with this?

During their initial months in the U.S., World Relief takes an active role in assisting clients to apply for eligible services and provides orientation to understanding U.S. culture, laws and available services. Volunteers and churches also play a vital role in helping refugees navigate their new country. By partnering with World Relief and refugee families, they walk with refugee friends as they find their way in a new country.
 

Tell us about a typical day for you and your staff in DuPage. Do you work directly with refugees, or are you mostly working on advocacy and settlement logistics?

This is always a fun question to answer, because there are no typical days. Most of our staff works directly with refugees and immigrants, and days may involve the following: home visits; appointments with clients, volunteers or government offices; coordinating service logistics for newly arrived refugees; cultural orientations and trainings; completing paperwork and case notes; and inter-office service coordination. We always engage in a lot of problem solving with the many stakeholders we work with.
 

What other organizations are working with refugees here in the U.S.? What distinguishes World Relief from them?

There are nine organizations that resettle refugees in the U.S., and many others that serve refugees once they have arrived. Like World Relief, many of these organizations are faith-based and work with volunteers. World Relief is the only evangelically-rooted resettlement agency whose mission is explicitly to partner with local churches to serve the vulnerable.
 

Do you do any work with refugees in their home nation before their arrival in the U.S. in terms of preparation and education? Do you work in refugee camps?

While World Relief does work in several of the countries either producing or hosting refugees (including Jordan and South Sudan), we do not have an active role in these locations preparing refugees for U.S. resettlement.


What is the most important message you want to convey about refugees here in the U.S.? 

I have gotten to know Al, a volunteer who came to the U.S. as a refugee from Iraq, and often speaks at events with World Relief. Al’s response to this question sticks with me: refugees want the same things we want. They want peace, freedom and safety. They want to contribute to their new community. They are fleeing the same type of violence that we are afraid of, and they care about the refugee program being safe and secure, just like U.S. citizens do. Above all, they want to build a good life for themselves and their families, and hope for good things for future generations.


Susan Sperry is the Executive Director of World Relief Dupage/Aurora. Previous to her role as Executive Director, Susan served in a variety of roles in the Dupage/Aurora office, including Refugee Services Director, Resettlement Director and Community Relations.

Alison Bell serves as the Senior Resettlement Manager for World Relief DuPage/Aurora and sits on the Illinois Human Trafficking Task Force. With a BA and MA in urban studies, Alison oversees social services and case management for refugees, asylees, and victims of human trafficking served by World Relief throughout DuPage County.

Thank God for Women — Thank God for My Mum

Thank God for Women is a blog series rooted in gratitude for the strength, courage, and incredible capacity women demonstrate.

My mother was raised in a religious family. She taught me and my three siblings the basics of Christianity and taught us to love people around us. When my father died on the battlefield, my mother was there for us, uniting us as a family—loving and caring for each other even though we had hard times. As a single parent, it was never easy for my mother to provide everything but she made sure we had what we needed.

For many years, my mum worked endlessly to see that my siblings and I got the best education, all while looking for jobs that would sustain us as the needs of our family increased. We always had people from different backgrounds staying with us, and my siblings and I couldn’t understand why. As time went by I came to realize that my mum was always friendly and hospitable to everyone that came by. She wanted to give the best of her time to them.

After the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi occurred, my mother and I moved from Uganda back to Rwanda (where she was born) to get a more stable life—my siblings stayed behind to finish school. For 6 years, we went back and forth between Uganda and Rwanda to visit my siblings because I missed them. I once asked her why she had brought me alone along with her and left my siblings behind. She told me that “I love you so much and your siblings can’t be with us now, but I love them very much too.” It wasn’t long before we were reunited with them for good. In the meantime, my mother had found a job as a nurse at a clinic in Kigali. The school I went to was close to the clinic and after school, I would meet her at work and we would walk home together.

The nature of my mother's relationship with me was not only of a child and a parent but also of a friend and confidant. She encouraged me and made me feel important to her. This made me a very confident person.

