In South Sudan, sorcery and animism are common. Witch doctors are consulted on many issues including illness, conflict, business rivalry and countless community issues. It is common for them to impose hefty payments for the assistance they give. They are greatly feared.
30-year-old Deng was a renowned witch doctor along the outskirts of Warrap State in South Sudan. As a witch doctor, he would call upon his gods to punish people on behalf his clients and would receive payment of up to 10 goats. Deng believes his grandfather chose him at an early age as the heir to his trade. As a boy, he remembers experiencing seizures regularly.
World Concern built relationships with people in Deng’s village and enabled them to access clean water, adult literacy education and more nutritious food due to better farming methods.
Evangelism through Jesus Film and equipping community members with solar-powered audio Bibles, had enabled residents to listen and discuss the word of God through meaningful fellowships.
During one of the audio Bible study fellowships, Deng decided to give his life to Christ. He said he would call on other gods but they wouldn’t answer him.
“I know that the God I worship today, answers prayer,” he said.
Deng has become active member of Mayen church. He spends a significant amount of time there, learning more about God and attending literacy classes run by World Concern. Acquiring better farming methods at a demonstration farm started by World Concern, has equipped Deng to plant sorghum and sesame.
During conflict between pastoralists and farmers in the past year, Deng was one of the attendees at a community peace-building meeting. With time he has also been integrated back into the community as a resident and is seen as a leader in the village.
When Deng was a witch doctor, Elizabeth used to visit him for healing. “Deng is the one who used to help me. When he became a Christian, I felt alone.”
Two years later Elizabeth became a Christian.
“I knew I was using the power of evil because I would become unconscious… I didn’t see anything good in it,” he said.
So far, 32 people in the community have become Christians through Deng’s life change.
“English? English?” I mumble through the crowd looking for someone to interview. A few men look around and then back with an air of resignation. At some point Charles Kol appears. He is dressed in a peach colored shirt and has a book stuck on his chest pocket.
“English?” I ask him. He responds affirmatively. All around us are men with rough haircuts and hardened faces; the well-dressed Charles Kol doesn’t look like he belongs here. As I find out shortly, he doesn’t. Neither do the rest.
We are at Kuajina Evening School, a place for adult literacy. A few metres from the hand pump on a well is an old imposing brick building that has seen better days. It stands defiantly in the unfenced space of about an acre where men sit huddled in groups speaking in hushed tones.
World Concern is repairing and rehabilitating hand pumps in partnership with South Sudan’s Ministry of Water. As the job starts, youths surrounding the technicians seem mostly curious than excited. They have the kind of look you get when you’ve been through life and seen quite a few disappointments. But still they hang around the repair crew. As minutes tick, I can tell they are eager to see water flow.
It is part of World Concern’s emergency response – providing clean water through repair and rehabilitation of clean water points especially in villages receiving an influx of people displaced by conflict.
Since February when renewed fighting between militia and government forces started, the four classes inside the building have been home to hundreds of displaced people.
I find out that Charles is barely 24 hours old here. He arrived last night with 123 others on the back of a truck. Tonight another set of 124 will arrive in the already overcrowded space.
The increasing population of displaced people has to grapple with many unimaginable challenges. Charles for instance, had to sit still on a cold floor till morning – his first night here. When he got up, he couldn’t get water either. He says he found many men and women thronged at a single hand pump at the local town centre attempting to fetch. “Even if you borrow, you won’t get because everyone is looking for it,” said Charles.
“Being alive is better than being comfortable,” he continues.
“What will you eat tonight?” I ask.
“My friend, I don’t know. Only God knows. If we get something small we will share (with my friends). If not, we sleep like that.”
South Sudan has been devastated by a three–year civil war that has seen the economy take a nosedive and food prices rising daily. Many of those displaced, like Charles, are cut off from their families and sources of income. They are barely hanging on.
“To tell you the truth I have not eaten anything all day. Food here is very expensive. One small container of sorghum is 400 SSP ($2.50). Where can you get that kind of money?”
When the hand pump finally coughs, sputters and unleashes a nice cold stream of water, a wave of excitement spreads through the compound. It’s the first time I have seen these men smile.
Black clouds are hovering, and the sound of thunder is loud – signs of impending rain. As my colleagues rush to the vehicle, I remain motionless, there, next to Charles Kol taking it all in. I am happy that he will drink clean water tonight, but how do I just walk away from a man staring at hunger in the face?
