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More than 150 children — including Debby — received more than a backpack at a birthday party for kids in Zambia. Inside they discovered an insect-repelling blanket, hygiene supplies, washcloths, soap, a toothbrush and toothpaste, and school supplies, including crayons, pens, pencils, a pencil sharpener, and an eraser.

“I’ve never had anything like this before,” says Kenser, who used to carry his books to school in a plastic bag. On rainy days, they’d get soaked. But there was more. Tucked inside the backpack the third-grader received was an uplifting note from a couple in Orange County, California. The care letter had traveled nearly 10,000 miles to get to Kenser.

How did that happen?

It started when the couple attended a World Vision kit event in Orange County — one of nearly 300 such events that take place each year across the country. At these events, participants assemble kits with school or hygiene supplies and write a care letter of encouragement to the person who will receive it — in this case, Kenser, Debby, and their friends. Assembling kits is a great way for a church or a group to reach out to a hurting world in a meaningful way. Best of all, it’s something families can do together.

Here’s how it happened:

1. Someone from a church organization contacted World Vision by emailing kits@worldvision.org or calling 1.800.478.5481.

2. Next, they chose Promise Packs from several types of World Vision kits:

3. A World Vision event specialist explained how to host their event and confirmed the supplies order.

4. On the day of the event, a group of volunteers set up long tables with all the supplies needed to assemble the Promise Packs. Participants, in the fashion of an assembly line, placed one of each item into the kit. At the end of the line, they wrote a care letter of encouragement for the person who would receive it.

5. The kits were shipped to World Vision’s 40,000-square foot warehouse outside Pittsburgh.

6. A cadre of volunteers carefully added other supplies to the kits, such as clothing and pharmaceuticals donated by generous corporate partners.

7. The shipment, including the backpack from Orange County, was loaded onto a boat in Baltimore to make the long journey to the port at Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania.

8. The backpacks and other supplies were trucked from the port in Tanzania more than 1,200 miles southwest to Lusaka, Zambia’s capital city, where, project manager Fred Mazumba received the kits at the World Vision warehouse in Lusaka.

9. Fred and his staff loaded the backpacks onto trucks and drove them 175 miles south to World Vision’s office in Choma.

10. World Vision staff loaded up the kits and crowded into vehicles or rode motorcycles to navigate the rough roads leading to the birthday party in Moyo.

11. Along with his friends, Kenser opened his backpack and marveled at the supplies and the special greeting from Orange County — a care letter letting Kenser know it had been packed just for him.

The world became a little smaller — and a lot more joyful.

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The song of Matthew Sakala’s life is clearly “Happy Birthday.” On a sunny Monday in May, he has just told hundreds of eager children at a World Vision birthday party how much God loves them and how the day they were born was a special day, indeed. Matthew runs sponsorship programs in Moyo, Zambia.

This is not his first World Vision birthday party — not by a long shot.

He was sponsored by a U.S. family through World Vision when he was 8. “I used to go to birthday parties,” he says. “It brings back great memories.” The parties made child sponsorship real for Matthew. “I knew there were other people outside of where I live who were thinking about people in my community. That really touched me.” Birthday parties in communities where World Vision works are funded by sponsors through a special birthday fund. The fund ensures that children in the community know they are loved by God and their sponsors. Celebrating birthdays is not part of many cultures around the world.

“In a typical home, you would never find them celebrating their birthday,” Matthew says.

That’s why birthday parties were so special to him.

“They would give us new clothes,” he says. “It was a wonderful feeling to have new clothes.” The parties were always festive, he says. “We would dance as the music was playing.”

In Moyo, the party starts in the morning and lasts into the afternoon with singing, dancing, skits, and prayers for the children. Children eat a hot lunch of their favorite foods and receive gifts — backpacks from World Vision’s Giving Tuesday partner, Thirty-One Gifts, a company dedicated to empowering women to run their own businesses. Since 2012, Thirty-One Gifts has given more than $100 million in cash and products like backpacks to organizations that support its mission. On Giving Tuesday, Thirty-One Gifts is matching donations to World Vision with up to $2 million in product. Each backpack is stuffed with school supplies and a note from the person who packed it.

