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There are more refugees in the world than ever before. About 24.9 million people have fled their countries because of conflict, violence, persecution, or human rights violations. That’s almost as many people who live in Shanghai, China, the world’s third-largest megacity.

Many more people than that — 68.5 million — have been forcibly displaced from their homes. The previous spike in displacement occurred after World War II when 60 million people were left homeless. Today’s displaced include 3.1 million people who are seeking asylum — refugee status — and 40 million people who are displaced within their own countries because of violence, instability, or natural disasters.

Each year, the United Nations and people around the world recognize the plight of refugees on June 20, World Refugee Day.

Refugees: History and timeline

Displacement has long been a feature of human society since people began organizing national governments. Here are examples of refugee crises:

  • 740 B.C. — Ten of 12 tribes of Israelites are expelled from their homeland by Assyrian conquerors. Read what the Bible says about refugees.
  • 1685 — Protestant French Huguenots flee from state-sanctioned persecution in France.
  • 1914 to 1918 — World War I and its aftermath precipitate massive displacements of populations including Belgians, Serbians, and Armenians.
  • 1920s and 1930sThe League of Nations and International Labor Organization institute a system for identifying refugees and issuing travel documents for them.
  • 1939 to 1945 — About 60 million people are displaced by World War II.

The modern history of refugee crises begins with the post-World War II period:

  • 1950 — The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees is formed to help people displaced by World War II.
  • 1951 — The United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees defines refugees and their rights.
  • 1967 — The Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees expands the scope of the refugee convention beyond European refugees.
  • 1990s — Wars in Bosnia and the former Yugoslavia lead to the displacement of millions of Bosnians and Serbs.
  • 2011 — Civil protests lead to a civil war in Syria, which displaces more than 11 million people, including 5.6 million refugees.
  • 2013 — Civil war breaks out in the young nation of South Sudan, ultimately leading to 2.2 million people fleeing the country as refugees.
  • 2016 — With the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, all 193 U.N. member states recognize the rights of refugees and migrants and pledge to support countries that host them.
  • 2017 — Members of the Rohingya ethnic group flee violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state and relocate to Bangladesh.
  • 2018 — The U.N. General Assembly adopts the Global Compact on Refugees to promote self-reliance for refugees and support the developing countries that host them.
  • 2019Venezuelans leave their county en masse to seek food, work, and a better life in Colombia and other nations.

FAQs: What you need to know about the refugee crisis

Explore frequently asked questions about refugees and learn how you can help.

Fast facts: Refugees

  • 68.5 million people have been forced to flee their homes, more than ever before.
  • Every minute, 30 people are newly displaced.
  • Refugee children are five times more likely to be out of school.
  • 6 million of the 24.9 million refugees live in refugee camps. Others are dispersed in urban areas or in informal settlements.
  • Low- and middle-income countries host more than 85% of the world’s refugees.


What is the definition of a refugee?

Refugees are people who have been forced to flee their home country because of war, persecution, or violence. They must establish a well-founded fear of persecution due to race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social or ethnic group. The 1951 Refugee Convention outlines refugees’ rights, including the right to non-refoulement — not to be returned to a country where she or he may be persecuted. Refugees are civilians, but former soldiers may apply. People who have been convicted of war crimes or crimes against humanity are specifically excluded from refugee protection.


How are refugees different from migrants, asylum-seekers, and internally displaced people?

Refugees flee their country because of credible threats of persecution and because they are not protected by their own country. In contrast, migrants may leave their country for any reason, such as employment, family reunification, or education. A migrant is under the protection of his or her own government, even when abroad, and may return to their country of origin. While refugees are protected by international laws, migrants are subject to the particular laws of the country they move to.

Asylum-seekers are people who’ve applied for protection — refugee status — on arrival in a country besides their own.

Internally displaced people (IDPs) are displaced by conflict, violence, or natural disasters within their own country.


What are the biggest refugee crises in the world?

The Syrian civil war has led to the largest refugee crisis in modern times. Conflicts in South Sudan, Myanmar, and Democratic Republic of the Congo have displaced millions of people in the past few years. Refugee displacements from Afghanistan and Somalia date back decades, and the humanitarian needs continue. Read more about the world’s top refugee crises.

Here are some other countries where masses of people have been displaced either internally or have fled from violence:

  • Iraq — About 1.2 million Iraqis are displaced within the country. Iraq also hosts 250,000 Syrian refugees.
  • Central African Republic — Nearly 600,000 people have fled from violence in Central African Republic and about 650,00 are displaced within the country.
  • Central America —The number of people fleeing violence has increased tenfold in the past five years. Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador have seen a spike in violence from criminal groups within that timeframe.


What rights and obligations do refugees have under international law?

Refugees have the right to safe asylum and not to be returned to possible persecution in their country of origin. According to the 1951 Refugee Convention, they are entitled to the basic rights belonging to any other foreigner in the host country, especially the right to practice their religion, pursue education, and to move about freely. They are required to follow and respect the laws of the country that accepts them.  

Sometimes an influx of refugees is sudden and immense. Refugee camps are set up to provide temporary shelter and safety for them. These are places where aid groups can deliver food, water, and other services. As time goes on, they sometimes become thriving communities. Worldwide, the U.N. estimates less than 30% of refugees live in camps.  


How are children affected by refugee crises?

More than half of the world’s refugees are children. Many have undergone devastating experiences and lost everything familiar to them, including family members and friends. Child refugees from protracted crises, such as the Syrian civil war, may spend all their childhood years in exile from their home country.


How can I help refugees?

Pray  for mothers, fathers, and children who struggle to survive as refugees. 

Give  to World Vision’s refugee crisis fund to help provide for their needs. 


How does World Vision work in refugee contexts? 

In its humanitarian work, World Vision coordinates activities with national governments and other aid organizations to achieve the best outcomes for people affected by crises. Because we have a continuing presence in nearly 100 countries, we are well positioned to meet the needs of displaced people, whether they are in their own country or living as refugees.