Children huddle at the entryway, shielding the sun from crawling into a small, round home built of sticks and old clothes. Jimco sits in its shade, taking a rest from the heat of the day in Somaliland. The grandmother of many seems not to mind the curious eyes on her from outside as she starts to tell her story.
Her words hold the same meaning that many others could tell; like the thousand other people who have moved in to this internally displaced persons (IDP) camp. The severe drought over the last two to three years has caused most if not all their animals to die. Their meager savings is now rapidly being spent on food and there is no more income on the horizon.
“The last three years the drought has been bad and every day it gets worse,” Jimco said. “All my livestock died but at least my son has a few goats and sheep left. For me, I lost 20 camels, 10 donkeys and 200 sheep and goats.”
Now living in the makeshift camp, it takes her an hour to reach and return from the natural spring, the whole reason she came here. The water is salty and causes diarrhea, but at least it is water.
For many, they had only just started to recover from the 2011 famine crisis. In the last few years they had struggled to rebuild their livestock and try to prepare for the next drought. World Concern has assisted in the building of many water catchment and storage options. Select community members have been trained on veterinary care practices as well as trainings on farming and assistance with tree planting. Even the creation of community savings groups has spread from village to village.
But all of this only makes so much difference when substantial rain hasn’t come in well over two years.
As another woman in a village several hours drive away put it, “right now it affects the animals but after the animals, it is the people who will die.”
Ismail, head of neighboring village said that his community is no better off than the pastoralists. He, personally, has already lost 90% of his livestock.
“These people who have come, we know them, they now have zero income,” he said. “They’re poverty stricken. There’s a huge responsibility on us to take care of them. We are very worried for ourselves but more so for the IDP’s because we have no way to provide for them.”
Jimco laments not just the loss of her livelihood but also the altering Somali of traditions, a point of great pride.
“Before the droughts, the Somali culture was very good. If a traveler came we would give them anything for free,” she said. “But now if you come we have nothing to give. The drought is even changing our culture.”
As a child, Jimco said the now deserted wasteland was much more like Canaan, flowing with milk and honey.
“When I was young, this was a beautiful area; so much grass and everything was green. There was livestock everywhere and we had an endless supply of milk.”
Anene Soumaine sits at the edge of a circle of women. She is the chief’s wife and is well respected in the community. She knows when to talk and when to listen. At 53 years old, her wisdom is carried on the lines on her face.
Amkharouba is not a large village but it sits on a small hill in Chad, covered in millet and sorghum fields which boast of hard working hands.
The women have gathered in front of the chief’s house to discuss their savings groups. Five groups, 100 women, and one ideology that is changing their community one coin at a time.
In the five months since their formation these women have managed to save over $1,500.
“Through World Concern’s trainings we have learned how to save,” Anene said. “Now we are using the group money to solve our own social problems. It is such a great thing. Now our heads are full. Before our eyes were blind but now we understand. It has brought us light.”
Each group has set their own rules. Personal savings and groups savings. Fines for missed payments. Minimum weekly contributions. But with the rules also come talks of what this money could do for them.
Anene’s group, called “joy” in Arabic, plans to buy goats and possibly donkey’s for each of it’s members at the end of the year-long cycle. But among the group leaders there has also been talk of bigger things such as a grinding mill or finding a way to start a school for their children.
“We encourage each other to be pro-active and we’ve been discussing the development of the community,” Anene said.
Treasurer of her group, Ashta Abakar, is quick to point out some of the changes that have happened in the mindsets of the women. As someone who often faced the threat of hunger before, she now finds great comfort in knowing there’s a safety net.
“Now I know there is a place I can borrow money from,” she said. “It has relieved me because even though when I don’t have money, I can still solve my own problems and answer my own needs.”
As a mother of nine, Ashta also has seen the effect this security will have on their future.
“I can see that this is going to develop our village,” she said. “Not just for us mothers but also for our children. They will have a better life than we had and they can be proud of us. We are learning, and so are the children. They are around and they hear any guidance we are given.”
A military tank crawled by in the background. We all stole glances at each other. I was down to my last interview question with Rebecca and it seemed that it was time to hit the road for other reasons too.
