The Oven of the World — Food Crisis in Turkana North

The farm at Katong'un is empty because of lack of access to water, due to a rainy season that never came, and rabbits that have foraged on their crops. [Photo courtesy GI-INC]

The farm at Katong'un is empty because of lack of access to water, due to a rainy season that never came, and rabbits that have foraged on their crops. [Photo courtesy GI-INC]

“Just another field trip,” I said to myself before we set off for Turkana. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

It is hard to imagine a more isolated, inaccessible or hostile terrain than Turkana North, right up on the Kenyan border with Ethiopia, where World Relief is the only international NGOs to have a permanent presence in many parts of the region.

“The oven of the world—even the stones on the ground are blackened by the heat of the sun,” one pastor said to me as temperatures soared above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Travel between communities is difficult. Distances are considerable and there are no real roads and no cars, except for those belonging to aid workers or security forces.

In Turkana North, the animals that the people of the region rely upon are often the first to suffer and die when a drought hits.  [Photo courtesy GI-INC]

In Turkana North, the animals that the people of the region rely upon are often the first to suffer and die when a drought hits.  [Photo courtesy GI-INC]

The Turkana are pastoralists and semi-nomadic, living off their herds of goats, donkeys and even camel. But this way of life is now colliding with global warming and the human response to it. The land will no longer support the growing population and its flocks of goats, even in the best of times when the rains come as predicted twice a year.  

And this is not the best of times.

The people of Turkana face devastation in the face of a drought that began almost a year ago when the long spring rains fell only sparsely. Each passing month without rain has made their lives more precarious. For 18 months, there has been almost no rain, so that now inexorably an impending crisis has graduated to an immediate and acute one.

Livestock and villagers drink from the well built by World Relief in Katong'un.  [Photo courtesy GI-INC]

Livestock and villagers drink from the well built by World Relief in Katong'un.  [Photo courtesy GI-INC]

As we drive from community to community we see dead and dying animals in many places; we see children suffering acute malnutrition; we hear stories of wells dried up and we hear prayers for rain. But even if the rains come now, it is too late. It will be months before the impact of the rains will return life to a sustainable level. More likely, the rains will simply make more places inaccessible, as flash floods in the dry riverbeds sweep away what few bridges there are and make the dry riverbeds impassable. And if the rains do not fall again later this spring, it is difficult to imagine the scale of suffering we will see unless the international community steps in.

This is not the first time the people of Turkana have faced such a crisis. Since the last drought in 2011, World Relief has been working with both U.S. and local church partners to build community resilience by developing more year round water supply through drilling wells and building sand dams to save and store water, as well as by introducing desert farming techniques so that the Turkana can grow vegetables and fruits such as tomatoes, onions and watermelon to improve nutrition and make the population less dependent on their livestock—their animals who are the first to suffer and die when a drought hits. And there has been visible progress in many places, simply not enough and not in enough places to withstand this climatic onslaught in a region that too easily could be seen as “God-forsaken.”

But God is here.

A mother and her infant child retrieve water from a well in her village built by World Relief and its partners.  [Photo courtesy GI-INC]

A mother and her infant child retrieve water from a well in her village built by World Relief and its partners.  [Photo courtesy GI-INC]

The poverty and rigors of life in Turkana North are hard to imagine, but there is resilience and pride too. The children are the same as children everywhere—curious and ready to smile and engage at the first sign of interest. And they love to sing and dance. It is a reminder that we are all made in God’s image and all precious to Him.

The task ahead seems gargantuan, but the the Church is present, growing and bringing hope to these people. There are leaders in local churches in Turkana whose desire to bear witness to Jesus and to change the lives of their people—both spiritually and physically—is palpable. Those whose receptivity to learning is impressive and who welcome the expertise of World Relief and our partners on the ground.

As one partner put it: “There is a future. And although the future is uncertain, one thing is certain—these people have been touched by the love of Christ.”