Matthew, who distributed hundreds of backpacks at the birthday party, wanted to work for World Vision since he was a child. “I wanted to be part of an organization that transformed the lives of children,” he says, “just as I was transformed myself.”

It really struck me when I would see the donors come and interact with the children and how much love they had for them.
—Matthew Sakala

Living with his grandparents in a poor area in southern Zambia, he watched his community grow because of sponsorship.

“One of my close friends had a sponsor who sent him money to buy four head of cattle and build a house,” he says. “The project brought a skills training area. People would go to do basic training on carpentry, plumbing, joinery, and baking,” he says. “We were touched to see what World Vision was doing.”

He saw the joy sponsors’ letters brought. “There is a direct communication between someone who is miles and miles away from them,” he says. “This attachment makes children really feel valued, loved, and cared for, even if they don’t see them.”

But it was sponsor visits that really moved him. “It really struck me when I would see the donors come and interact with the children and how much love they had for them,” he says. “I said, ‘I want to be part of this.’” At age 12, Matthew decided he would someday work for World Vision.

To prepare, he earned a certificate in social work and is working toward a bachelor’s degree in development from Zambia Open University in Lusaka, the capital. Ten years ago, he began working for World Vision, and today he is the church community engagement and sponsorship plan development facilitator for Moyo. The title is a mouthful, but it speaks to the fusion of faith and sponsorship.

“When we enter a community to talk about child sponsorship, we talk about how God views the children,” he says. “In the eyes of God, we are all children.” Matthew works with faith leaders to ensure they focus on children. “We [tell] them the story of the children who were being chased away by the disciples. But Jesus said, ‘Let them come to me.’” Churches must be part of the change, he says. “We encourage pastors during their sermon — please talk about the children.”

It’s working. “The culture that we live in is slowly changing,” he says. “It once demeaned the children. It did not allow children to flourish.”

Matthew, now a father of three, says he owes his life to child sponsorship. “I am indebted to World Vision. I don’t work for a salary,” he says. “I am World Vision.” And with that, he’s off to deliver backpacks, serve cake, and sing another round of “Happy Birthday,” the song of his life.

 

Help children, their families, and the entire community share a little joy during the year in celebrating their birthday.

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In Zambia and other places where World Vision works, families often eat only what they grow, which may be one or two crops.

Community volunteers teach mothers to combine three kinds of foods to give children energy and to build and protect their bodies.

The approach is called Go, Grow, Glow.

“Go” foods are energy foods — grains, roots, and tubers. In Zambia, the most common “Go” food is maize.

“Grow” foods build the body — proteins like milk, eggs, legumes, fish, and chicken.

“Glow” foods — fruits and green leafy vegetables, rich in Vitamin A — help protect the body from disease.

Community volunteers use storybooks with pictures to teach mothers how to combine the food groups, turning them into a tasty porridge, or serve all three together. Mothers then gather — each bringing the one or two ingredients they have in their household — and cook together, combining the foods into a healthy meal like this one. Give it a try with your own kids.

Recipe for vegetable soup

Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 60 to 90 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 4 cups vegetable stock (Zambians would use water)
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter (Zambians would use peanuts)
  • 2 cups fresh or canned tomatoes with juices, diced
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup cabbage, finely chopped
  • 1 cup sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 1 cup carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1 cup turnips, peeled and chopped
  • 1 cup fresh or canned okra, chopped
  • Optional: 1 to 2 cups chopped, cooked chicken (Zambians might not have this)
Go, Grow, Glow vegetable soup with some of its raw ingredients. (©2018 World Vision/photo by Heather Klinger)

Instructions:

  1. Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat.
  2. Sautee onions about 5 minutes or until translucent.
  3. Whisk 1/2 cup of the vegetable stock and all the peanut butter into the onions until the mixture is smooth.
  4. Add in the remaining vegetable stock, diced tomatoes with liquid, and red pepper flakes. Bring mixture to boil.
  5. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes.
  6. Stir in cabbage, sweet potatoes, carrots, and turnips. Cover. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes or until vegetables are tender.
  7. Stir in okra and chicken. Simmer until okra is tender (about 30 minutes for raw or 10 minutes for canned).
  8. Enjoy!