For two days we had been in and out of Rebecca’s life. A single mother living outside Wau, South Sudan, who was to be the focus of a World Concern video. Her smile was full and sincere but heavy. When something made her laugh, she didn’t hold back. She laughed till the lines on her face seemed to hold themselves in place. But, like for many of us, there was a somber reality on the other side of things.
In our initial conversation I asked her about the adult literacy classes World Concern was helping to provide for the community. She said that many people were interested in joining the class, not just children.
“I will buy a phone to call and text people when I earn some more money,” she said. In an area where cell phone coverage can be spotty, the ability to communicate via text would be extremely valuable.
Rebecca has experienced a lot of death and loss in her life. Four of her brothers were killed in front of her. Her father. Her friends. Four of her children. Her husband. Despite the suffering, losing her husband was the last step in bringing her back to her faith.
“When he married me, he was not baptized so I had no chance to be committed to church,” she said.
Her mother was a pastor, which inspired Rebecca’s faith at a young age. After she got married, even though she wasn’t able to attend church, she tried to hold on to her faith.
At one point, her whole family was sick so she went to a traditional witch doctor to help. She had lost two children in the same day. In the hopes of finding the cause of the deaths, she gave the witchdoctor 18 goats and 29 chickens. In the end he wasn’t able to help.
Then of her friends said, “Yom, if you didn’t find any success through the witchdoctor, try it through the church.” This became the start of her journey back towards her faith.
“That is when I knelt before God and said thank you and forgive me for all the bad things I did,” she said. “I want to be with God alone, nothing else.”
Even though she has lost so many people in her life she feels like the church has become a new family for her. They have supported her in many ways—taking her to the hospital, helping her with clothes—even helping her build a house.
“I go to school because I need to know how to read the Bible,” she said. “The Bible is what changed me.”
World Concern is dedicated to working with the local church in order to also empower members of the community. With this method in mind, support is given to the community in a holistic manner through agriculture training and seed loans, creation of a clean water supply, spiritual development, savings groups and literacy classes.
“I cannot read. It is a person who can read who knows about the future, but for us we are like blind people. We just look up to God for everything,” she said. “I wish God would guide us to not have the same war situation again.”
As we walked away we told her that there was news of warfare in the region and asked her to be careful.
A week after I left Wau, fighting broke out nearby and hasn’t really stopped since. Many have died. Many have been displaced. And in the quiet spaces I wonder how Rebecca is and if she’s still learning to read. Maybe soon she’ll be able to send me a text herself and tell me how she’s doing.
At the age of 65, the average American is starting the handover process into retirement. For Kirotiana Kibubuk this was the age she decided to start all over; a woman who had never seen a day of formal education in her life.
She left her homeland in Narok, Kenya, a place where the wind sweeps dust devils across the horizon, jumping over small bushes. Where goats and cows meander under watchful eyes. She left her community of neighbors who walked to each other’s houses consistently.
She left this place through a partnership with Barefoot College and after six months of training in India, she returned home to begin her new job of installing and repairing solar lighting systems.
Since 2008, Barefoot College has trained enough rural grandmothers to bring electricity to 40,000 households all over the world. Kibubuk has now joined the ranks of the affectionately known “Solar Mamas.”
“Many who see me working say that I’m a hard worker, but I can secretly see that they wish it would have been them doing this,” she said.
During her time in India, she noticed that Indians were “way ahead” and also that women were empowered to do different work.
“Women are in every field; be it construction, fabrication, or even tailoring.” She said. “Again, they are not wealthy, but they use many machines to do their work.”
Upon returning she was a bit worried that maybe she had forgotten some of the things she learned but as soon as she started working it all came back to her. Armed with a pair of pliers, hammer, screws, pins and a wire Kibubuk confidently set to work.
“I even know how to reinforce a solar panel on top of a mud house so it doesn’t cave in together with the roof, when rain falls,” she said.
World Concern, with funding from UNDP, helped 90 households in Narok County receive solar lighting. Due to the remoteness of some areas in Narok, residents lack access to electricity power grid. World Concern is filling market gaps by providing a bright four-lantern sets at a subsidized and one-time cost with two-year warranty support.
The uniqueness of the project is in empowering not only the solar recipients but also helping employ Solar Mamas like Kibubuk.