Along the way, my mother found salvation and she found new meaning and purpose in life. Life as a single parent was never easy for her, she was constantly striving hard to make ends meet—the weight of that was often heavy. With Jesus in her life, she was so much happier and full of hope because she had found faith.

In 2002, my mother started working with World Relief Rwanda, which at the time was helping people to understand and accept living positively with individuals who were HIV positive. She endeavored to get to know and establish relationships with them, so they could trust her and accept her teachings. As a result of her counseling and spiritual mentoring, these individuals were able to reunite and live in harmony with other people, which wasn’t the case before because a stigma had isolated them. The more she worked and the longer she stayed with them, the more my mother  got closer to the most vulnerable.

The more I saw my mum go every week to spend hours and days with suffering people, the more I learned from the stories she shared about her experience. She always reminded me that even if it doesn’t feel like you have enough to give to the most vulnerable, physically being with them, praying with them and socializing with them provided relief and community for them. For over 15 years, she has always been an advocate of the most vulnerable, and most especially for women in the community.

In 2007, I joined a program called Choose Life at my high school to receive training to then train my peers in the community. I was excited for this opportunity because I was able to reach out to my fellow youth, and because of the stories my mother would tell me about serving the most vulnerable. 

I thank God for my mum and her lifelong impact. Because of her I went on to study Computer Science in college where my passion to serve the vulnerable grew stronger and led me to pursue my second degree in Community Work and Development. She has influenced me to pursue the work I am doing today. 

Bob Allan Karemera is World Relief Rwanda Strategic Partnership Officer for more than 4 years. In his role, he coordinates relationships with with seven church partners and donors, connecting and engaging them in meaningful ways to WR Rwanda’s work. With a degree from Mount Kenya University in Kigali in Social Work and Administration, Bob further developed his passion for community work.

Thank God for Women — A Conversation with Courtney O'Connell

Courtney O'Connell

Thank God for Women is a blog series rooted in gratitude for the strength, courage, and incredible capacity women demonstrate.


After living and working in South Africa and Zambia, Courtney O’Connell came to World Relief in 2011. With a master’s degree in International Development from Eastern University, Courtney took on the role of Savings for Life (SFL) Senior Program Advisor, supporting program staff in the nine countries where World Relief implements SFL. She loves living in Rwanda, close to where Savings for Life is being implemented, and when she's not working, Courtney can be found running and biking throughout Rwanda's beautiful countryside. Recently, Cassidy Stratton, World Relief’s Marketing Coordinator, had an opportunity to catch up with Courtney to hear how she’s seen World Relief’s Savings for Life program empower women around the world:

Cassidy Stratton: You noted that you had already lived in Africa for 3 years. How did you specifically get connected to World Relief?

Courtney O’Connell: When I was job searching, I knew I wanted to do economic development in Africa with a Christian organization, and so I just went to some of the big names that I could immediately think of. World Relief actually had my current position posted, so without even thinking, or even proofreading, I submitted my resume. And, by the grace of God, I got it.

In my previous work overseas, I had seen organizations that claimed to be Christian on the website, and when I went to the field to see their programs, there was actually nothing Christian about them. And I was not sure if World Relief was like that since I had not seen them overseas. So I reached out to a professor of mine who was writing a book for which Stephen Bauman, the president of World Relief at that time, was submitting a chapter. She forwarded me Stephen’s chapter, which was all about working with the church and the heart and soul of what World Relief is about. As I read it, I said “Man, that sounds really good! And if they are who they say they are then I would totally be in..”

As I left the U.S., I thought, “I’m not selling my car until they prove that they are who they say they are.” Not that my car was nice; it was my Grandma’s hand-me-down Buick. Well, I moved to Rwanda in July of 2011. And I immediately, I fell in love with the way we do our work. Everything Stephen wrote about was true. There truly is a partnership with the local church, and the desire is to see the local church shine, not the organization. And to really infuse and integrate biblical beliefs into programs. To me, that was so unique. I was, and still am, thrilled to be a part of an organization that cares for the vulnerable in the way we do.



CS: Can you tell me more about your current position?