 

Read more recipes from around the worldDid you make this vegetable soup? We want to see pictures! Send your photos to us at editor@worldvision.org or tag us @worldvisionusa on Instagram or Facebook

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UPDATE: May 23, 2018

World Vision has been responding to the East Africa hunger crisis for the past year, reaching more than 3.5 million people facing food insecurity with clean water, food and nutrition support, healthcare, and more.

Now, while droughts have made it difficult for farmers and herders to produce crops and feed livestock, excessive spring rains are causing flash floods across drought-stricken areas, washing away crops and shelters.

Children are among the most affected, with their health and development drastically impacted. More than 15 million children in East Africa are struggling to get enough to eat while floods increase the risk of cholera and other water-related diseases for people living in temporary shelters with poor sanitation.

South Sudan, Somalia, and Ethiopia could be facing famine or catastrophic levels of food insecurity in various parts of their countries over the next few months. Turkana, Kenya, which had been monstrously impacted by drought last year, is one of the most affected by the flooding today.

This stunning blog post from exactly one year ago this week was our first glimpse into the crisis. A year later, millions have been helped, but millions more remain in need.

*     *     *

May 24, 2017

The East Africa hunger crisis is monstrous: affecting 25 million people and showing up in ways our writer and photographer team have never before seen.

Today, our writer — Kari Costanza — gives you a first-hand snapshot of five ways that hunger is changing the lives of people in Turkana, Kenya.

*     *     *

I started covering hunger stories for World Vision in 2005 in Niger and Angola, which were then ranked second and third among countries where children were most likely to die before the age of 5. The next year, I traveled to Kenya to cover a drought that led to a severe food crisis. In 2009, to see what hunger felt like, I lived with a family that was surviving on emergency food rations. Two years after that, I was back in Kenya to cover the Horn of Africa food crisis.

I thought I’d seen it all.

But on my trip last month to Turkana, in northwest Kenya, there were signs of hunger that I’ve never seen. When I heard that Stephen O’Brien — the United Nations’ under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs — had declared this current crisis the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II, I was not surprised.

This hunger crisis is a monster.

We began in a village called Nanaam, dry and dusty and strewn with the bones of dead livestock. Ironically, Nanaam means water, but the villagers had renamed their village Ngikwasinyen, or “dry sand.”

The villagers were despondent. With no food left to eat, men such as Nalet were hunting animals that thrive during a drought in a pastoralist area — scavengers like hyenas and vultures. The mothers had learned to cook hyena, roasting it on a spit. The children hated it and said it tasted vile. Naroo, 9, told me: “Hyena is bitter. When we eat it, it gives us diarrhea. But it’s the only food on the table.”

A first-hand look at signs of hunger in Turkana, Kenya, and how the East Africa food crisis is changing the lives of people there.
Lopeto, 12, holds the dried stomach of a hyena, which the community has started to eat because of the drought. (©2017 World Vision/photo by Jon Warren)

Across the dusty path, a family was mourning the death of their last cow, sitting next to the giant animal, and preparing to skin and eat it. Nearby, with no milk, a mother and her children were trying to suck the marrow from the bones of donkeys killed by the drought. I asked them why they were doing that.

“Hunger,” replied the mother.

Traveling south on a road more sand than pavement, we came upon a macabre memorial. Instead of a tree-lined pathway, the road was lined with the bodies of dead animals. “See us,” they seemed to cry.

A first-hand look at signs of hunger in Turkana, Kenya, and how the East Africa food crisis is changing the lives of people there.
The carcasses of dead animals line the road between Lodwar and Lokori in south Turkana, a cry for help from those who live there. (©2017 World Vision/photo by Jon Warren)

The people of one village made their point crystal clear. Fifty women held high the animals that had died in their village, one woman boosting a donkey carcass over her head, to sing us a song of death.

