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Jannatul is a 5-year-old Rohingya refugee girl. Her life was turned upside down when she and her mother fled Myanmar. They settled across the border in Bangladesh in what is now the world’s largest refugee camp.

Jannatul’s name means “heaven,” but her life is anything but heaven.


For 12 hours, walk with Jannatul through what a typical day might look like for her.

7 a.m.: Jannatul wakes up in a 10-by-10-foot shelter — made of bamboo and a plastic tarp — that she shares with her mother. There’s not much in this simple home beyond basic necessities and the little her mother could carry when they ran for their lives. Jannatul’s father and two younger siblings were killed in the conflict.

For 12 hours, we walk with 5-year-old Jannatul through what a typical day might look like for her as a Rohingya refugee child in a camp in Bangladesh.
©2019 World Vision/photo by Jon Warren

8 a.m.: Jannatul finds joy in small things like a snack and tea. They remind her of home.

For 12 hours, we walk with 5-year-old Jannatul through what a typical day might look like for her as a Rohingya refugee child in a camp in Bangladesh.
©2019 World Vision/photo by Jon Warren

9 a.m.: Twice a day, Jannatul visits a religious school in the refugee camp. She survived what one U.N. official described as “textbook ethnic cleansing” of the Rohingya — a Muslim minority ethnic group — in Myanmar.

For 12 hours, we walk with 5-year-old Jannatul through what a typical day might look like for her as a Rohingya refugee child in a camp in Bangladesh.
©2019 World Vision/photo by Jon Warren

10 a.m.: Jannatul enjoys her breakfast. Food means a lot to her — perhaps more than many 5-year-olds. When she and her mother fled Myanmar, they walked for a week in the rain to find safety in Bangladesh. They ate little for three days. Jannatul was extremely weak when another family on the journey shared their rice with her.


11 a.m.: Up to 2,000 children on average attend World Vision’s 12 learning centers each week. At the center, Jannatul enjoys looking at picture books and drawing. That’s what we love to see: kids being kids!

For 12 hours, we walk with 5-year-old Jannatul through what a typical day might look like for her as a Rohingya refugee child in a camp in Bangladesh.
©2019 World Vision/photo by Jon Warren

12 p.m.: In the camp, Jannatul is beginning to recover and can play, laugh, and smile.


1 p.m.: At midday, Jannatul enjoys lunch, remembering the fruit she ate back in Myanmar. “At home, we ate mangoes and jackfruit. I miss those,” Jannatul says.

For 12 hours, we walk with 5-year-old Jannatul through what a typical day might look like for her as a Rohingya refugee child in a camp in Bangladesh.
©2019 World Vision/photo by Jon Warren

2 p.m.: Faith plays an important role in Jannatul’s life. This is her second visit to the religious school she attends twice a day.

For 12 hours, we walk with 5-year-old Jannatul through what a typical day might look like for her as a Rohingya refugee child in a camp in Bangladesh.
©2019 World Vision/photo by Jon Warren

3 p.m.: Children need to feel safe when they play. At World Vision’s learning centers, Jannatul and her classmates can play and feel free to be kids! “When they come here, they can forget those things. They can have fun,” says Jannatul’s teacher, 20-year-old Farjana Faraz Tumpa. “When they come here, they feel good. They are treated nicely.”

For 12 hours, we walk with 5-year-old Jannatul through what a typical day might look like for her as a Rohingya refugee child in a camp in Bangladesh.
©2019 World Vision/photo by Jon Warren

4 p.m.: Jannatul enjoys helping her mother with daily chores. She buys potatoes and helps collect water for cooking and cleaning.

5 p.m.: Jannatul and her mother, Salima, chat during dinner, sharing highlights from their day.

For 12 hours, we walk with 5-year-old Jannatul through what a typical day might look like for her as a Rohingya refugee child in a camp in Bangladesh.
©2019 World Vision/photo by Jon Warren

6 p.m.: Salima holds Jannatul as she finally falls asleep after a long day of playing, praying, and chores. They are thankful every day that they still have each other.