A flourishing farm from a World Relief-trained farmer who has access to water because of a local dam. [Photo courtesy GI-INC]

A flourishing farm from a World Relief-trained farmer who has access to water because of a local dam. [Photo courtesy GI-INC]

For much of the last year, a food crisis of epic proportions has been growing across much of the African continent—in places like Malawi, Mozambique, Burundi and Sudan as well as Kenya. Tens of millions are at risk. But with so many crises in the world today and more turmoil in the world order we have seen since the end of the Cold War, the food crisis in Africa has largely gone unreported.

My prayer is that the vivid images we captured in Turkana last week will capture the hearts of God’s people everywhere and that we will rise up in compassion not just for the people of Turkana, but all the starving people across Africa.

 

Donate to provide immediate food assistance and nutrition outreach to the people of Turkana.


Tim Breene served on the World Relief Board from 2010 to 2015 before assuming the role of CEO in 2016. Tim’s business career has spanned nearly 40 years with organizations like McKinsey, and Accenture where he was the Corporate Development Officer and Founder and Chief Executive of Accenture Interactive. Tim is the co-author of Jumping the S-Curve, published by Harvard Publishing. Tim and his wife Michele, a longtime supporter of World Relief, have a wealth of experience working with Christian leaders in the United States and around the world.

Thank God for Women — Heroes in the Fight for Justice

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

A few years ago, a dear friend gave me a book titled, Women Are Heroes. It is filled with beautiful portraits and stories of women around the world whose very existence is heroic. I flip through it often and I am constantly inspired by the resilience, strength and grace that women posses.

You don’t have to look very far to find disturbing statistics about women across the globe. Women, on average, still make less than men. We are more prone to being victimized by sexual violence. We have less access to education. The list goes on. But somehow, despite all of the data, there are women who continue to defy the odds—fighting for justice in their communities, raising families with inadequate resources, building businesses out of nothing, and striving for educational opportunities to not only better themselves but the people around them as well.

My line of work has afforded me the privilege of traveling all around the world and wherever I go, I am always in awe of the women I meet.

I have visited with women in war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo. Women who have lived through atrocities of war and sexual violence against their bodies. But in spite of all they have experienced, they continue to work towards the healing of themselves, their own, and the healing of other women in their communities. These women speak of forgiveness, hope and peacebuilding in their communities.

I have listened to women in Kenya share how they started a savings group so that they could pay for their kids’ uniforms and school fees. They were soon able to start their own businesses, and then began to pay the school fees for other children in the community who were in need.

I have sat with women from both Israel and Palestine as they shared their painful stories of loss, what forgiveness looks like and how they can begin to lead their communities to understand the narrative of the “other.”

I am surrounded by countless women—many whom I am honored to call friends—here in the United States who have committed their lives to advocate for those who suffer under the oppression of racial, gender, and economic injustice.

When women are not allowed to fully express their God-given potential, it is affront to our Creator and a disservice to all of humanity.

Throughout history, countless women have ignored the limitations that society has placed on them and fought, against all odds, for the opportunity to flourish. Women like Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Malala Yousafzai, Yuri Kochiyama, Berta Cáceres, Katherine G. Johnson, Septima Clark, the millions of refugee women around the world—the list goes on. These women have blazed trails, smashed ceilings, fought countless battles so that the next generation could dream bigger, soar higher and achieve things they never thought to be possible.

The fight for women's rights means equal rights for all. Women work for the betterment of families, communities and nations. There is a deep understanding that we are all connected to each other and we all rise and fall together.

So today—and every day—I thank God for women. The dreamers, troublemakers, peacemakers, bridge builders, trailblazers, ceiling crushers, and image bearers of the Creator. The women who see injustice in our world and refuse to stay silent. Those who work to infuse radical love and hope into our world.

Women are heroes and I stand on the shoulders of the ones who have gone before me, and I link arms with the present day warriors. Together, we continue the fight for justice for all people.


Chi Chi Okwu is a Senior Church Advisor for World Vision USA—working with churches and parachurch organizations to build strategic partnerships focusing on community development and relief work globally. She is passionate about issues relating to faith and justice specifically in the areas of race, gender and reconciliation, and enjoys speaking and writing on those topics. Chi Chi currently resides in Chicago and enjoys traveling, cooking, watching sports and spending quality time with friends and family.

