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.

Diamonds of Haiti: The Aftermath of Hurricane Matthew

[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. 

Haiti Relief Update

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.

Haiti Relief Update | Hurricane Matthew in Haiti

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.

UPDATE: Relief for Haiti

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.

South Sudan: World’s Youngest Nation on the Brink of Civil War

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[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.

Eugene Cho: Video Update from the Middle East

Pastor, author and friend of World Relief Eugene Cho is currently in the Middle East, along with teams from One Day's Wages and World Relief. The teams are visiting local leaders who are actively involved in welcoming Syrian refugees, helping the displaced resettle and begin to build new lives.

 Watch Eugene Cho's update from the Middle East, recorded a few days ago.

World Relief is honored and grateful that One Day's Wages is partnering with us to provide education for Syrian refugee children and support schools teaching a Syrian curriculum so kids can continue in their education where they left off.

Learn more about One Day's Wages, and stay tuned in the coming weeks for more information about how you can get involved.