For 12 hours, we walk with 5-year-old Jannatul through what a typical day might look like for her as a Rohingya refugee child in a camp in Bangladesh.
©2019 World Vision/photo by Jon Warren

Thank you for walking with us through a day in Jannatul’s life. If you would like to make a difference for Jannatul and other refugee children who need our help, please donate today!

The post A day in the life of a Rohingya refugee child appeared first on World Vision.

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Atul Mrong, 42, is deputy operations director of World Vison’s response in Bangladesh. Atul, who grew up in a poor Christian family in Bangladesh, says he feels a connection to the displaced Rohingya. “They remind me of me,” he says. “Our financial situation was not good. I had six sisters. I was the only son. My parents were not educated; they were illiterate. My father could only sign his name.”

One memory stands out. “When I was studying in grade eight,” he says, “the most money I ever received was 10 taka. My mom said I could use it for anything I wanted.” Atul kissed her. He was overjoyed even though 10 taka is just 12 cents. “That memory helps me remember how poor I was,” he says. “As a child,” he says, “I could not even think about what would happen in the future.”

Atul’s life changed when he was sponsored through World Vision. “The sponsor who helped me came into my life as an angel of God,” he says. “From class three to now — my education, tuition, moral education, school fees, tuition — all came from World Vision. They really helped me grow.”

Atul, like many of the refugees living in Bangladesh now, was surprised that someone would invest in him. “The sponsor did not [meet] me,” he says. “He was just looking at my picture,” he says. “Based on that, they trusted me. Out of that trust, they sent generous support. That generosity and confidence in me changed my life.”

What Atul’s sponsor poured into him, he now pours out. “Sponsored children become good people,” he says. “It makes us good employees.” And working for World Vision is different, he says. “It is not just work. It is the call of God. God chose us to work with the vulnerable. It’s a call we must answer.”

The post Former sponsored child now helping lead refugee response in Bangladesh appeared first on World Vision.

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Kindness, dignity, and hope might not be the traits you’d expect to find in a refugee camp. World Vision writer, Kari Costanza, didn’t either. But when she visited the world’s largest refugee camp in Bangladesh, she was surprised by the hope she found there.

Here are five signs of hope she never expected to find among Rohingya refugees.

*     *     *

Some of the world’s hardest stories take place inside refugee camps. They are places of heartbreak populated by people who have run for their lives, often leaving everything behind and losing family members along the way.

I’ve heard devastating stories from Somalian refugees in Dadaab, Kenya, once the world’s largest refugee camp. From Syrian refugees living in Lebanon and Iraqi Christians in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. From refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo living in Rwanda and internally displaced Congolese living near Goma.

The Congolese families near Goma were so frustrated with their lives in the camp — living in leaky huts made from banana leaves, drinking contaminated water that caused diarrhea, and using slingshots to kill birds to cook over an open fire — that toward the end of our visit, they threatened to kill photographer Jon Warren and me. They desperately needed the world to see their hardship and wanted to make a statement. Our translator defused the situation and ran us to a World Vision vehicle, where he shared with us what had happened. I was relieved that we hadn’t been killed, but I also understood why the people living in those conditions would make such a suggestion. Refugee camps are bleak.

That’s why what I found in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, was so surprising: five signs of hope I never expected. Cox’s Bazar is home to 1 million refugees — most of whom identify as Rohingya, a Muslim minority ethnic group — who fled Myanmar beginning in August 2017. It’s now the world’s largest refugee camp. I traveled there in January with Jon Warren to share the story of World Vision’s work in the camp with you.

I was unprepared for what happened next.

Sign of hope #1: A 0% death rate

First, I didn’t expect such success in our malnutrition treatment programs. They have a 0% death rate. Of all the many children treated in World Vision’s prevention and treatment program for acute moderate malnutrition, none have died.

I learned this when I met a mother named Jaheda who brought her daughter, Minara, in for a final treatment at the World Vision nutrition center atop a hill that overlooks thousands of shelters made of bamboo and tarps. Jaheda was pregnant with Minara when they fled extreme violence in Myanmar.

As the family escaped, Jaheda stopped at a stranger’s house to give birth. “A woman helped me,” she says. “By the mercy of God, I had no problem.” But with little food to be had, Jaheda found it difficult to breastfeed her baby.