Our aid to Syrian refugees, for example, began in Lebanon, where we were already working with Palestinian refugees. Now, World Vision not only helps Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey, we are restoring health services in Syria and helping children return to education there by providing water and sanitation in schools.

In Uganda, which hosts 1.3 million refugees, World Vision provides not just basic necessities, but opportunities to earn and save money. With our help, refugees from South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are able to restart their lives in Uganda and move from dependency to self-reliance. At the same time, World Vision programs in South Sudan and the DRC help families in poverty to recover and avoid displacement.


What is World Vision doing to help refugees? 

In responding to refugee crises around the world, World Vision provides basic supplies refugees need for survival, such as food, clean water, shelter materials, blankets, and household goods. We set up and run Child-Friendly Spaces where children can play, learn, and enjoy normal childhood interactions. Our Infant and Young Child Feeding Centers give refugee moms a private place to breastfeed their babies where they can be screened and treated for malnutrition. Healthcare, livelihoods training, cash-for-work, and educational programs are other features of our work with refugees.

Here are some of the groups of refugees and displaced people that World Vision helps:

Syrian refugees

After eight years of conflict in Syria, there are 5.6 million Syrian refugees. World Vision has helped more than 2 million in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, and Serbia and is also working within Syria 

Rohingya refugees 

World Vision assists refugees from Myanmar in Bangladesh — most of whom identify as members of the Rohingya ethnic group — as well as the host communities that accommodate them. Since the current crisis began in 2017, we have helped about 265,000 people to meet their daily needs.

South Sudanese 

More than 4 million people are displaced because of conflict and hunger in South Sudan, including 2.2 million refugees. Uganda hosts about 800,000 refugees. World Vision helps South Sudanese with emergency food, livelihood training, healthcare, access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene, and educational opportunities.  

Venezuelan migrants

About 3.4 million Venezuelans — 5,000 per day in 2018 — have left the country seeking food, work, and a better life. In Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Brazil, World Vision helps them to start over and to meet their basic needs.   

DRC refugees and displaced people

An estimated 4.5 million people are displaced within the Democratic Republic of the Congo, primarily because of conflict. More than 825,000 from the DRC are refugees or asylum-seekers, and that number is expected to top 1 million during 2019. World Vision carries out relief or development programs in 14 of the DRC’s 26 provinces. Since conflict began in the Kasai region in 2017, we have assisted more than 535,000 affected by the crisis, but our work in the country began in 1984.


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God is with people suffering from disaster — the refugee, the earthquake survivor, the family facing famine. He calls us to follow Him in offering hope to the most vulnerable in their hour of greatest need. Following Jesus’ example, we seek out the lost, injured, and threatened, providing care and protection when it seems all is lost.

I was a stranger and you invited me in.—Matthew 25:35 (NIV)

Growing up in a small fishing village on Thailand’s western coast, Jane Sunari Udomsawat’s family made a living from the sea. But on Dec. 26, 2004, the sea that had provided for the family became an angry foe.

Early that morning, Jane and her father left the house to pick up a relative at a bus terminal about 7 miles inland. Her mother and sister remained home, unaware of the wall of water surging their direction.

Jane and her father were still on the road when they heard about the tsunami’s destruction. They quickly returned home.

“There was nothing left of my house,” Jane says. “Everything was gone with the water.”

Jane’s mother and sister were among the missing. Jane and her father searched for hours, finally collapsing from exhaustion in a temporary shelter. World Vision was there to help them and many others who had nowhere to turn.

But a place to sleep wasn’t all they found. “We saw my mother and sister there,” Jane recalls. “I was very happy.”

Soon, World Vision also provided Jane with a school uniform, shoes, and supplies so she could return to her studies. Jane became a sponsored child, which allows her to do two things that are important to her: grow her leadership skills and remain in school. Jane’s goal is to graduate from college and work for Thailand’s government. Praise God for this!

But not every disaster survivor’s story turns out as well. Join us in prayer for all who find themselves “strangers,” as Jesus calls them in Matthew 25:35.

Show God’s love to the most vulnerable in their hour of greatest need.

Pray for disaster survivors.

Since the middle of the 20th century, recorded disasters have increased fivefold, with the majority stemming from weather-related disasters. By providing rapid assistance to people devastated by natural and man-made disasters, World Vision serves the most vulnerable in their hour of greatest need. People desperately need emergency assistance: food and clean water for basic sustenance, emergency shelter and blankets to keep warm and dry, and emergency health services for people in need of care.

Merciful Counselor, we grieve with communities suffering from disasters and struggling to recover. Speed the restoration of community life so children can feel secure again. Give families the strength and perseverance while they try to rebuild their homes and livelihoods. Let them find refuge in You.

“Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me, for in you I take refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.” —Psalm 57:1 (NIV)

Lilly Rosales wants her 4-month-old son Alex Xavier to grow up in the same house where she grew up and continues to live. But for that to happen, Lilly, her husband, Jose Linares, and the rest of the family will have to rebuild after the damage caused when Hurricane Harvey flooded their home.
Lilly Rosales wants her 4-month-old son, Alex Xavier, to grow up in the same house where she grew up and continues to live. But for that to happen, Jose Linares and the rest of the family will have to rebuild after the damage caused when hurricane Harvey flooded their home. When Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas Aug. 25, 2017, as a Category 4 hurricane, it became the country’s first major — Category 3 or higher — hurricane since Wilma hit Florida in October 2005. It kicked off a historically destructive 2017 storm season for the Caribbean and the southern U.S. World Vision assisted nearly 250,000 people affected by Hurricane Harvey. (©2017 World Vision/photo by Laura Reinhardt)

Pray for international disaster readiness.

Many disasters strike with little or no warning, as the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami demonstrated. That morning, the tsunami traveled at up to 500 mph, radiating across the Indian Ocean before slamming into the coasts of 14 countries. Families had little time to react, much less prepare. So communities all around the Indian Ocean — even to Africa’s shores — experienced widespread destruction and homelessness.

In disasters, World Vision works across all humanitarian sectors to save lives, reduce suffering, and ensure families can begin to rebuild their lives and livelihoods. We also help communities prepare for future disasters, so people and property are safer in the years to come. And for every $1 spent in disaster preparedness, countries save $3 to $4 after disaster strikes.