“The money goes back to the same local economy. It’s more of a community project than business,” says Narok Program Officer John Leyian.
With brighter homes has come a 40% reduction in eye infections and 33% reduction in upper respiratory infections by eliminating the use of diesel and kerosene because the light is so weak. The better lighting has also made it easier for school children to study. And the number of kerosene related accidents in those homes has reduced to almost zero.
On top of that, Kibubuk is quick to add that the security light outside the home makes hyenas afraid to attack their livestock, an important factor to the semi-pastoralist community.
Words and Photos by Edwin Kuria and Christena Dowsett Video by Christena Dowsett
Jane Wambura’s daily schedule runs on a tight rhythm. Wake up. Take the goats for grazing. Drink tea. Work in her garden. Lunch. A few afternoon activities. Dinner. Sleep.
While she does visit neighbors and friends, while she does attend community meetings, while she does go to church; she also has a large farm complete with 47 cashew nut trees that she has to take care of by herself.
“Yes, sometimes I feel lonely,” she said, standing outside of her goat cage. “If I had money I would hire someone to help me full-time, but since we don’t have it, I work alone.”
Jane was 23 when she got married and started farming for a living alongside her husband. They had five children together before his death in 1997. That year cashew nuts were selling at 10 Kenyan shillings (KSH) per kilogram.
World Concern started working in the area in 2013 by supporting the Lake Kenyatta Farmers Cooperative. Although the group was formed in the 1970’s, the management was having trouble keeping track of their almost 3,000 members.
The price of cashews was going down as well with the increase of middlemen into the supply chain. People had started cutting down their trees to sell for the quick payout of charcoal.
“Our farmers were becoming poorer and poorer, year after year.” Christopher Ngui, Former President of the Cooperative said. “If we don’t have some way to sell the cashew nuts, the same problem will occur. Prices will start crashing and people will go back to cutting their trees for charcoal.”
The first step World Concern took was to help organize the farmers into groups of 50 with representatives from each group reporting to the management. From there, trainings were conducted on buyers markets and the introduction of Fair Trade practices.
In 2015, the Lake Kenyatta Farmers Cooperative was the first group of cashew nut farmers in Kenya to receive Fair Trade certification. And during this three year period the price per kilo when from 30 to 65 Kenyan shillings.
“We call World Concern a blessing because they are making an impact on our farmer’s lives,” Ngui said. “We can see light at the end of the tunnel.”
Through partnering with the for-profit organization Ten Senses, as well as other buyers, World Concern hopes to continue to support the work of these farmers.
Wambua, a member of the cooperative said that things really started to improve once they got more organized. If the price drops drastically, she can go even three months without making any money, something that World Concern hopes to help keep from happening by continuing to empower the farmers in buyer relationships.
“Thanks to the effort you have invested, now it’s like we are moving forward, from Egypt to Canaan. Before we were in slavery.” Wambua said. “There is change and we have seen the difference.”
PORTRAIT SERIES OF LAKE KENYATTA FARMERS COOPERATIVE
Photos and story by Christena Dowsett/World Concern. You can reach her through firstname.lastname@example.org
I hope the first time you stumble across this blog you take a moment. I hope you don’t skim through the words and pictures and move on to the next flashy thing that catches your eye.
My goal, both as a human and a communicator, is to understand what drives us under the surface. To reach deeper than conflict, famine, greed, disaster… words that often seem so abstract and hold little weight inside us. My search is to dive in to the big things to show you (and me) the small things. To learn that famine is often political and conflict is often shrouded in a love for one’s own family. To show you the faces, to share the stories, to let you listen to the words that represent the big things.
As someone who has been on and off the African continent for most of my life, I’ve seen a lot of things and met a lot of people over the years. I have tried to educate myself on the impact that aid agencies can have on a local economy and what mindsets they leave behind. In the last four years I have worked as a photojournalist documenting the work of organizations mostly in East Africa.
One thing, one prominent thing I have learned is that hand outs don’t work. Not just here, but anywhere. I used to hear the phrase “It’s not a hand out, but a hand up!” and while a nice gesture, it still puts one person above the other. One organization above a community. (This in terms to development work, as opposed to disaster relief work, in which a hand up is exactly what’s needed!)