“Day by day, she was getting tinier,” says the 30-year-old mother. “When I arrived in Bangladesh, she was about to die. People were telling me, ‘Your daughter will not live.’” It was a dark time for Jaheda. “I thought, ‘Am I going to lose my [little girl]’”?

When writer Kari Costanza visited the world’s largest refugee camp in Bangladesh, she was surprised by the hope she found. Learn five signs of hope she never expected to find among refugees.
Minara with her mother. (©2019 World Vision/photo by Jon Warren)

When I met her, I could see that Minara was a different child after 10 visits to a malnutrition prevention and treatment center run by World Vision in partnership with the World Food Program. She was happy, healthy, and playful. The staff were rejoicing at her transformation.

How incredible to work in a program with a 0% death rate. It was 100% inspiring.

Sign of hope #2: An incredible level of industriousness

When my son, Nick, was little, his favorite book was Richard Scarry’s What Do People Do All Day? It was a picture book with illustrations that showed how construction workers, farmers, firefighters, and doctors kept Busytown running.

The camp — or series of about 30 camps — where the refugees live looks like Busytown. All day, men and women work, filling bags with sand and cement that they use to shore up hillsides and carving into the land with shovels to create drainage ditches, roads, bridges, and pathways. I have never seen such industriousness in a refugee camp.

When writer Kari Costanza visited the world’s largest refugee camp in Bangladesh, she was surprised by the hope she found. Learn five signs of hope she never expected to find among refugees.
Short-term jobs for parents who cannot work outside the camps allow them to earn cash to buy food and supplies for their children. (©2019 World Vision/photo by Jon Warren)

World Vision pays them a fair wage to work on these projects and outfits them with orange vests. The money is small — enough to buy a chicken or some fresh fruit — but the work brings a sense of dignity back to lives that have been robbed of so much.

Sign of hope #3: Community kitchens

I’d never seen anything like the 42 community kitchens that World Vision operates in the camps, equipped with gas stoves that refugee women use to cook meals for their families.

Subash Chandranath, a Bangladeshi World Vision staff member, showed me around one of the community kitchens. He makes sure the gas tanks are full and running safely, and he answers the women’s questions.

Does he advise them on how to cook? “No,” he says, with a smile. “They are better cooks than me.”

The women have really bonded, says Shubash. “They talk to each other and share their experiences of Myanmar,” he says. “Sometimes I talk to them. They are very sad to share their stories. They had a life in Myanmar. Now they have nothing.”

Subash does more than equip the kitchen with what it needs to operate. “I comfort them,” he says. “I don’t think of them as refugees. They are our guests. We give them comfort and try to make them feel at home.”

When writer Kari Costanza visited the world’s largest refugee camp in Bangladesh, she was surprised by the hope she found. Learn five signs of hope she never expected to find among refugees.
Subash speaks with Muhcena Akter as she prepares lunch and dinner for her family. (©2019 World Vision/photo by Jon Warren)

I also spoke with Muchena, a 22-year-old, who was sprinkling spices, kept in an old water bottle, over sizzling chicken. The spices — coriander powder, chili peppers, turmeric, and onion — smelled so good.

“I love to cook here,” she says. “Even if I don’t have anything to cook, I come to have fun with other women. It has become a habit now. The kitchen also is like our home.”

Shubash was delighted to hear this. “It is like I am a teacher here,” he says. “They can share their feelings and experiences. After working here, I have become their friend in their happy moments and also in sorrow.”

I didn’t expect to hear laughter in the refugee camp. Those friendships were heartwarming.

Sign of hope #4: “The people in orange”

I’ll be honest. When we first drove into the camp, I was overwhelmed seeing the number of humanitarian organizations working here. It was an assault on my eyes. More than 150 organizations work in the camps, and they are all well color-coded. Blue, red, and orange were everywhere.

“Why is World Vision here? Are we really necessary?” I wondered. It was the first time in almost 25 years of travel to countries where we work that the thought had crossed my mind. I resolved to find out if what we do and how we do it matters to the Rohingya people.

