Posts Tagged poverty

War and Landmines: I Only Saw the Survivors

Posted on Tuesday, September 17th, 2013 at 12:01 pm

As Concern Worldwide draws its programs in Cambodia to a close after 23 years, Senior Health and HIV Advisor, Breda Gahan, recalls some of her experiences there in more turbulent times

Breda Gahan of Concern meets 14-year-old Breda Huot, who was named in her honor, in Kompong Speu, Cambodia.

Breda Gahan of Concern meets 14-year-old Breda Huot, who was named in her honor, in Kompong Speu, Cambodia.

Twenty-three years on, it’s a different country entirely

Back in 1991, there was a lot of insecurity. While a peace agreement was signed in Paris, the country was still marred by warfare. Working conditions were difficult. We set up office in the Monorom Hotel in Phnom Penh and for the next three years I spent there, change in the country was always evident.

While my job was in Cambodia, I first traveled to Thailand to better understand not only Concern’s work in the refugee camps, but also what people felt about returning to Cambodia. When I reached Aranyaprathet town in eastern Thailand where the Khmer refugee camps were mostly located, I could hardly believe the size of the “camp cities.” I had never seen anything like it. The camps, at that time more than a decade old, had a sense of order. However, as permanent as they felt, you could sense people’s enthusiasm to return home.

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In a Nairobi slum, conversation as a catalyst for tackling poverty

Posted on Tuesday, July 16th, 2013 at 1:44 pm

By Aoife Ruth, Program Support Officer and Assistant to the Overseas Director, Concern Worldwide

Community Conversations Groups in Mukuru Slum

Participants from various Community Conversations groups in Mukuru Slum, Nairobi during a training session.

In these times of financial turmoil, it is natural to question government spending and examine how our limited resources can be best put to use. Overseas aid budgets have come under intense scrutiny from citizens of countries the world over, with some people preferring that we cease all aid in favor of spending on domestic projects during this cash-strapped and difficult period–the ‘charity begins at home’ outlook.

Many others recognize the importance of aid to the world’s poorest, whether for reasons of social justice, compassion, or diplomacy. Amidst all the voices and opinions, I have noted the growing unease and at times, cynicism, people have about aid and its efficacy. “We give and give, but nothing ever changes” is a phrase I have often heard.

Implicit in this unease is the notion that the world’s poor are simply recipients, simply needy, waiting to be led out of poverty. What we do not see represented as often is the tireless commitment and dogged determination of communities and of average community members to improve their lives, to increase their opportunities, their access to jobs, health care, and education.
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Back to the basics: Fighting hunger with conservation agriculture in western Zambia

Posted on Wednesday, June 5th, 2013 at 10:40 am

By Carl Wahl, Concern Worldwide Conservation Agriculture Coordinator, Zambia

Matumbo Yembe, 44, like so many Zambians, lives off the radar.

Handicapped from polio as a child, Matumbo Yembe lived alone without any support from aid programs until she was introduced to conservation agriculture. Today, she is growing her own food and slowly inching her way out of poverty.

Handicapped from polio as a child, Matumbo Yembe lived alone without any support from aid programs until she was introduced to conservation agriculture. Today, she is growing her own food and slowly inching her way out of poverty.

Her right leg withered and weak, Matumbo was tragically crippled as a child from polio and moves around with the help of a stick. She has scratched out a living doing whatever piecemeal work she could to get by. Because she lives alone and has little or no social connections, Matumbo, never benefited from any aid programs—that is until she was introduced to conservation agriculture.

Over the past few years, I have witnessed a transformation. With support from Concern Worldwide, Matumbo is now growing her own food and slowly inching her way out of poverty. What impresses me about her is that so many people in her position—alone, disabled, and poor—would lose all hope and fade away. But Matumbo, as my old football coach used to say, has “no quit in her.” Every time I visit her, there is not a single weed to be seen and the crops are perfect. She is nothing short of remarkable, and I continue to be amazed by how the techniques that we call “conservation agriculture” can be such a catalyst for people to lift themselves out of extreme poverty.