One thing, one prominent thing you will notice about the work World Concern does, is that it’s focused more on the internal than external. Yes, physical needs must be met, but they can be met in a way that keeps us from being the savior. We are not in the business of saving; rather in sharing of the knowledge that we all need to be transformed.
Take a community in South Sudan who is re-learning farming practices after years on the run from war. People who grew up in refugee camps. The first year, they will need seeds and potentially help with tools and some training. But as time goes on, efforts can be placed on how to plant more efficiently, how to waste less seeds, and even how to preserve seeds so the next year they can plant from their own stock.
The question is, how can we come alongside our brothers and sisters, our friends, who have experienced so much tragedy and yet have so much to offer; how can we enter in with them in these broken places and love them well?
We do this by walking in to their living rooms, resting on their couches, and opening ourselves up to what truths they offer. We do this by sitting on the cool ground with them. We do this by crying when they cry. We do this by hearing their stories and sharing them. We do this by standing up together, as we both knock the sleeplessness from our toes. We do this by believing in them, and asking them to believe in themselves. To find their own creative solutions, the ones that are locked deep inside their minds.
And so this is what I hope to do as the communications liaison for World Concern in Africa. To walk with our friends, to encourage them, and to share their stories with you.
“Stories require voices to speak them and ears to hear them. Stories only foster connection when there is both someone to speak and someone to listen.” -Brené Brown
For more “technical” information about me, check our About the Authors section or feel free to drop me a line anytime. I’m excited to start sharing more of these stories soon and I hope you will stay connected with me as we dive into meeting new friends!
Fresh soil sprays over my head and makes its way into the crevices of my camera. I am standing in the heart of what is soon to be a massive dam – and it appears that the entire community is out to dig.
We are in a remote village of Somaliland – one of 30 villages where World Concern has recently implemented cash-for-work and cash-for-livestock programs. And by the look of the community’s willingness to cooperate and the sheer amount of physical labor taking place, the new program seems to be going on well.
“After the men shovel the dam, I help carry the sand out of the dam and put it in a large pile,” Sahra, a middle-aged woman dressed in a maroon hijab, explains.
In Somaliland, male and female labor roles tend to be separate and defined – women cook and gather water while men deal with livestock – but here, in this oversized dirt pit, everyone is working together. Taking in my environment I watch men, women, youth, elderly, and even disabled folk hard at work. I see a woman who had to be at least 75-years-old and ask her to hold up her tool and pose for the camera. Without hesitation, she proudly looks at me as a huge gaped smile spreads across her face.
Later, taking a moment’s rest from the equatorial sun, inside of Sahra’s one room home, she tells me, “The work we are doing with World Concern is going well. We have built a large sand dam – we have worked 15 days every month for three months.”
Finding paid work in the remote villages of Somaliland is unlike any other job hunt – essentially, the market doesn’t exist. Thus, this cash-for-work and livestock program is a real game changer, and the community knows it.
“I am happy to do any work,” Sahra said. “Sometimes I sell a goat for money, but otherwise I don’t have a job outside of the home to do.”
Sahra is not alone. The majority of her community survives by participating in petty trade (such as selling flour, tea, and sugar) and rearing livestock. Though a single goat may bring enough money for a small family to survive for period of time, it is not a sustainable income.
Getting To Work
World Concern is currently partnering with 30 villages in Somaliland. Working with local leaders, they identify the most vulnerable households within each community. These households are then given the opportunity to work in return for cash or livestock. This is a two-fold project – 1) households are given jobs that enable them to better provide for their families and 2) World Concern teaches them how to be better stewards of their land and prevent future disasters.
This is a win-win.
“Before World Concern came, we did not have the proper materials or knowledge to prevent flooding,” Sahra explained. “This work is good because we are benefiting by stopping our floods, catching water, and gaining livestock as a payment.”
32-year-old Yasin, a member of the World Concern household identification committee, also shared his perspective on this new job opportunity, “There are many impoverished households in this community. Many are without an income.”
Taking a break from shoveling, he continued, “Along with other projects, we have learned to build dams for the animals. These dams will provide them with drinking water and more grass will grow for them to eat.”
When I asked him why it’s so important that they build such a large dam, Yasin told me, “In the past, floods would frequently ruin the things inside people’s homes and kill their livestock. This happened many times.”
After hearing this, I started to wonder if the dam was actually too small.Frequent floods?! Ruined homes!? But, according to the locals, the dams they have built are already serving their purpose in preventing disasters.