I asked Jaheda, when I met her in the nutrition center, about the World Vision staff. Were they different? “They treat us very well,” she says of the staff wearing orange relief vests. “They talk to us with honor.”

I asked Farjana Faraz Tumpa, 20, a teacher in a Child-Friendly Space where kids go to sing and learn. “At World Vision, everyone is like a brother or sister,” she says. “Other places I’ve worked are not like that. When we make mistakes, they don’t scold us. At World Vision, they talk friendly. They tell us nicely.” I liked that. It’s how I feel about the people I work with, too.

When writer Kari Costanza visited the world’s largest refugee camp in Bangladesh, she was surprised by the hope she found. Learn five signs of hope she never expected to find among refugees.
Farjana helps Jannatul with her drawing. (©2019 World Vision/photo by Jon Warren)

I asked the women in the community kitchens about the World Vision staff. “They are very kind to us and speak well to us,” one of them told me. “They gave us this community kitchen. They say, ‘This is all for you. We are here for you.’”

One of the mothers, Samira, told me that the refugees call World Vision staff, “The people in orange.”

By the end of the trip, I was thankful that orange was everywhere.

Sign of hope #5: Unexpected kindness

When I met Jaheda in the nutrition center, I asked her what she prayed for. She told me that she used to pray that her daughter would live, but her prayer has changed. “I pray that I will not die while Minara is young,” she says.

I was taken aback. I understood what she meant in a new light. I had just learned that I had breast cancer. I’d had a biopsy before the trip, and the results had come in. I had to make the decision to stay or to go home. The doctors felt that a few more days wouldn’t make a difference, so I stayed in Bangladesh to finish the story. It’s a story I’ve wanted to do for a long time. The refugees have been heavy on my heart.

When writer Kari Costanza visited the world’s largest refugee camp in Bangladesh, she was surprised by the hope she found. Learn five signs of hope she never expected to find among refugees.
Writer Kari Costanza at work in the refugee camps in Bangladesh. (©2019 World Vision/photo by Jon Warren)

The Rohingya camp was hot and dusty. The roads to and from the camp were bumpy, and drives were long. I had a constant headache — I think it was due to the tension I was feeling about discovering cancer. And yet, I’m so glad I stayed. Everyone I met in the camp ministered to me. There was always a hand to help me climb a hill and a cold bottle of water waiting for me at the top. In every shelter made of bamboo and tarp, people like Jaheda and Muchena made me feel welcome and as comfortable as possible, despite sitting on hard cement floors. I experienced such kindness from those in the camp and from our World Vision staff.

In the middle of the world’s biggest refugee camp, I realized that there was nowhere I’d rather be — in a place where some of the world’s hardest stories meet some of the world’s kindest hearts.

Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, now hosts the largest refugee camp in the world. About 55% of the refugees are children. You can show God’s love to vulnerable kids and families, like the refugees living in Bangladesh, right where they are. And thanks to public grants, your gift will multiply five times in impact! Donate to support refugees today.

Where have you found signs of hope you didn’t expect? Comment below!

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Alongside a pond in Rwanda once roamed the legendary “Big Five” — lions, leopards, rhinoceros, elephants, and Cape buffalo. But after the 1994 genocide, their home, Rwanda’s Akagera National Park, was sliced in half to make room for returning refugees. The animals were relocated east toward Tanzania to protect them from poaching. Creatures small but even more deadly — bloodsucking parasites, roundworms, and malaria-spreading mosquitoes — now have dominion.

Eight-year-old Esther Gisubizo hates the pond. And she’s reminded daily of her distaste for it — the dirty swamp is her family’s only source of water. Esther and her five sisters, ages 6 to 17, make the trek to the pond several times a day to collect water. They live with their parents, Augustin Hakizimana, 45, and Olive Nirere, 38, in Gatsibo district, a two-hour drive northeast from Kigali, Rwanda’s capital. After the genocide, Augustin and Olive moved back to the district — Olive from refuge in Tanzania and Augustin from the Democratic Republic of the Congo where, as a soldier, he’d lost a finger and suffered a serious bullet wound to the leg.