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Rana Plaza: The Real Cost of Cheaper Clothing

Posted on Wednesday, May 8th, 2013 at 8:55 am

Bijoy Krishna Nath, Head of Risk Reduction & Response, Concern Worldwide

Farida holds up a photograph with the hope of finding her missing son, who worked at Rana Plaza.

Farida holds up a photograph with the hope of finding her missing son, who worked at Rana Plaza.

Farida did not know if her son was alive or dead. Tears streaming down her face, Farida showed person after person his photograph, but no one had any information. Doctors, firefighters, policemen—no one had any evidence that he made it out alive.

Her son, a garment worker in the now-famous Rana Plaza, could be one of the more than 600 people killed when the nine-story building collapsed, enveloping more than 3,000 people in concrete and steel. I met her amidst the search-and-rescue mission the day after the factory collapsed as part of a small assessment team with the humanitarian organization, Concern Worldwide.

The scene was sheer chaos.

More than one thousand rescue workers, from members of the armed forces and firefighters to everyday people, tirelessly tore through the building’s remains in search of survivors. Emergency medical clinics were overflowing with people in need of immediate care, while relatives of garment workers, like Farida, frantically searched for their loved ones, their fear growing palpably greater by the minute that they would not be among the lucky ones pulled from the rubble.

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With Kenya’s Elections Less than a Week Away, Concern Prepares for Potential Crisis

Posted on Tuesday, February 26th, 2013 at 8:43 am

By Ivy Ndiewo, Communication and Documentation Officer

Voters queue to cast their ballots in Kajiado, Kenya during the 2007 general elections. Photo by Manaya Kinoti.

With less than 10 days before the first election under Kenya’s new constitution, fear and speculation are at an all-time high that what happened in 2008 could be repeated, even escalated. The results of the last general election in late 2007 were immediately disputed, and soon the nation exploded into weeks of political and ethnic violence, leaving with over 500,000 people displaced and more than 1,500 killed. I remember those grim days like they were yesterday.

The violence that erupted in 2008 caught the whole world off-guard, including the humanitarian community that then had to launch into an emergency response from scratch. Today, humanitarian organizations, including Concern Worldwide, are working with the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and Kenya’s National Disaster Operations Center to set up contingency plans if civil unrest sweeps across the country as it did in 2008.

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Why Didn’t All the Aid Reach the Poorest? Here’s Why…

Posted on Monday, February 11th, 2013 at 1:37 pm

By Julia Lewis, Area Manager, Democratic Republic of Congo, Concern Worldwide

Concern staff prepare kits for distribution

When academics or the media criticize aid organizations for inefficiencies or promises unfulfilled, I can’t help but think about the vast and endlessly tangled complexities of this work.  Crisis follows crisis, harsh realities are compounded by harsh realities, and every day there are situations where we are forced to take decisions when no option offers the perfect solution.

That’s often the case here in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the epicenter of what was called ‘Africa’s World War’ (1998-2003), the deadliest conflict since World War II, and especially in the eastern reaches of the country where violence and terror have continued since the supposed end of that war.  Conflict and preventable disease continue to take the lives of tens of thousands each month—five years ago a fellow international organization here put the toll at over five million.  The situation has little changed since then.

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A Path to a Better Life in Haiti

Posted on Friday, January 11th, 2013 at 1:55 pm

By Niall Murphy, Concern Worldwide

Juna Dely, one of the first participants in Concern's Path to a Better Life program, with her one-year-old son.

Juna Dely lives on the island of La Gonave, Haiti, with her partner Jean Wodline, his mother, and five of her six children. Between 2007 and 2009, Juna participated in Concern Worldwide‘s Chemen Lavi Miyo program, which translates to “Path to a Better Life.” The program sought to do exactly that—give Haiti’s poorest people a path to a better life through income-generating activities as well as access to health, education, and credit services based on their needs.