“We are dying. We are dying,” they sang. “Our animals are all dead, and we are next.”

A first-hand look at signs of hunger in Turkana, Kenya, and how the East Africa food crisis is changing the lives of people there.
Women hold high the animals that had died in their village, singing a song of death. (©2017 World Vision/photo by Jon Warren)

And finally, after reporting stories in 35 countries over two decades for World Vision, I met a baby with my name: Kari. I asked her mother what her name meant and she replied, “Someone who almost died.” Kari was born six months ago as the drought began to kill all the livestock and threaten human lives as well. “I named her for the situation,” Kari’s mother told me.

A first-hand look at signs of hunger in Turkana, Kenya, and how the East Africa food crisis is changing the lives of people there.
Magdalene named her baby girl Kari because of their situation: someone who almost died. (©2017 World Vision/photo by Jon Warren)

Meeting Kari was the last straw. I had to do something about it. World Vision is trying to raise $110 million to help 2.7 million hungry people in East Africa with food, water, and medicine, as well as through child sponsorship. They’ve told me their stories. They’ve put a name to this monster. My name. Kari.

I saw Nalet the day after he went off the look for vultures and hyenas. He came back empty-handed and exhausted. “We have no water, food, or medicines,” he told me. “If you don’t take care of these children, they will die.”

And they will. So we must.


Join us in taking care of the children of Kenya and other hungry places in East Africa. Thanks to grants, your gift will multiple 7X in impact to provide emergency food, clean water, and more to children and families fighting for their lives.

Make a long-term impact in a child’s life: sponsor a child in Kenya today!

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The struggle for clean water isn’t specific to Africa. Water woes consume much of the developing world. In Honduras, as in every other region, children suffer the most. But in this community, people decided to do something about it.

Normally gregarious, Pedro Antonio Goday Sosa was miserable. Every day, he watched families slog down a muddy trail to the Hato River in eastern Honduras, their horses and wheelbarrows laden with empty plastic containers. Winding through the coffee and tobacco fields of the Jamastran Valley, the Hato River is shared by men, women, children, cows, horses, and pigs. It is filthy. The 70-year-old grandfather, known affectionately as Don Pedro, saw how drinking from the river was making people sick, and he was determined to stop it.

At a community meeting in 2016, Don Pedro’s frustration spilled over. He appealed to World Vision Project Manager Ruth Cardenas and World Vision Facilitator Noe Rodriguez, an expert in water and sanitation, on behalf of the children. He begged Noe and Ruth to find a solution to the problem. The Hato River was a plague on the 3,000 people who lived in two communities, Sartenejas and Zamorano.

Filling old soda bottles with contaminated river water nearly cost David his life. (©2017 World Vision/photo by Jon Warren)

Noe and Ruth consulted with World Vision’s water, sanitation, and hygiene staff at the national office in Tegucigalpa. They got good news. “Suddenly, the project was planned in the budget for 2018,” says Noe, “but only for drilling a well.” Don Pedro wasn’t satisfied. It wasn’t enough. Children were suffering.

Don Pedro knew the water crisis in Jamastran had to be fixed right away. But a permanent solution would only be possible if World Vision, two communities, and big-hearted donors united in a project orchestrated by God.

A Honduran community in crisis

Drinking dirty water affected all of life in Jamastran, creating perpetual health problems for children. “We found it was contaminated with Hepatitis A and poisons,” says Dr. Zulema Lopez, who blames the animals who drink and waste there and the pesticides that trickle into the river from the coffee and tobacco fields that provide residents with a meager income. “It’s normal to see children throwing up and expelling worms,” says Ana Lainez, the clinic’s nurse.

The clinic routinely treats children who are malnourished, suffering from diarrhea, and infected with cholera. Some damage can never be undone. “It affects their cognitive development,” says Dr. Zulema. If that’s not enough, the clinic gets its water from the very source of so much illness — the Hato River. Lips pursed, Nurse Ana opens the tap in the delivery room. Brown water runs out like tea steeped too long in a pot. “We can’t even wash our hands in it,” she says.