Almighty God, You know that the hardest hit when disaster strikes are like Jane’s family — people who are poor and have few resources to recover and rebuild. Inspire leaders of the world’s wealthy nations to be ready to participate in disaster responses with compassion and generosity. Help governments invest in disaster risk reduction and preparedness training so their citizens are less vulnerable during emergencies.

“In times of disaster they will not wither; in days of famine they will enjoy plenty.” —Psalm 37:19 (NIV)

Pray for refugees.

The number of people displaced by war, conflict, or persecution is at a record high of 68.5 million, according to the U.N. refugee agency. Some are refugees; others are displaced within their countries’ borders. The refugee crises originating from Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, and Myanmar paint the poignant picture of people fleeing conflicts and extreme poverty.

Good Shepherd, no refugee is a stranger to You, and no one is ever far from Your loving care. Watch over children and families as they travel to refugee camps or relocate within their country. Shelter their souls and their bodies. Heal the hearts of refugees who have endured unimaginable tragedy and trauma.

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” —Psalm 46:1 (NIV)

Pray for peace and stability in countries with ongoing violence.

Violence and insecurity in Syria, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Myanmar, Venezuela, and the Central African Republic have destabilized the lives of millions. Poverty and gang-related violence have created a wave of migration from Central America. Join us in praying for places around the world where peace is in desperately short supply.

Lord of the nations, You tell us in Psalm 34:14 to “Turn from evil, and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” We grieve to see the lives of so many people disrupted by war and violence. This evil kills and maims people, separates families, harms the most vulnerable, and makes poverty a constant companion. We ask You to “make wars to cease from the ends of the earth” (Psalm 46:9) so children and families can enjoy safety and prosperity again.

“He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.” —Psalm 46:9 (NIV)

Syrian refugees in Lebanon affected by a winter storm in January 2019. Children walk through a flooded tent settlement in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. Many Syrian refugees have been flooded out of their shelters and lost all their possessions.
Syrian refugee children walk through a flooded tent settlement in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley after a winter storm in January 2019. Many Syrian refugees have been flooded out of their shelters and lost all of their possessions. The Syria civil war, now in its ninth year, has killed hundreds of thousands of people and forced 11.8 million from their homes. In many cases, children caught up in this crisis have fared the worst, losing parents or friends to the violence, suffering physical and psychological trauma, or falling years behind in school. (©2019 World Vision/photo by George Mghames)

Pray for children in difficult places.

Refugees and disaster survivors are caught in difficult circumstances, and the most vulnerable people among them are children. World Vision’s disaster relief programs give priority to children and empower them — together with their families and communities — to become active participants in improving their well-being. World Vision operates Child-Friendly Spaces: havens that allow children to play, draw, sing, and share their feelings; be safe from physical danger and the evil of trafficking; engage in nonformal education; learn resilience and life skills needed for adapting to their new environment; and return to or maintain a normal routine.

Loving Provider, we echo the psalmist’s confidence, “For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help” (Psalm 72:12). Hear and answer girls’ and boys’ cries for help. Let aid distributions reach children and families who need it most. In Your mercy, provide families with what they need to survive.

“For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death. He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight.” —Psalm 72:12-14 (NIV)

Pray for children separated from parents and family or who have lost loved ones.

In the confusion of conflict, some children become separated from parents and family. Others are sent with friends or extended family in search of better conditions. Still, others witness or experience the death of parents or siblings and are left all alone. Losing family members — especially parents — leaves lifelong scars. These boys and girls are more vulnerable to abuse, labor, exploitation, and trafficking. Pray that God will continue to walk alongside each child and give them hope for the future.

Compassionate Father, we ask that You keep all separated children safe from any kind of abuse. Help children to reunite with their parents and family soon. Turn the hearts of people bent toward evil so they treat vulnerable boys and girls with dignity and respect. Be a Shepherd to children who are missing their parents and grieving a great loss. Heal them, provide for them, and let them know Your peace that surpasses understanding and Your love that surrounds them each day.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” —Matthew 5:4 (NIV)

Acheng feeds her 18-month-old son, Garang, a pouch of ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) at a center in Juba, the capital of South Sudan. The toddler has struggled with tuberculosis and malnutrition as the country suffers widespread food shortages due to conflict. (©2017 World Vision/photo by Stephanie Glinski)

Pray for children’s health.

In low-income nations, children younger than 5 are already at heightened risk for malnutrition, diarrheal diseases, and pneumonia brought on by contaminated water, reduced food supplies, and inadequate shelter. After a disaster, children not in organized settlements may miss important vaccinations, putting them further at risk for preventable diseases. All children in tents or makeshift shelter face winter and summer weather extremes. Many displaced children do not have access to medicines or clinics if they fall ill.

Great Physician, we ask that You protect girls and boys from illness and heal children who have fallen ill. Help their little bodies fight off sickness and disease. Allow medical help to reach children who need it most. Help parents and caretakers find appropriate shelter for all who need it.

“Disaster follows disaster; the whole land lies in ruins. In an instant my tents are destroyed, my shelter in a moment.” —Jeremiah 4:20 (NIV)

Pray for children’s education.

Children on the move or in temporary housing often miss out on their education. Children not in their home countries usually can’t afford school or don’t understand lessons taught in another language. Girls and boys displaced in their own countries may not have access to proper classes or enough teachers in temporary settlements. And the average displacement now lasts more than five years — about one-half of a child’s school years.

Heavenly Father, You placed in children a curiosity about their world. This spark is what ignites learning. We ask You to make a way for every displaced girl and boy to restart school and make up for the lessons they missed. Help them gain the knowledge they need to reach the goals they have for the future. And give teachers the training to help these students regain what they may have lost.