CO: I am the Savings for Life Senior Program Advisor—a program that forms community-based savings groups, where people pool their own money together in order to give loans to each other, charging interest. And after a set period of time—approximately 9 - 12 months—everyone takes back the savings they had put in, plus the portion of interest that they earned. So then it’s a very useful amount of money that a family can use to pay for school fees, invest in their farm, start a business, repair their house and the like. The best thing is that it is all their own money. It’s not like a loan from a bank. And when they go home at the end of this cycle for savings, they have in their hands probably the most amount of money that they’ve ever had at one time. It’s such an empowering program, and it’s great to be a part of it.

World Relief is running this program in 10 countries, and my role is to work alongside the program managers and field staff that are actually running the program. My role is to support them, help set strategies, prepare proposals, and make sure they have all of the tools to run a successful program. It’s cool for me because I get to be pretty close to the action, and I get to walk alongside the staff, the real heroes who are doing the work. Sometimes I feel like a cheerleader, cheering the programs along and helping teams to see what’s possible.



CS: What role have you seen women play in the Savings for Life Program?

CO: In most of the context where we’re working, the women are the glue of the society. They are the strong one’s in the family who make things happen. Unfortunately in most of Sub-Saharan Africa, the traditional gender roles are that the men are the ones who make all of the important household financial decisions and are the controllers of the money. The women are the ones who are tasked to provide for the family on a daily basis, yet they don’t have a lot of authority or even their own money to make things happen.

We hear a lot of testimonies from women saying that it’s embarrassing because they have to go and—they use the word “beg”—their husband in order to get money to buy salt, buy oil, etc. in order to prepare food. If she can’t prepare food then she is not doing her gender role. But in order to do her role within the family, she actually has to ask her husband for help. So it’s this huge power dynamic struggle.

The Savings for Life program worldwide is 80% women. And we see that women are the ones that benefit from this. They say now they do not have to beg their husbands because they can provide for themselves. They have this glow about them—this empowerment, this hope—because they feel like they are now doing the role that they are designed to do. Not only that, but they are also starting new businesses and paying school fees for their children, all things that had only been a dream before.



CS: Can you recall a specific success story of a Savings for Life group?

CO: I remember visiting a savings group at the beginning of their savings cycle, and they said to me, “We’re just poor people and can’t save, so can you give us money?” And then I actually went to visit that same group 9 months later when they were having the day of distribution. They literally had a table mounted with money. You could just see the joy, the hope, the empowerment, the confidence beaming out of them. And they were able to say, “This is our money, and no one helped us do this.” To me, this is what we’re here for. That’s the success. When people say that we can set our own goals and no one else has to do it for us.


CS: Is there a specific woman that has impacted your work?

CO: Another story I want to tell you about is about a woman named Adele. She lives in Burundi, one of the poorest countries where we work. It’s a beautiful country and has a lot of resources, but it also has a lot of poverty and corruption. Adele lives way out in the middle of a village, and Savings for Life comes that way, and she decides that she is going to join. During her first cycle of savings, she was able to buy a goat. This was the very first goat that her family owned. A goat out in the village is first a huge status and second a long-term savings. She was so happy to buy this goat. And by the second cycle of the savings program, she was able to buy a cow. Her family was able to use this cow to plow their fields. The savings group was impacting multiple areas of her life.

A few years after she joined the savings group, the community staff member approached her and asked if she could be a volunteer for Savings for Life, and she accepted. She got trained on how to be a volunteer village agent, and then she went out and started other training groups. Now she’s working in her own community and neighboring communities, helping to teach other people about this program that has been so impacting for her.



CS: How have you seen the savings groups also serve as support groups?

CO: The social aspect of the groups really help. There was a woman in a savings group that became a widow. She ended up moving back to her family, but she had a lot of relational problems and it wasn’t healthy for her stay in the household that she grew up in. And so her savings group actually built her a house. It was their own initiative. World Relief was not part of it at all. It was that this group of women cared for each other so much that they saw their sister in need and did something about it.

To me that is just really powerful how the social aspect of the savings group helps the women walk alongside each other to achieve their goals financially. And to just have social capital and strength. It helps relationships go way deeper.