The family lives in a small, two-room house near the pond, and operate a little shop on the side of the road where they sell passers-by tea and mandazi — small, round doughnuts. At night, they crowd into the house to sleep. The doughnut shop becomes a bedroom.

It’s stagnant water. It doesn’t flow. Feces are in it. When you drink, you know what’s in it.—Augustin, Esther’s father

A crowded evening becomes a crowded morning at the pond, which swells and shrinks according to the season but never dries up because of a dam that now feeds it. “People come from far away on their bicycles,” says Augustin. “There’s no fighting, just a lot of traffic.”

Thousands of people from seven nearby villages trek down the path carrying yellow jerrycans to fill, competing with herds of drinking and defecating cattle. “It’s stagnant water,” says Augustin. “It doesn’t flow. Feces are in it. When you drink, you know what’s in it.”

The cattle lift their shiny black heads at the sound of the water bowsers that come to the pond to pump water they’ll use to mix cement for road and new construction. The advent of electricity in some parts of the district has brought opportunity, creating even more competition for water already in scarce supply.

A wave of fear

“Sometimes we go in the dark in the morning,” says Esther’s 11-year-old sister, Sandrine. The sisters hold hands when they do that — summoning courage to make the trek, each way the length of a football field. Esther and her sisters dread the multiple trips to collect enough water — often six per day.

World Vision is working to bring clean water to communities like this one in Rwanda.
Children wait for cattle to leave the pond before they are able to fetch water. The pond attracts those desperate for water, including animals who defecate there. (©2018 World Vision/photo by Jon Warren)

The pond is brown and swampy. “We are scared to drink the water,” says Irene, 9. “We know there are worms in it.” The snakes scare her, too. “You can see them swimming in the water,” she says.

Esther has suffered the most physical discomfort due to the pond. She was bitten by a bloodsucking parasite that attached itself to her ankle as she collected water one day. “It was very painful,” she says. “She’s usually the funniest and most vigorous of my daughters,” says her father.

But Esther is quiet. Lifeless.

She has malaria, and her skin itches. The pond is so dirty that the girls get scabies from washing in it, and they can never truly be clean. They won’t change clothes after collecting water either if there are no clean clothes to wear. “Sometimes I stay wet,” says Sandrine. “Sometimes I shiver.” Olive shakes her head at the wretchedness of the situation. She too has malaria, her face shiny and countenance weary. “Do we have any choice?” she asks. “What we do is out of desperation.”

World Vision is working in Rwanda to bring clean water to all Rwandans by 2022.
Eight-year-old Esther is weary from malaria. The child, who is often ill, makes a trek to a dirty pond several times a day to collect water. Her family is among the 6 million Rwandans who lack access to safe water. (©2018 World Vision/photo by Jon Warren)

The pond attracts those desperate for water, drawing in those who gather the vital element. Two boys wade out to fetch water, believing that the farther out one wades, the cleaner the water will be. “Please come back,” yells an older woman from the bank. “You may drown.”

Everyone knows she’s thinking of Julius.

A spark extinguished

Julius Tugume was a star. “He was handsome and energetic,” says his aunt, Francisca Mukandamutsa. Francisca, a seamstress, adopted Julius when he was 6. “I took him in to give him a chance,” she says. Julius’ father had died of HIV, and his mother, Francisca’s sister, was unable to care for him. Francisca brought him home after his father’s funeral, and the little boy thrived.

World Vision is working to bring safe, clean water to Francisca's community,
Francisca Mukandamutsa’s nephew, Julius Tugume, a rising star at school, drowned in the pond. Francisca, a seamstress, adopted Julius when he was 6. She was devastated by his death. (©2018 World Vision/photo by Jon Warren)

“His marks were above distinction,” says Edward Sakure Ndahiro, the headmaster of Bihinga School, where Julius attended. “He was a genius.” The 17-year-old had just taken the national exams, scoring 82 percent, a mark so high that when the headmaster reveals the score, one can hear the sharp, surprised intake of his listeners’ breath.