At the primary school, dirty river water is stored in a pila, a cement tank. The tank is so deep that the littlest students risk falling in when they scoop water. The school’s gentle janitor, Lionel Arriola, 44, worries for them. “Sometimes their thirst is so big they go to the pila and drink water,” he says. “One hour later, they are vomiting.”

Families suffered the most.

Don Pedro, in the checkered shirt, helped mobilize the community with his passion. (©2017 World Vision/photo by Jon Warren)

Every day, Johanna Hernandez, 23, would walk 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) — the average distance people in the developing world walk to get water for drinking, cooking, and cleaning — for dirty water. Three times a day, she would fill an old wheelbarrow with empty soda bottles and take her sons, David, 5, and Noe, 3, to the river. Shivering, she’d wade knee-deep into the cold, chocolate-colored water while the boys played in the sand on the bank.

Filling soda bottles, their once-cheerful labels peeling with wear, is both tedious and dangerous. Only a few months before, David was caught in the current, drifting out of his mother’s reach until a big rock stopped his path. “I was washing my clothes here,” she says. “He almost drowned.” David survived, a deep cut on his lip as a reminder of his brush with death.

Good news at last

World Vision staff in Jamastran worked tirelessly with the national office to move the project forward, spurred on by phone calls from Don Pedro. “He called me every day: breakfast, lunch, and dinner, morning, noon, and night,” says Noe. Noe lived in a constant state of agitation. The conflict with Don Pedro hurt his tender heart. Then came a break.

“Our colleagues [from the U.S.] came to visit,” says Noe. “We went to the river for them to see the community’s situation, and we saw that they were really moved by the suffering. They took pictures to share with their friends in the U.S. Three months later, [they] returned with good news. Donors in the U.S. saw the photos and heard the Lord call them to help.”

Refined Technologies, a chemical decontamination company, had watched a video of the community at the filthy river. Moved to action, the company pledged the funds needed for the project. Noe jumped on his motorbike, racing to tell Don Pedro the news. “When I saw him, I told him, ‘Don Pedro, this is the last day we will argue over water problems. Your problem is solved. The water project for Sartenejas and Zamorano is a reality.’” Don Pedro grabbed Noe and hugged him hard. In August 2017, the work to bring water to 3,000 people began.

First, a miracle — clean water

The project kicked off with a miracle when drillers discovered clean water on the first try: “The perfect well,” exclaims Don Pedro. Builders from the community created a sturdy hut to protect the source as 600 people began backbreaking work every day for four months, rising with the sun to move heavy rocks and dig miles of trenches.

For months, 600 community members worked with tools brought from home to see the project through. (©2017 World Vision/photo by Jon Warren)

In her front yard, Juana Martinez stored 1,000 pipes and 1,000 bags of cement used to construct the massive 60,000-gallon water tank. Juana serves on the water committee made up of men and women, responsible for overseeing that a near-marathon — 40 kilometers — of trenches are properly excavated. Her red hair tucked beneath a jaunty cowboy hat, Juana, 57, motors her all-terrain vehicle along the trenches, recording names of all present, as men and women dig with tools they’ve brought from home.

This is Juana’s first time as a project manager, and she says she loves it. It’s a hallmark of World Vision’s work to involve everyone in decision-making — men, women, and children. “This is an example for other women in the community,” says Juana. “They tell us we are blessed and that we are doing a great job.”

A mission accomplished

Juana and others on the water committee are documenting every moment of this journey. “We’re creating a big photo album,” she says. “It will serve for future generations to understand why you have to take care of the water.”

The album will have a spectacular ending: the celebration when the project is christened with good food to eat, folk dancing, and a marimba band made up of sponsored children. There will be speeches of love and thanksgiving. Hundreds of people will attend, including the health clinic staff, teachers and students from nearby schools, and families like Johanna’s who will no longer have to drag a wheelbarrow full of soda bottles to the river to collect water that poisons them.