Thank God for Women — The Village Nearby

 

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

The Village Nearby is an chapter from The Mother & Child Project: Raising our Voices for Health and Hope—compiled by Hope Through Healing Hands’ Faith-based Coalition for Healthy Mothers and Children Worldwide.

 

Deborah Dortzbach currently serves as World Relief’s Senior Health Advisor. Her extensive background in international public health has equipped her to oversee maternal and child health, HIV/AIDS, child development, adolescent health, and anti-trafficking programs for over twenty-five years.

In 2015, Zondervan published The Mother & Child Project: Raising our Voices for Health and Hope, featuring personal stories from women around the world—including Deborah’s. Her story covers her work in the late 1970s, and journeys through a time when she was held hostage while pregnant. She applauds the strength of the women who surrounded her at that time. We thank God for Deborah and the work she continues to do to empower women. Here’s an excerpt her story...


I thought I would deliver my firstborn child by myself in a makeshift lean-to on a windswept hill far from a health facility. I was terrified.

There was no one to give me prenatal care. No one to coach me. No one to talk to about my fears.  No emergency backup for complications. No one except…soldiers, hovering.

I am a nurse and was taken hostage while pregnant by the Eritrean Liberation Front and held in a remote, desolate location near the Sudan border. One day, as I wandered in allowable short distances, I discovered others like myself in a nearby village. They were Tigre women, clustered around each other as they framed their nomadic huts. Some were pregnant; some had children tugging at their long, faded skirts as they stretched straw mats over simple poles. One woman stood alone. She had no children and looked sad and abandoned.

I went to them, and we chatted, each in our own mother tongue, as together we thrust grass mats over the acacia sticks, bounced babies in our arms, and laughed at each other’s strange expressions. I put their weathered hands on my bulging bump of baby, and they seemed to curiously question, “What are you doing here?”

I have had many years now to reflect on that question. I was eventually released, received good medical care, and delivered a healthy baby boy. But my newfound friends were never freed from the captivity of unsafe motherhood and the future opportunity to participate in decisions about their families and their own well-being. Were I to return to the same hill today, I wonder if they would ask me the very same question, in the past tense, and what my answer would be. “What have you done, for us?”

The Tigre moms and millions like them, let us know that before us is a choice—to improve maternal health, or to actually increase maternal harm through just doing nothing. While we get genuinely interested for a brief season or for some project silos in maternal health, we all know the deeper issues of behavior and structural change take time and perseverance. Our commitments must be unswerving and unending.

Fundamentally, as Christians, we work and strive to improve maternal health because it’s about valuing who a woman is as God made her and treasures her, not because of a role or function, marital status, maternal status, or even because of need, as great as that may be. Needs and resources will come and go—but the intrinsic worth of woman as God sees her, will always warrant our highest efforts to esteem her and fight for her equality and full expression of honor, dignity, safety, and health.

The account in the Gospels[1] of the bleeding woman healed by Jesus demonstrates this. The unnamed woman, bleeding for 12 years, was stigmatized, spiritually ostracized, extremely weak, and economically impoverished. Yet, drawn by the working of Christ in her life, she ventured into a crowded social space and touched Jesus. He cared so deeply and so thoroughly for her, that He allowed her blood-impure status to spiritually defile him. It instantly healed the woman.

What a beautiful picture for us of the spiritual healing soon to come through the defilement Jesus took upon himself on the cross! God chose the body of woman through which to be born (Mary) and now the body of a woman to bring a foreshadowing of His healing power through death. Can there be any doubt He loves, treasures, honors, and redeems women and seeks to bring His redemption and completeness to all humankind in brokenness and suffering?


[1] Matthew 9:20-22; Mark 5:25-34; Luke 8:43-48

Join us as we support those whose work raises the value of women and provides the opportunities for growth and progress.

Thank God for Women — Saving Funds and Communities

*Some information has been changed to protect the individual’s identity.

*Some information has been changed to protect the individual’s identity.