CS: Have there been any women in your life that have influenced your work and the way you engage with women around the world?

CO: The small group that I’m a part of. There are women here in Rwanda that we meet on a weekly basis to walk through life together. There are challenges of living abroad, and being away from your home culture, and sometimes there are just frustration of life, and to be with other people who you know want the best for you and care about you and ask how they can help you. I have been impacted by that and have found a lot of solidarity and strength from these women.

I liken that to the solidarity and strength other women can get from their Savings for Life group.
  


CS: Why do you Thank God for Women?

CO: I thank God for women because I see the strength that they provide for their families and the hope that they provide for their children. Women are the ones in the family that are able to change course. Their family might have been living in poverty for generations and generations, but if a woman has hope, and has the confidence and the empowerment, then she can change that course for the generations to come.

And I think the real strength in rural communities, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, are the women who are holding everything together, making changes for their families and their kids. I think women are the changemakers in our world.

 

Give today to create a better world for women. 

Kenya Update: On the Horizon of Hope in Turkana

turkana - kenya- africa relief program

By Christina Klinepeter
World Relief VP of Marketing 

With millions of people on the brink of starvation, Africa is facing the largest food crisis since 1945. While antecedents to the people’s hunger vary based on their specific context and location, one of the contributing factors to the hunger in Kenya’s northern part of Turkana county has been the lack of significant rainfall over the last two years.


A Land of Beauty, Resilience and Need

Turkana county, where I recently visited, is a land of beauty and resilience. Its vast, low-profile landscape set amidst the arid and extremely hot climate of Kenya sits along the longitude of the Equator and is sparsely populated by a pastoralist and semi-nomadic people, living off the land and their animals. Colorful beads layered around the women’s necks, bodies wrapped in vibrant material, and tiny hats sitting atop the men’s heads, distinguish their ancient culture’s traditional fashion from the skinny jeans worn by hipsters in modern cities around the world.

World Relief, has been on the ground in Turkana since 2011 when the region experienced its last food shortage. At that time, childhood malnutrition had reached one-third of the population. Through mobilizing networks of churches and local leaders, as well as through coordinating supply chains, that number was cut in half.  

Now, in spite of our collective efforts to prepare the region to endure famine-like conditions, that number has once again skyrocketed to over 40 percent of the population. The lack of sufficient rain has simply lasted too long.


Two Girls and Their Goat

In an emotionally gripping moment during our team’s recent visit to the area, we came across two young girls, no older than 10 years old, who wisely stopped on the side of the road in order to slaughter their family’s goat before it died and the meat became inedible. We watched as these sisters worked together and harvested the meat to take back to their family. I couldn’t help but think about my 10- and 11-year-old sons and how they and their peers’ average day in the U.S. compares with the stark reality of children in Turkana. And yet these girls exhibited their strength, wisdom and capacity while carving away the fur of the goat, carefully organizing the goat’s skin, bones and meat into resources to be used in their own right, nothing wasted. Unfortunately, more than 60 percent of the region’s goats, sheep and cattle have succumbed. And the people know that when they’re animals die because of the dire conditions, that they are next.
 

Most Recent Update

More recently Ric Hamic, Disaster Risk Reduction Advisor, visited Turkana North to help roll out World Relief’s disaster response project, as well as identify and register beneficiaries. He reported back, sharing a bittersweet story after meeting Mama Lobek and a compassionate, generous, hard-working woman in her thirties named Ngasike.

Mama Lobek and her surviving five children are victims of the food crisis in Turkana North as well, and like other pastoralist families in the area, the drought has killed their goats and completely destroyed their livelihood. Lobek’s husband abandoned them years ago when she experienced some illness, leaving her as a single mother to both provide and care for the family. And now with the current environmental conditions, Mama Lobek is starving.

Months ago, Lobek and her children walked for days from her home village to reach Nakitoekakumon. Even though she had no family there, she thought the family would be able to find food because it is a bigger village. The first day she arrived, she met Ngasike. Ngasike saw how the family was suffering and was immediately moved to help them.