The gift of water in Jamastran is seen as a gift from heaven. “The power of God has shown here,” says water committee member Julian Ordonez, a father of four. They are thankful to World Vision staff like Noe. They’re thankful to the donors who stepped forward to fund a dream. How World Vision, two communities, and caring donors came together as a team was something that could only have been orchestrated by the Almighty. “God put his eyes on us,” says Julian simply. As for Don Pedro, he’s going to retire. “My dream will be achieved,” he says. “I fought for children. Now they will have clean water.”


Walk or run in the Global 6K for Water May 19. Every step you take is one they won’t have to.

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The co-founder of the nation’s largest drive-up pure drinking water and ice company grew up in a town with bad water. “I remember as a newlywed on the front of the water bill, it would tell you what you would owe, and then you’d flip it over and on the back side,” says Lani Dolifka.” There would be a warning, and it would say, ‘Do not drink the water if you were pregnant or under 6 months of age.’”

Watermill Express is born

In 1984, Lani and Don, her then-boyfriend and now-husband took action. “With the help of family and friends, we developed an automated water purification kiosk that could take municipal water, process it through a multi-barrier system, and produce a very high quality, affordable source for safe drinking water,” she says.

Their goals were modest. “All we wanted to do was just provide water for our small community,” she says, “and a few communities in northern Colorado. But we learned there were a lot of other places in this country that had similar issues, and a lot were in underserved communities.”

With that knowledge, Lani began a 30-year journey to seek out America’s communities with contaminated water. “I’ve traveled to many of these small, forgotten areas in this country, seeing firsthand what it’s like to not have safe, affordable drinking water,” she says. Today, their company, Watermill Express, has 1,300 locations around the United States.

A clean water moment

Fast forward to 2016, and Lani traveled to a small village in Kenya — which, like her hometown, had dirty water. She met Naomi, who would trek daily for 7 miles to carry dirty water back to her family. “It had that green sludge on the top,” remembers Lani, “and when she pulled out water in the jerry can, it looked more solid than liquid.”

Call it a “green sludge moment.” Call it an epiphany. Something changed in Lani. “I think it was that moment it hit me. I thought, ‘As a mom of two kids, what must a mom feel like when this is the only water she can give to her kids?’ It’s the best she can do.” And then another horrifying thought: how so many children die every day from diarrhea.

Lani immersed herself in the experience, even getting the chance to carry water like so many women and girls do around the world. “And for those of you who have also had that experience,” she says, “you know it’s one of those things that hurts everything at the same time. It did for me, at least. You know, my back hurt; my head hurt; my arms, my legs, even my feet hurt that day.”

The pain was beyond physical. “My brain also hurt,” she says. “Because I knew that no sooner I took that water home, it’d be consumed in a matter of hours. And that meant I’d have to go back again and get that water again, and again, and again. And if I was pregnant or ill, that would be really, really difficult.”

Lani put herself into Naomi’s shoes. She now knew how it felt to spend seven hours gathering water. Every single day. It was so much to fathom. “When you’re spending that much time doing something just for basic survival,” she says, “you don’t have a lot of extra time to make your life or your kid’s lives better, and that’s what we want.”

More than child sponsorship

Meeting Naomi deepened Lani’s heart for the poor.  It also touched her mother’s heart. “We want to make our kids’ lives better,” says Lani. “And when clean water is brought to a woman like Naomi, she starts seeing hope and a better future for her kids, especially her daughters.”

Lani learned that when women like Naomi receive clean water, it cuts down on water-related diseases that plague families. Sick less often, kids spend more time in school. Families held back by the long walk for water can move forward in new ways. Everyone gets back precious time. “That additional time [allows] Naomi to attend church and tend to her family’s well-being,” says Lani. “I can’t think of two better things to do than go to church and raise your family, and that’s what the clean water helped her achieve. We take so much for granted.”

Although Lani and her family were child sponsors, they did not know that World Vision is the leading provider of clean water in the developing world. “When I found that out, I immediately decided I was going  to support World Vision’s work in water,” she says. So far, her foundation has provided more than 100 million gallons of clean water to families around the world so women like Naomi can spend more time raising their children and praising God.

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