“For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.” —Proverbs 2:6 (NIV)

Survivor of 2018 Lombok Indonesia earthquake, a woman sits inside a temporary shelter after the August 2018 earthquake and aftershocks
A woman sits inside a temporary shelter after the August 2018 earthquake and aftershocks in Lombok, Indonesia. Indonesians in Java and Sumatra experienced earthquakes in April and July 2018, but the most damaging quakes of 2018 occurred later on Lombok island and in Central Sulawesi. The strongest of those quakes was a magnitude 6.9 on Aug. 5. More than 500 people were killed, and nearly 1,500 were injured. Earthquakes greater than magnitude 6 occur almost yearly in Indonesia. (©2018 World Vision/photo by Petry Purenia)

Pray for World Vision and its partners’ response.

In 2018 alone, World Vision assisted more than 16 million survivors of 143 emergencies in 44 countries, including the United States. World Vision has highly trained experts to respond to catastrophes. But this critical work is only possible because of the faithfulness of World Vision’s donors and partners, who provide the resources essential for this kind of response.

Dear Lord, thank You for donors and partners who faithfully support World Vision’s relief work around the world. Continue to equip World Vision and other organizations whose staffs work tirelessly during disasters, providing life’s essentials to meet urgent needs. Equip and inspire aid workers when they are exhausted so they can continue to help families recover and rebuild. Let support for refugees and disaster survivors never dwindle.

“For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.” —Isaiah 41:13 (NIV)

Denise C. Koenig of World Vision’s staff in the U.S. and Paiwan Benjakul of World Vision’s staff in Thailand contributed to this article.

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By Haven Campbell

Organ trafficking is a particularly insidious form of human trafficking that has been largely absent from the activities of anti-trafficking groups and initiatives. Although data on illicit large-scale activities is difficult to ascertain, it is estimated that trafficked organs comprise between 5 and 10 percent of kidney transplants annually. Despite the immense scale of organ trafficking, it is a topic shrouded in mystery and befuddled by sensationalist media depictions and macabre folklore.

Global Demand

The global demand for organs far exceeds the global supply. Despite the transplantation of almost 107,000 organs annually, this satiates merely 10 percent of global demand. Trafficking in organs, tissues, and cells, as well as trafficking people in order to remove and sell their organs, have become an organized criminal enterprise that seeks to fill this gap in organ supply. Adults in nations across the Global South, economically constrained by poverty, lack of job opportunities, and environmental degradation, are persuaded to sell their kidney or part of their liver. Often, organ traffickers and brokers make enormous profits but give the organ donor little or no compensation. In other cases, people will awaken from a surgery to find that their kidney had been removed as well without their consent.

Patterns of organ trafficking follow colonial patterns of wealth distribution and reinforce the existing inequalities between the Global North and South. Wealthy patients from nations across Europe and North America, in addition to other capitalist enclaves, travel abroad to purchase organs from impoverished donors, many from India and China.

The case of organ trafficking in China is uniquely problematic due to their extensive usage of executed prisoners for organs. Shockingly, in 2006, the Chinese government publicly acknowledged the issue of organ trafficking in its nation, as the Deputy Minister of Health, Huang Jie-Fu confessed that 95 percent of organs used for transplantation in China were harvested from executed prisoners. What is worse is that the Chinese government has admitted to controlling and profiting off of this organ trafficking system.

International Response

In response to international condemnation, in May of 2007, the State Council of the Chinese national government explicitly banned the sale of organs, but this ban failed to extend to other commercialized body parts, such as corneas, bone marrow, or transplantable tissues. Henceforth, organs were to only be donated by adults above age 18 to those within their family, and transplant tourism was criminalized. Physicians and hospitals who were found to be complicit within organ trafficking networks faced austere repercussions, and only a few hospitals retained authorization to conduct transplants, resulting in a drastic reduction in the number of liver transplants performed in China.

Although the amount of deceased organ donors (from prisoners) decreased following this law, organ traffickers and middlemen simply falsified paperwork indicating that the person selling their organ was a relative of the organ recipient, which markedly increased the percentage of living transplant donors. Despite the creation of a virtual registry for organ donors and recipients, legislative steps, and public opprobrium, the harvesting of prisoner’s organs is still pervasive, profitable, and shrouded in relative secrecy.


Considering the cultural importance ascribed to reputation and social harmony in China, its besmirched reputation in regards to human rights may help ignite positive reforms, as a nation’s reputation can certainly influence its international trade and political relations. According to human rights activists, scholars, journalists, and Chinese dissidents, those most likely to face capital punishment and organ harvesting are those with minimal political or social influence and no economic leverage to bribe their way to safety. Moreover, tens of thousands of practitioners of Falun Gong, a spiritual movement established in 1992, have been targeted for censure, arrest, execution, and organ harvesting by the Chinese government, who denounces Falun Gong as an evil religion against the government.

Although the illicit, dispersed, global nature of organ trafficking makes it difficult to address, it is not a hopeless cause and steps can be taken to potentially curtain this insidious human rights violation. Educational programs should be instituted that encourage deceased organ donation. Doctors and other hospital staff must be educated about signs of an illicitly-harvested organ so that they can refuse to participate in this practice. A combination of political, medical, media, and public advocacy, in combination with educational and accountability programs to reduce the need for living organ donors and monitor transplants, could collectively reduce the harm incurred by organ trafficking.


Edited by Cecily Bacon, Director of Research and Projects

Photo Credit: flickr

About the Human Trafficking Center

The Human Trafficking Center, housed in the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies, is the only two-year, graduate-level, professional-training degree in human trafficking in the United States. One way graduate students contribute to the study of human trafficking is by publishing research-based blogs. The HTC was founded in 2002 to apply sound research and reliable methodology to the field of human trafficking research and advocacy.

Founded in 1964, the Josef Korbel School of International Studies is one of the world’s leading schools for the study of international relations. The School offers degree programs in international affairs and is named in honor of its founder and first dean, Josef Korbel.


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Summer break. For 10 months a year, your family is regimented by the school schedule. So how do you make family time count each summer, whether it seems like forever or flies by? How do you engage the “I’m bored” kids? How do you carve out quality time with busy kids between camps? How do you intentionally make summer fun for your family?