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

 

As a pastor’s wife in rural Kenya, Elizabeth Ewoton saw glaring financial needs all around her community. She decided to lead by example, using her influence to mobilize 15 local women to join a community savings group at Full Gospel Church in Lokitaung, Kenya, which had implemented World Relief’s Savings For Life back in 2014.

Savings For Life is a holistic, community-based savings and credit program that offers safe and reliable financial services to people who are often excluded from more formal banking institutions. As time goes by, consistent savings allow participants access to appropriately-sized loans, without impossible fees and interest rates. This allows members of the group to take care of daily household needs and to establish and invest in their own income-generating activities.

Prior to Elizabeth's involvement, no one had ever heard of working together as a community to save their own funds. But one woman, Hellen Esekon, caught Elizabeth’s vision and decided to give it a try.

Both women’s families soon benefited substantially from the Savings For Life program, as each gained access to money to pay unexpected school fees for their daughters. Both Elizabeth and Hellen say there is no way they would have been able to pay the fees—which were demanded on very short notice—if it weren’t for the savings group.

Elizabeth, who is now chair of the group, and Hellen have become bold advocates for the Savings For Life program at Full Gospel Church. They have experienced first-hand the transformation and security that comes with financial stability, and they want that experience for others as well!

Give to World Relief to create a better world for women.

Thank God for Women — Defiant Love

*Some information has been changed to protect the individual’s identity.

*Some information has been changed to protect the individual’s identity.

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


Six years ago, I was sitting at a small, unsteady table, in a room that was oppressively hot. Aamiina, a young refugee woman sat across from me. A few months prior to that, the word “refugee” had not really been part of my vernacular, but it was now an everyday term.

We opened the room’s small window to try to let in a breeze, and the cacophony of the streets soon invaded any sense of peace and quiet. Aamiina began to share her refugee journey—a story of sorrow, suffering, and loss.

To this day,  I have never been able to repeat what I heard, though I can still remember every detail. I still think of the two daughters Aamiina lost—one to death, and one to kidnapping. I wonder if her daughter is still alive somewhere, and if she knows how her mother longs to find her.

When Aamiina finished her story, she said something that I will never forget: “All the people that did these things to me, they want me to hate. But my act of defiance is to love.”

Amiina’s love and gentleness defied all odds. Despite such loss, Aamiina later took young women under her wing and loved them as if they were her own daughters. Her love changed these women. Her love changed me.

Since that day, I have met many women like Aamiina in some of the most violent corners of this earth. I have connected with mothers from Syria, who have made dangerous journeys across deserts and seas to seek refuge for their children. I have cried with women who have pulled their children from beneath the rubble of destroyed homes, schools, and hospitals. I have witnessed young women who have had to discontinue their education because of conflict, and instead have chosen to invest in the education of children in their communities. I have seen young women return to their destroyed homes, and begin the courageous work of rebuilding, even in the midst of uncertainty. I have seen women volunteer long hours to serve others, even when their own needs were profound. I have watched my friend—after ISIS killed everyone in her family except for her younger sister—work long hours to pay for her sister’s education.

These women inspire and fuel much World Relief’s work in the Middle East. We work with Syrian women who volunteer in Child Friendly Spaces, providing psychosocial, education, and health support to children. We partner with women in Iraq who provide support to children and youth in their communities. We stand with women that are working to rebuild their communities and restore livelihoods to their families as they return to cities in Iraq.

Women are leading, creating, and defining the work that we do across the Middle East. I am profoundly grateful to know these women and to witness the work that they are doing.

The women World Relief partners with and serve have taught me to love courageously. Love is not weakness in the wake of hatred and violence. Love is not passive. Love—like my friend Aamiina shared—is an act of defiance. The love of women across the Middle East is driving out darkness, and making the way for peace.

I thank God for women because women defy the darkness.

I thank God for women because in places of destruction, women rebuild, restore and reclaim peace.

Give to World Relief today.

Together, we can create a better world for women like Aamiina.


Maggie

Maggie Konstanski has been a part of the World Relief team for over 4 years, and currently serves at the Middle East Programs Technical and Operations Coordinator. With a passion for international human rights, Maggie often uses work-related travel as a platform to tell the powerful stories of the vulnerable families and communities we serve.