“Even after World Concern leaves,” said Yasin “we plan to continue with this work because it is good and we have been given many examples.”
A program that brings a diversity of community members together as a single, strong body – to build dams that will prevent potential disasters, catch clean water, feed their animals, and earn them an income? I’m sold.
I can’t honestly claim that I’ve ever been displaced. I’ve never been forced to leave my home, nor have I experienced the assumed feelings that are correlated with returning to a place that was once familiar, only to find that that place has transformed into something utterly unrecognizable.
To the most minor degree my recent return to Tessou, a small village tucked within the foothills of Eastern Chad, simulated these feelings of displacement, this sense of disorientation.
And the craziest thing is that these feelings came after I’d only been to Tessou ONCE before, for only ONE DAY.
In 2004, the Janjaweed (a horribly violent rebel group) attacked Tessou, forcing its residents to flee – leaving all possessions, and even some family members, behind. For years afterward the people of Tessou resided in neighboring villages and, primarily, Gassire Internally Displaced Persons camp.
Talk about displacement.
Weary and fed up with living off of someone else’s land, where they were unable to farm or provide for themselves, the community members slowly started returning to their home. But they came back to Tessou only to find it completely deserted and charred – all homes had been burned, livestock stolen, and possessions demolished.
But to the people of Tessou, no matter its ravaged appearance, the land remained their home. And in this once familiar, now unrecognizable village, it was time to begin anew.
I arrived in Tessou in July of 2013 to find a small number of dilapidated huts haphazardly situated on, what appeared to be, a massive dirt compound. Within the compound was a single tree – the only remaining evidence of a once populated and lively village. Everything I saw was brown – from the ground to the huts to the dirt covering people’s bodies. Because the nearest water source was an hour walk away, cleanliness was a low priority.
Last month I once again found myself sitting in a World Concern vehicle, bumping along the road from Goz Beida to Tessou. I was anxious to return. Stories of had been circulating about the community’s transformations, but I had yet to see them for myself.
As our car pulled up to a village so densely surrounded in sorghum, trees, and maize, I figured we must be lost. This was not the Tessou I knew. Why were there so many homes? Where was the group of men and women sitting under the single tree? Why was everything so…green?
I did not recognize Tessou one bit. I felt disoriented. But this time it was for the best of reasons.
In the last year, partnering with World Concern’s One Village Transformed program, the people of Tessou have rebuilt their village from the ground up. In fact, they have far surpassed their state of development prior to the Janjaweed attacks!
Firstly, Tessou now has clean and accessible water. This is huge.
“Before we got our new well, we used to walk one hour each way to collect water,” shared 20-year-old Tena. “But now Tessou is better. We have clean water that we can use for preparing our food, drinking, bathing, and for washing our clothes.”
According to Tena, people no longer get sick from drinking water, “If they get sick, it is caused by something else.”
“Now that we have a water pump we can use the water for food, we can wash our clothes, and we can bathe easily,” 35-year-old Fatuma said. “We no longer have to travel to collect water at the local, dirty source.”
In addition to improving overall community health, having access to clean water has allowed the people of Tessou to efficiently build thousands of bricks.
“We are working on making bricks to be used for a school and maybe even a health center,” Tena explained. “If there is a school here, I want to go. I want to be a big woman like you.”
And then there are the agricultural improvements – since moving back to the village, many people have returned to farming. And because they now have accessible water, their farms are flourishing. And because their farms are flourishing, World Concern is partnering with the farmers to develop their skills even further.
One more thing – Tessou is now home to organized savings groups.
“I am the president of our community savings group,” shared Fatuma. “Each woman involved contributes money. Together we have bought some bags of seeds and have even hired people to cultivate our seeds.”
As a gathering of 25 women, Fatuma’s savings group hopes to save enough money to contribute to purchasing a community mill. The group also serves as a distributor of loans, “If a member is in trouble or wants to start a small business, she can borrow money from the group and pay it back later.“
Both Tena and Fatuma’s testimonies are two prime examples of the transformations that are possible when a community is empowered and willing to develop themselves. The unrecognizable Tessou that I recently experienced is so full energy and motivation that it is palpable – these people are ready to improve their way of life. And, most importantly, they are elated to be the hands and feet facilitating their own transformations.