We’ve compiled 10 fun games your family can play that help kids learn how to pay it forward and give them the confidence that they are never too young to change the world:

  1. Water walk — learn what it takes to get water for your basic needs
  2. Color spray dodgeball — spend some time enjoying all the colors God made in the world
  3. Food find — learn about the causes of hunger and interesting solutions to food shortages
  4. Quick escape — see what choices you’d make if you were a refugee
  5. Soup share — see how sharing and working together make us greater than the needs we all face
  6. Birthday survival — learn about the special health challenges for kids younger than 5
  7. Hard day’s work — learn how some kids have to work instead of go to school
  8. Gift giving — learn how unique gifts make a special difference for the giver and receiver
  9. Choice dare — learn about the choices children in poverty have to make
  10. Toy build — learn how kids without toys make their own and how you can too

1. Water walk

Water is used in many more ways than we even realize. The average American family uses more than 300 gallons of water per day at home. Think of the ways we use water:

  • Teeth brushing: 1 gallon
  • Flushing the toilet: 2 gallons
  • Shower: 5 gallons per minute
  • Dishwasher: 6 gallons
  • Drinking water: 1/2 gallon per person

Water is fundamental to life. What if our access to clean water was cut off? Imagine all the ways our daily routines would change. How much water does your family use? How many times would you have to go to the river or waterhole to get dirty water? The risks are huge — every day nearly 1,000 children die from diarrhea due to poor water, sanitation, and hygiene. But what is a mother to do if she has no alternative to dirty water?

Learn what it takes to get water for your basic needs. Play outside if possible. If you need to play inside, use a non-carpeted room, put down towels, and have a mop on hand to clean up spilled water. Expect to get wet! What you’ll need:

  • 2 buckets (or large mixing bowls)
  • 2 large sponges (or plastic cups)
  • Towels

Play the game

Place the buckets about 15 feet apart. One bucket is “home” and the other is the “watering hole” where you get the water. Your goal (either as one team or divide into teams and make it a race; just double your materials) is to bring water home from the watering hole — by carrying it in a sponge on your head, with no hands!

Place the empty sponge on your head at home and walk to the watering hole. At the watering hole, take the sponge off your head, put it in the bucket, and let it soak up as much water as it can. Then put the full sponge on top of your head, remove your hands, and walk back home. Squeeze the water from the sponge into the bucket using your hands and give the sponge to the next person, who will repeat the steps. This will continue until the watering hole bucket is empty!

If at any time the sponge falls off your head, return to the line you left and start over. If you drop it on the way to the watering hole, you’ll start back at home. If you drop it on your way home, you’ll start back at the watering hole.

Play it forward: What did you learn?

How long did it take you to get all the water home? How do you think life would change for someone who went from traveling hours each day to a watering hole to instead having easy access to plentiful, pure water? Watch Cheru’s story:


Now use what you learned playing the game to pay it forward. Look for water walks in your city or start one yourself! World Vision hosts the annual Global 6K for Water each spring. Six kilometers is the average distance people in the developing world walk for waterwhich is often contaminated with life-threatening diseases. This year, more than 52,000 people in 22 countries walked for water so children around the world don’t have to.

You can also host a lemonade stand like Tyler did with fresh, clean water to raise funds for kids who don’t have water.


2. Color spray dodgeball

Imagine waking up one morning to discover that all the color in the world had disappeared. Everything would be black, white, and shades of gray. What colors would you miss the most? We are going to celebrate the vibrant colors within God’s creation by having a colorful game of water balloon dodgeball! What you’ll need:

  • 2 large buckets or bowls
  • Small water balloons
  • Cold water
  • Cornstarch
  • Neon food coloring
  • Spray bottle(s)
  • A rope or ribbon to make a long line in the grass
  • Colorful fruits, vegetables, and juices for snacks

Play the game

Play outside and wear clothes you don’t mind getting dirty. You can prepare the colorful water balloons ahead of time or make this a part of the activity with your kids. Here’s how to make them:

  1. Combine 2 cups cold water, ¾ cup corn starch, and 10 drops of one color of food coloring in a saucepan.
  2. Heat over medium heat, stir constantly, and stop as soon as the liquid begins to thicken (you don’t want it to get too thick!).
  3. Add the liquid to a spray bottle. Attach a balloon to the nozzle of the bottle, and squirt the liquid into the balloons until full.
  4. Repeat with other colors until you have the desired amount of water balloons.

Outside, place a rope or ribbon across the yard to divide it into two sides. Divide into two teams, and give each team the same number of water balloons. Count to three and yell, “GO!” All the team members race to the line and throw balloons at their opponents.

Play for fun, or play to win: If someone gets doused with color, they’re out. If the balloon hits them and does not break, the thrower is out. The team that survives the longest wins.

Play it forward: What did you learn?

After the game, gather for snacks and refreshment, and take some time to talk about the game.

Color is such a beautiful blessing. How do you think your day-to-day life would be different if you did, in fact, wake up one day to a world without color? How would you rely on your other senses to make up for the lack of color?

In the beginning, God had a blank canvas before him. He could have created a colorless world — or even a world with only a couple of colors in it. But he didn’t! His love of color is written on the petals of flowers, the blue of the sky, and the skin of all people across the world. Why do you think he did this? If colors are from God, and God is good, is there such a thing as a bad color?

What’s next? Find a color run near you, raise funds, and donate them to your favorite charity. You can also bless your loved ones with the gift of color by painting them a picture, giving them a hand-picked bouquet of flowers, or cooking for them a beautiful, colorful meal, utilizing colorful produce and spices available at the local market.


3. Food find

The world produces enough food for everyone to have enough. Yet, 1 in 8 people in the world does not have enough to eat. Why?

Some people can’t grow enough food. Many poor farmers are unable to grow enough food to feed their own families. Sometimes it’s because they don’t have the money to buy good seeds. Sometimes it’s the weather — not enough rain or too much rain can ruin gardens and crops they’ve planted. Sometimes it’s because disease harms the crops they are trying to grow. Sometimes it’s because they may grow enough food for part of the year but lack safe storage to save food for the cold or dry seasons when they can’t grow food.

People who don’t grow their own food often go hungry because they lack the money to buy food. And nutritious food is more expensive than unhealthy, processed food.