I met Juna because I am currently researching to see how effective the program was in breaking the cycle of poverty over the long-term. She is one of 500 female-headed households that have participated in Path to a Better Life across four of Haiti’s districts. As to be expected, I am finding that the program had many successes, but it was not without challenges. Read the rest of this entry »

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Let’s Talk about HIV and AIDS

Posted on Friday, January 4th, 2013 at 11:53 am

By Ivy Ndiewo, Communication and Documentation Officer, Concern Worldwide

An estimated 1.6 million people are living with HIV in Kenya. While we know that the majority of them are from Nyanza Province, the region in the country’s southwest around Lake Victoria, there is much that we still do not know about HIV and AIDS in Kenya. For example, there are no clear records of the prevalence rate in urban slums, especially when many people likely do not know they are HIV-positive.

A community conversation groups meets in Migori District, Kenya. Photo: Concern Worldwide

Concern Worldwide uses what we call “community conversations” in Nyanza Province as well as Mukuru, a slum east of Nairobi, to break down many of the barriers that keep people from getting tested, and if they are diagnosed, taking antiretroviral (ARV) medications. We first piloted the approach in 2010 as a way for people to talk about their challenges and find solutions. There are now 24 community conversation groups across Nyanza Province and in Nairobi’s urban slums—all of which tackle HIV and AIDS head-on.

I spoke with my colleagues Belinda, Jane, and Julia, who are all community conversation facilitators in different areas of Mukuru. They said that community members see HIV and AIDS as one of their biggest challenges, with orphans and single parenting on the rise due to HIV and AIDS. Many are living in denial of their status, refusing to take ARVs. This is exactly where community conversations come in.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Where the Snow Piles up Six Stories High

Posted on Tuesday, December 11th, 2012 at 11:21 am

By Tom Dobbin, Emergency Program Coordinator, Takhar Province, Afghanistan

A flood defense system in Rustaq

Takhar Province in the far northeast corner of Afghanistan is a remote and unforgiving place. High in the mountains, it has more major earthquakes, landslides, and flash floods than any other part of the country. The landscape is stark and barren and poverty is crippling.

As winter settles in, children scour the hillsides for animal dung and withered thistles to use as fuel to keep warm. In the dead of winter, temperatures can plummet to a mere five degrees Fahrenheit. Heavy snowfall makes it completely impossible to travel in or out of. Last year, which was the worst winter in decades, snow drifts were as high as 50 feet—the height of a six-story building.

When the snow melted in April, it triggered violent flash floods that washed away homes, bridges, and other critical infrastructure. One village, Rustaq, saw nearly 100 feet of river bank engulfed by water, taking with it 60 homes. In Chall District, the floods washed out a bridge that was the only connection to the nearest village for 770 villagers and 150 students who crossed the bridge every day to go to school. Some villages, like Khailan, were told they had to relocate altogether. As part of Concern Worldwide’s emergency response team, I was deployed to Afghanistan as Emergency Program Manager in Takhar to oversee a program to repair the damage that was done because of last year’s floods and brace communities for the upcoming winter and future disasters.

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A Field Diary from Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo

Posted on Tuesday, December 4th, 2012 at 1:24 pm

By Julia Lewis, North Kivu Area Manager, Concern Worldwide

People gather to listen to the first address by the M23 rebels spokesperson Vianney Kazarama at a stadium in Goma. Photo: REUTERS/James Akena

Information in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is often like a game of telephone. It’s hard, if not impossible, to pinpoint where a rumor begins, let alone how much it changed from the original source and if it had any credibility to begin with.

As the Area Manager for the international humanitarian organization Concern Worldwide in the war-torn province of North Kivu in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, distinguishing fact from fiction is a big part of my job. And in a country where security can change in an instant, acting on lies and failing to act on truth can have very real—even fatal—consequences.

Reports of a potential advance towards the provincial capital, Goma, by the M23 rebel movement started to circulate on Wednesday, November 14th.  I got a call from one of our national staff who had heard that they were planning to ‘enter Goma soon,’ but was initially quite skeptical as no other source could confirm this.  When I woke up that next morning, I learned that the M23 were fighting the Congolese national army, FARDC, in Kibumba, just 19 miles north of Goma. By Saturday, M23 had taken control of Kibumba. Suddenly, what seemed unlikely had become a tangible threat.

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