Asked why she took in Lobek and her family, Ngasike replied “I had compassion for Lobek because I am a Christian and because I was an orphan myself.  I have suffered before, and I know what it is like.”

But Ngasike is also a victim of the drought and has limited resources, herself. She runs a very small shop, selling some small goods to her neighbors. “When I sell something, I am able to buy food for Lobek.”

A mother of four children and supporting others in need, Ngasike worries that she won’t be able to provide for them all.  “When I don’t sell anything, I am not able to purchase additional food because I am fearful my children will go hungry, too.”

At this stage of chronic undernourishment, Lobek is able to talk and to stand, but not much else. “It is only hunger that has made me sleep like this,” says Lobek. Still struggling to get food, she now weighs less than 84 pounds. Ngasike has committed to continue caring for Lobek until she recovers or until she dies, a likely outcome due to the food crisis in Turkana North. Of course, both women hope that doesn’t happen. “I will accept God’s will for me, but I hope to see my children grow up” says Lobek.


On the Horizon of Hope

Through our work on the ground and with our local church partners, both Lobek and Ngasike were recently enrolled in World Relief’s project for emergency food assistance. Soon they will start receiving a small monthly stipend, designed to help vulnerable families like Lobek’s and Ngasike’s decrease hunger in their households.

Also, some rain has fallen in Turkana North during the last few weeks. While it created temporary flooding because the ground was too dry to soak in the rapidly falling rain, thankfully the people in the region have experienced a bit of relief from the water. Still, the rain that came was not enough. With dry weather and food crisis conditions expected to remain through the rest of the year, limits to available resources will determine how long these families can be assisted. Ultimately, with increased funding, World Relief could expand and extend the food assistance project, and is committed to recovery activities toward the end of the crisis to help people re-establish their livelihoods and regain self-sufficiency.
 

Where do we go from here?

In the West, it can be easy to operate out of the busy pace, be consumed by social media, the news, the divide in our country, and forget that people across the world don’t have access to basics like food and water. Hearing first-hand accounts of the reality on the ground in places like Turkana North can be overwhelming and leave us to wonder if there is a way to make a dent in the enormous need from an ocean away. Admittedly, I have never felt the helpless ache of true hunger, wondering in desperation if I would ever eat again. I have never looked into the eyes of my wilting children as they wonder why I won’t feed them. This is the reality of the unearned privilege that most of us reading this were born into.

The question now becomes, what is our collective responsibility? What should our response be?

The first answer to that question must be to spread awareness. In this time of political division, soaring rhetoric and accusations of scandal, it’s difficult for any message to break through the noise. This is understandable, but unfortunate nonetheless. And still, we must find a way to spread awareness. That starts with each and every one of us.   

Secondly, this can be an opportunity for all of us to lend a helping hand. World Relief is working around the clock to serve Turkana’s most vulnerable, but the truth is that humanitarian efforts in the region are vastly under-resourced. There is so much more that could be done to deliver lifesaving essentials to those who need it most if we only had the means to do so. I would encourage everyone reading this to consider giving, if and when you can.

Thirdly, we can put pressure on our leaders in Washington and at the UN to step up their response to the crisis. USAID-OFDA and the UN’s humanitarian operations are unequaled in size and scope of funding, and they are instrumental in resourcing and coordinating local NGOs with staff on the ground in affected areas. The more our collective attention is on Africa; the more they see news reports and articles about the crisis; the more people are talking on social media; the more likely they are to act with urgency.

It is important to stress that the people of Turkana North are highly self-sufficient people. They aren’t looking for handouts, yet many have come to the painful realization that if the rains continue to fail them, or if outside help doesn’t come quickly, they simply won’t make it. But because of World Relief’s long-term commitment to the people of Turkana North, our objective is to see them through to recovery.

To learn more about the food crisis in Kenya and Africa at large, visit this page, and consider donating to further our capacity to change the trajectory of children, individuals and families in Africa.


Christina Klinepeter is World Relief's VP of Marketing. Before joining World Relief in 2015, Christina worked at SOM, the global architecture, engineering and urban planning firm, spent time at CannonDesign, helped launch Hard Hat Hub and ran her own design consultancy.