Learn why it is hard for some kids to get enough food to eat. You’ll need 3 to 5 food items you will hide for each child playing to find, i.e. banana, apple, orange, ear of corn, carrot, bag of rice, bread in a sandwich bag, etc.

Play the game

(Hide all the food items before you start the game.)

Tell your kids the number of food items you’ve hidden, and give them a time limit to find them based on their age and how well you’ve hidden the items! After they find them all, come back together.

Play it forward: What did you learn?

Sit down for a discussion with your kids: How did you feel when you found the hidden food? Was it easy or hard? Think about the last time you were hungry. What happens to you when you’re hungry? Do you ever get “hangry?”

Then learn more about how World Vision is fighting hunger around the world, and consider making a donation to help.

You can also learn more about how local organizations are helping hungry people in your community. Find out what your local food bank needs, and add those items to your grocery list this weekend. Or provide a donation for a family food kit that will feed a family in the U.S.


4. Quick escape

The goal of this game is to differentiate between wants and needs, as well as imagine the choices refugees make. What you’ll need:

  • A representative item for each item on the packing list
  • Backpacks or bag big enough for all items on the packing list

Play the game

Mission Control has discovered a new planet, and our family gets to go! Close your eyes for a minute and imagine: How will we get there, what will it look like, and who will we meet? Okay, open your eyes. What’s similar and what’s different about what each of us imagined? Now let’s pack our 15 items to bring:

  1. Food
  2. Candy
  3. Water
  4. Music
  5. Movies
  6. Books
  7. Toys and sports equipment
  8. Money
  9. Clothing
  10. Clean air
  11. Bed
  12. Medicine
  13. Family
  14. Computer
  15. Phone

Wait! Mission Control has just limited our cargo space to 10 items. What do we want to take and what do we need to take? Take out five items.

Uh-oh. An emergency announcement just came through that there is even less space available. We can only take seven items. Take out three more items.

We should now have only the items that are essential for survival. What do you think? What was easy about choosing what to leave behind? What was harder?

Play it forward: What did you learn?

Discuss the difference between want and need. What does a person truly need to survive? What would you take if you had to leave your home because war broke out and it was too dangerous to stay? Millions of families have had to make that choice. They are called refugees.

What do you know about refugees? Learn more about the Syrian refugee crisis and watch this video about a family making decisions about what they would take with them.


Prayer matters. Here are some prayer ideas:

  • Heavenly Father, help refugee families get the food, water, and medicine they need. Protect them from the fighting around them.
  • Prince of Peace, take care of refugee children. Help them find safe homes and access to school. Help their parents find jobs to take care of them. Heal them of scary memories.

Your kids can also give part of what they earn from this week’s allowance or chores (or see how much they can earn to donate) to help people in tough situations around the world:


5. Soup share

Sometimes we all, especially children, feel like we can’t make a difference with the little we have. We hesitate to share what we have because we think we’ll lose. But even the smallest of contributions together multiply so everyone gets more back than what they contributed. Learn about the importance of sharing and contributing to the greater good through this story about stone soup — and learn how to make it! What you’ll need to feed six to eight people:

  • Large pot
  • 3 medium-sized stones, washed clean
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 medium leeks or 2 onions (chopped)
  • 2 cups carrots (peeled, chopped)
  • 2 cups potatoes (peeled, diced)
  • 2 cups green beans
  • 2 cups corn
  • 2 quarts chicken or vegetable broth
  • 4 cups tomatoes (peeled, seeded)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ¼ cup fresh parsley (chopped)
  • Salt and pepper

Play the game

Read the following story about stone soup.

Three travelers walked slowly down a road in a strange country. They were tired and hungry. They had eaten nothing for two days.

“I would like a good dinner tonight,” said the first. “And a bed to sleep in,” added the second. “But that is impossible,” said the third.

Soon they saw a village. “Maybe we’ll find a bite to eat and a bed to sleep in,” they thought.

When the villagers heard that three strangers were coming, they were worried. “Here come three strangers,” they said. “Strangers are always hungry. But we have so little for ourselves.” So, they hid all their food.

The travelers stopped at a house. “Good evening,” one said. “Could you spare a bit of food?” one asked. “And do you have a corner where we could sleep for the night?”

“Oh, no,” the man lied. “We have nothing to share.” Then the woman lied, “And our beds are full.” At each house, the response was the same.

The travelers talked together. The first one called out, “Good people! We are three hungry visitors in a strange land. We have asked you for food, and you have no food. Well, we will have to make stone soup.” The villagers stared.

The travelers asked for a big iron pot, water to fill it, a fire to heat it, and three stones. They dropped the stones into the pot.

[Take out the pot and drop in the stones.]

“Any soup needs salt and pepper,” the first one said, so some children ran to fetch salt and pepper. “Stones make good soup, but carrots would make it so much better,” the second traveler added. A woman replied, “Why, I think I have a carrot or two!” She ran to get the carrots. “A good stone soup should have some potatoes,” said the third traveler. Another woman said, “I think I can find some potatoes.” And off she went. The travelers said, “If only we had a bit of barley, this soup would be fit for a king!” And so another villager found some barley.

“The soup is ready,” said the travelers. Tables were set up in the square, and all sat down to eat.

Never had there been such a feast. Never had anyone tasted such delicious soup made from stones! The mayor offered beds at his home for the travelers. In the morning, the villagers gathered to say goodbye. “Many thanks to you,” the people said, “for we shall never go hungry now that you have taught us how to make soup from stones!”

Now let’s finish making our stone soup! (Feel free to remove the stones first.) Heat the olive oil. Once hot, add the leeks and a pinch of salt and cook until soft, approximately 7 minutes. Add the carrots, potatoes, and green beans and cook for 5 more minutes. Add the broth and bay leaf. Increase the heat to high, and bring to a simmer. Then add tomatoes, corn, and pepper. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook until the vegetables are tender, approximately 30 minutes. Remove from heat and add the parsley. Season, to taste, with salt. Serve.

Play it forward: What did you learn?