Julius never knew his score. The test results came back after he drowned in the pond. His best friend,

Desire Zigirinshuti, 17, was there on that day in November 2017. The two had been inseparable. “If you ever wanted to know where I was — just find Julius,” says Desire. That day, the boys went to the pond to collect water, Julius went out too far. The pond has a muddy bottom with deep holes. “We didn’t swim, so we couldn’t save him,” he says.

The family lost a good boy, the school lost, the country lost.—Edward, Bihinga School headmaster

“We were very close,” says Julius’ friend, Justin, 15. “He always encouraged me to read. He had a lot of ideas. If he had lived, he would be a dignified person who loves people.” His friend Elise, also 15, adds,

“He used to study hard. He was brighter than all of us. He used to coach us.”

Francisca learned late on that terrible afternoon that Julius had drowned. She was devastated. His friends were devastated. “On his burial date,” she says, “those kids cried until their last breath.” His headmaster, Edward, still grieves. “The family lost a good boy, the school lost, the country lost,” he says.

Julius left behind three best friends when he drowned, Desire, Elise, and Justin (seated left to right). “He died in our sight,” says Elise. “We could not even help.”(©2018 World Vision/photo by Jon Warren)

A deluge of maladies

Families, schools, and countries suffer when people don’t have access to clean water. At the nearby Bihinga Health Center, Patient Munezero, 33, supervises a center with a packed waiting room — mostly women and children wrapped in scarves and clothes to keep warm on a rainy day. The center serves 42,000 people, and Patient says it is always busy. Dirty water is to blame. Seventy percent of the patients have water-related illnesses.

“First of all,” says Patient, “lack of water affects the physical condition of the body. When people don’t have enough water for drinking, they can become dehydrated. That can even cause death.” And when they do drink the water, it’s just as bad. “People get sick with diarrhea, digestive disorders, typhoid, [and] intestinal worms,” he says.

Patient says the snail that bit Esther’s ankle usually bites between the toes or the sole of the foot. “It’s painful,” he says. “If you don’t pull it off, it keeps burrowing to find blood.” Then surgery is required.

From June through September, the health center’s tanks run dry so staff must collect water from the pond — the very source Patient warns people about. “What else can we do?” he asks. “Where else can we go? You can’t have a maternity ward without water.”

A surge of hope

You can’t have a thriving nation without water either. Right now, nearly 6 million of Rwanda’s 11 million people lack access to safe water. That’s why World Vision is thinking big and working with the government to bring clean water to all of Rwanda’s people by 2022 — people like Esther.

It’s an ambitious goal, but it’s attainable for three reasons. First: size. Rwanda is densely populated, but small. One can drive around the country in just a day. Second: scale, as World Vision is the leading nongovernmental provider of clean water in the developing world. And third, there is sustainability.

World Vision organizes communities to advocate for water issues and handle operation and maintenance of the water system so the water keeps flowing after World Vision leaves.

We lost Julius, but if World Vision would do something so that another child like Julius would not die, I will praise God for that.—Francisca, Julius’ aunt

Progress has moved quickly since 2012 when World Vision started its water, sanitation, and hygiene program in Rwanda, installing pipelines to serve thousands of people at a time. Already, more than 300,000 Rwandans have clean water and access to improved sanitation. Another 130,000 have installed hand-washing facilities and improved latrines as a result of World Vision’s behavior change campaigns.

World Vision has the full support of the government to meet its big goals that will serve children like Esther. “Your goals are our goals,” says Prime Minister Edouard Ngirento. “We are working together in a good manner.”

“We lost Julius, but if World Vision would do something so that another child like Julius would not die, I will praise God for that,” says Francisca.

It’s not too late for Esther and her sisters. But their need for clean water is now even more of a priority. In August 2018, Augustin and Olive separated after 18 years of marriage, leaving Olive a single mother. She says their marriage disintegrated after years of strife caused by his drinking. An already challenging life just became even more difficult for the shopkeeper and her six daughters, who are fighting for survival in a small, two-room house alongside a pond in Rwanda.


Ange Gusenga of World Vision’s staff in Rwanda and Jane Sutton-Redner of World Vision’s staff in the United States contributed to this article.

The post The pond of misery in Rwanda appeared first on World Vision.

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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 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


  • 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)


  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 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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