Why did you each of you like or dislike the story? What made the soup taste good? How did the villagers change while the soup was cooking? What is the story’s message? Why is sharing important — and what happens when people don’t share?

Read John 6:5-13, the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 with the loaves and fishes offered by a little boy. What happened when the little boy shared what he had? How did Jesus use the boy’s gift? How do you think the boy felt when he saw so many people fed because he shared?

Then brainstorm ideas on how you can share this week. What about volunteering as a family to feed people in need at a local shelter or soup kitchen? Or making your favorite cookies and giving them to a neighbor or friends at church with a homemade card or drawing?


6. Birthday survival

You are about to play a game of survival. You are a child younger than 5 in a country somewhere in the world. Maybe you’re lucky and live in a country where there is good healthcare, schools, and your parents have jobs. Maybe you’re not so lucky because disease threatens your health. Maybe you’re an orphan who has to work instead of going to school. Pick out a country ID card (download here). Read it to yourself, carefully. Based on the descriptions on your card, you will take steps toward good health and survival or backward to illness and possibly death. The goal of this game is to understand the factors that affect child health and survive to your fifth birthday. What you’ll need:

Mark a starting line across the middle of the room with masking tape. The line must be long enough for all participants to stand in a single row. Take 10 steps forward from the start line, create a second line, and label it “Healthy at 5.” Take nine steps back from the start line and create a third line, labeling it “Sick at 5.”

Play the game

Give each of your kids a role-play card. Find their countries on the world map. Then have them line up along the start line facing toward the “Healthy at 5” line. Read through the following descriptions and prompts, one at a time, allowing your kids to respond according to their respective card descriptions:

Birth weight: In poor countries, pregnant women don’t get enough food or healthcare to have healthy babies. A child born underweight will struggle to develop strong bones and muscles. Their immune system will be too weak to fight off disease, and they may have learning difficulties later in life. Take one step forward if you were born at a healthy weight. Take one step back if you weren’t.

Healthcare: Access to a doctor means is crucial when you’re sick or have hurt yourself. Shots, or vaccinations, protect you against preventable diseases like measles and polio. In poor areas, there are usually too few doctors, or, if there is one, many people are too poor to pay to see a doctor. Take one step forward if you’ve had your shots. Take one step back if you have not.

Food: Food and proper nutrition are important to stay healthy. Good-quality food helps you grow strong. Living here in the U.S., we have lots of high-quality food. But in many countries, children eat only one or two meals a day or go for days without eating because food is expensive and hard to find. Take one step forward if you get three meals a day. Take one step back if you eat less and are too hungry to play.

Water, sanitation, and hygiene: The United States has good water and sewer systems. Some people around the world do not have access to safe, clean water or toilets or water treatment systems. Their drinking water has dangerous parasites and bacteria that cause disease and diarrhea, a leading cause of death in children younger than 5. Take one step forward if you drink clean water from a tap. Take one step back if this is what you lack. Take one step forward if there’s a toilet in your home. Take one step back if you are forced to roam.

Education: In the United States, school is free. But many kids around the world can’t attend school because they have to work or their parents can’t afford to pay tuition. Kids who attend school are more likely to be healthy and able to get better jobs in the future. Take one step forward if your days are spent in school. Take one step back if this is not the rule.

Malaria: Malaria is a serious and sometimes deadly disease carried by certain types of mosquitoes. It is a leading cause of death worldwide, but we don’t have a risk of malaria here in the United States. Mosquito bed nets treated with special chemicals are inexpensive and effective in preventing mosquito bites. Take one step forward if you have a mosquito net. Take one step back if this is something you didn’t get.

Employment: Parents who work can buy nutritious food and pay for medical bills and school costs. Children of unemployed parents may get poor-quality nutrition and may not get the healthcare they need. These children are also more likely to work instead of going to school. Take one step forward if one or both parents work for your daily bread. Take one step back if you or your siblings work instead.

We now reached the end of the game! If you reached the “Healthy at 5” line, you are healthy and survived to your 5th birthday. If you did not, you are closer to illness and death. If you’re in the middle, you survived your first five years but may have health problems as you grow older. If you’re at the “Sick at 5” line, you are at greatest risk of dying.

Play it forward: What did you learn?

What surprised you most during this activity? What was the biggest challenge to your health? How do you feel about children who were healthier than you or those who died before age 5? How would you help children who were less healthy than you? What would you say to them? What do they need?

Now invite everyone to join you in prayer for the hungry and a time to consider action. Pray that all countries will work toward the common good of children and that one day no child will go without food, shelter, medical care, or education.

You can also brainstorm ways your family can improve the lives of children, such as volunteering at a school, homeless shelter, or at your church’s nursery on Sunday, visiting patients at your local children’s hospital, or sponsoring a child in another country.


7. Hard day’s work

The daily chores of children around the world can look pretty different depending on where they live. Many tackle arduous and labor-intensive tasks simply to have clean water to drink, food to eat, and clean clothes to wear in the morning. Let’s discover what it might feel like to be one of these children, walking through their daily chores, one by one. This activity is best done on a family camping trip or a visit to a park. What you’ll need:

  • 1 bucket per person (2+ gallons)
  • Water filter or water purifier, if available
  • 1 camping pot
  • Potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks (optional: other ingredients you’d need for mashed potatoes or potato salad recipe)
  • Matches
  • Bar of soap
  • Dirty T-shirts
  • Stones for scrubbing clothes
  • String for line-drying clothes

Play the game

Have each participant take an empty bucket. Walk to the nearest natural water source (if unavailable, use tap water, but try to choose a source that’s not too close). Carry full buckets of water back.

In the campgrounds or the surrounding area, look for scraps of dry wood to use for firewood and bring them back to the campsite. Remember to collect both small tinder — like dry grass, twigs, or pine cones — and larger kindling, like branches and logs.

Build a campfire using the collected wood and matches in the campground fire pit (parental supervision advised).

Fill a large camping pot with some of the collected water and place it over the established campfire. Heat the water to a rolling boil and boil for 2 to 3 minutes. Allow water to cool.

Use the now-purified water to wash dirty T-shirts. Scrub the shirts with some water, soap, and stones until clean. Rinse with clean water. Hang the string between two trees (or other sturdy objects). Then hang the clothes on the string to line-dry.

Bring another pot of water to boil. After bringing the water to a rolling boil for 2 to 3 minutes (lots of bubbles rising to the top!), add the potato chunks and boil for about 15 minutes. Make them into mashed potatoes or a potato salad for your family to eat.

Play it forward: What did you learn?

How long did it take to accomplish all of these chores? Can you imagine doing this on a daily basis? How would these labor- and time-intensive chores impact your ability to play, go to school, and spend time with loved ones if you had to do them regularly?

“Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” —1 John 3:18

How could you show the love of Christ by helping others meet their daily needs? Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Offer to help an elderly friend, neighbor, or single parent for free. Would they like you to weed their garden or mow their lawn? Ask them what would be most helpful.
  • Organize a car wash with your church or small group and use the proceeds to help children around the world have a childhood.


8. Gift giving

Behind every item in our home are the hands of others — people who use their knowledge and talents to produce the things we need, as well as all the people in between who get these items to us. How would your life change if everyone stopped using their God-given talents? Where would we get the things we need, like clean water, our stove, or our produce?

Discover the abundance of gifts within your home — and within you. What you’ll need:

  • A glass of water
  • A fruit/vegetable
  • A book
  • A loaf of bread
  • A shoe
  • Pen and paper

Play the game

Place the items on the table in front of your children, and give each child a pen and paper to write on.

Ask them to write down how people were involved in the making of each item. What talents, tools, or knowledge were required for them to be able to create each item? In what way do they depend on the talents and knowledge of other people? Where did they learn how to create these things?

Once they’ve finished, ask them to share and discuss their answers.

Next, ask them to go and pick out their favorite possession — a toy, book, instrument, hat, ball, etc. Ask them to do the same thing with these items. Ask how they would feel if the makers behind these items didn’t use their God-given talents to create them.

Play it forward: What did you learn?

To survive and thrive on a daily basis, we depend on the outpouring of other people’s gifts. People are making and creating throughout the world, for the world — and it is good! In James 1:17, we learn that “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (NIV). It is important for us to recognize that there are hands and hearts behind the items we use daily.

God, the ultimate gift-giver, created each of us with a unique set of talents, passions, and abilities. Do you love to draw or dance? Are you great at soccer or basketball? How could you use your strengths to help others? Ideas:

  • Host a sports day at the local park. Invite your friends and their younger siblings, and work together to teach the younger children how to play a sport (or dance!).
  • Make something (cards, bracelets, cookies, lemonade) and sell it to your friends, neighbors, or church community. Donate the proceeds to a charity of your choosing.


9. Choice dare

Children living in poverty often have to make choices that are very different than the ones we make every day. They might not have very good options to choose from. Their circumstances can be very difficult. They might not have clean water or toilets. They might not be able to see a doctor, even if they really need it. They might not have time to play because they have to work so hard to survive.

Learn about the choices children in poverty have to make. What you’ll need:

  • A piece of paper
  • A marker

Play the game

Read your children this story:

Guha is a 7-year-old boy who lives in a remote, mountain village in China. It’s very cold in the winter, and his two sisters have to walk 20 minutes to school every day. They have to cross three rivers, but one bridge has collapsed, so they have to jump across on rocks. If the water level is too high, they can’t get to school. When he’s 12, Guha will have to go to school 1.5 hours away. He’ll have to live there because it’s too far to walk every day.

People in Guha’s village have to walk a long way to collect water from a stream. The village has no proper toilets.

Guha and his sisters share a lunch of cold potatoes and rice at school, even though it’s cold outside. When he gets home, Guha starts a fire, collects water, feeds the chickens and pigs, and takes care of the horse, which is his favorite chore. He wants to be a teacher when he grows up.

Now draw two big, overlapping circles on the piece of paper so that they nearly fill the entire page. You or your kids should label one with their names and another with Guha’s name.

In Guha’s circle, write down choices Guha makes every day. (Example: Is it safe enough to cross the river?)

In your children’s circle, have them explain the choices they make every day. (Example: What will I do after school?)

Then, in the overlapping area, write down any choices they both make. (Example: Am I going to be kind? When should I do my homework?)

Play it forward: What did you learn?

Some choices are big and have an effect on other people — for good or bad. For example, choosing to not wash your hands could share germs that could get someone else sick. But choosing to be kind could make someone’s day. What are some good choices you could make that would have a positive effect on children like Guha? Let’s come up with a list of ideas, then choose one to do this week.


10. Toy build

Most kids living in poverty don’t have many toys, but that doesn’t stop them from playing. They make toys out of what they find. The goal of this game is to be grateful for what you have. What you’ll need:

  • 10 items picked by your kids from around your house or outside (that aren’t toys)
  • Tape
  • Scissors
  • Markers

Play the game

Gather 10 items you can recycle from around your house or outside that aren’t toys, i.e. plastic bags, empty paper towel rolls, empty milk cartons, cardboard boxes.

Once you’ve gathered your supplies, ask your kids: How many toys do you have? Do you think you have enough toys? How many toys did you ask for last Christmas or on your birthday?

Then brainstorm together: How many toys can you make out of them? What kinds of new games can you make with them?

Need inspiration? See what other kids around the world do for toys or try this tutorial for making a soccer ball.

Play it forward: What did you learn?

Creating your own toys means you activated your creativity. Building them took cooperation. What special talents do you see in your family? Take turns telling everyone in your family what talents you appreciate about them. Then take a minute to think of five things you are grateful for, and share them with your family.

Pay it forward by helping your kids clean out their toys and donate the ones they don’t use anymore to Goodwill. You can also donate to give soccer balls and new toys to kids who don’t have them.

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” —1 Thessalonians 5:16-18


Kids who changed the world — and themselves

Think your family can’t change the world? Think again. Real stories:

Some of these kids’ efforts may seem extraordinary. But they aren’t any different from your family. They took the time to learn about needs in the world, made a plan, and made it happen.

The post 10 fun family activities to play it forward appeared first on World Vision.