January 22, 2013
The Relief International team recently received this “note from the field” from a camp meeting in the Zam Zam Refugee Camp in Darfur, Sudan, where RI is helping women and families rebuild their livelihoods.
During a meeting of our staff and some members of the community in Zam Zam, the topic of the most important and basic needs of the people came up. This topic spurred a heated and passionate discussion among many of the women in Zam Zam. As they all sat in a circle, with enthusiasm, our staff member started jotting down notes as the women voiced their requests and their concerns about their community’s future.
Together, Relief International and the women of the Zam Zam Camp outlined these basic needs for us to take note of. Simply glancing at their needs, we are humbled.
Some of these basic requests are things that we take for granted as they are readily available to us here at home. Everyone in the world should have the right to these basic necessities. We share this list with you to highlight the resilience and strength of these women.
The note reads (translated from Arabic to the best of our capacity):
“In the name of God the Merciful”
“Demands of newly displaced people from the area of “immigrants” to the Zam Zam Camp”
“1 - Widening the narrow roads, at the time of fire, roads become dangerous
2 - Improving the level of health in the new camp
3 - Educating children and giving attention to adult literacy
4 - Building latrines in the new camp
5 - Building 5 [grain] mills and peeler (scaler)
6 - Providing building materials, blankets and tents
7 - Providing kitchen utensils and clothes”
8 - Providing groceries and food supplies due to the lack of firewood for cooking
9 - Provide generators for lighting the camp
10 - Providing drilling equipment
11 - Providing the basic essential needs of the people in their daily lives”
January 18, 2013
The Emergency Response Coordinator, Mary Ana McGlasson, reports from the field in the Za’atari Refugee Camp, Jordan, where Relief International is providing life-saving relief.
Syria. I don’t know why it grabbed my attention so quickly-with so many disasters and tragedies happening around the world simultaneously, why did this one weigh so heavily on my mind? In the wake of the Arab Spring, there were plenty of stories of triumph and tragedy, but somehow, I found this one occupying a lot of my quiet thoughts. In August, the total numbers of refugees went from a steady trickle to a full-blown population exodus, doubling the numbers of refugees fleeing regionally, and forcing countless Syrians to run for safety within the country’s borders. By September, it was widely believed that there was no safe place for civilians inside Syria.
In the photo above, Mary Ana and and a little girl she met while working in the Za’atari Camp.
In response to this rapid influx of refugees, I deployed to Jordan to assess the situation within the newly-built Za’atari Camp and urban communities of Jordan near the Syrian border. Despite working day and night with little sleep, I found myself with constant motivation, and an unexplainable connection to the 15-month old crisis. It felt so good to actually be doing something, instead of sitting by and watching what could be one of the greatest tragedies in recent history.
I have now spent most of the past several months on the ground here in Jordan. The refugees here are middle-class, primarily educated people. Until weeks or months ago, they had modern houses with cars, bathrooms, kitchens. Now they live in tents, in the cold and windy desert, with winter worsening every day. Many people have shoes that are worn through from a long and difficult journey and they have no winter clothes.
Each day, when I walk through the camp, I am always shocked by two things: the harsh conditions of the camp and the unwavering generosity and hospitality of the people living here. Despite living through incredible tragedy and violence, often losing more than a few family members along their treacherous journey, I was invited into countless homes and I drank literally dozens of cups of tea and coffee. Sitting and drinking tea and listening to stories of survival, while sharing a quiet moment of solidarity is certainly one of the most important things I can do with my time.
In many tents, mothers have fashioned small shrines with photos of sons, daughters, and husbands in the corner, and they share with me stories of separation or worse. They share openly about the things they have seen and experienced, and it is important for them to help me understand that just weeks or months ago, they were living in houses with bathrooms and nice kitchens. One woman, Hanna*, traveled to the camp without her husband, 8 months pregnant, and with four other children by her side. She explained to me that she finds it difficult every day to learn how to live without the support of her husband, and without running water, winter clothing, privacy, and a sense of safety. “I don’t know how to live like this- in Syria, I had a nice house, a car, and a big kitchen. Now I share a kitchen with 20 other families, and my children cry because they are cold at night.”
During the New Year, families took time to pause and be thankful, but always with the caveat that they hope in 2014 they will be celebrating again in Syria with reunited families. “Isha’allah,” or “God willing,” they say, with brave faces, choking back tears.
We can hope, together-we can all hope that the crisis is resolved and the Syrian people can return to their homes to rebuild and live peacefully. But in the meantime, Relief International is doing everything we can to reduce suffering and provide hope.
What would you do if you were traumatized, cold, and out of your element, in a foreign place, with only icy water to wash yourself? There are at least 3500 families (about 17,500 people) without sufficient hygiene items-soap, shampoo, toothbrushes, etc. Yet, you are not permitted to leave the camp to go to the normal market in the neighboring town, and while there is a substantial market growing up within the camp, the available cash to make purchases is extremely low, and the price of soap is relatively high (almost $5 per bar of soap, compared with an average daily wage of $10 per day for those few who can find paid work within the camp, which is probably less than 1 percent.)
All I can offer now is my own inexhaustible passion and labor for this cause, and a small bar of soap. They need shoes, socks, mittens, underwear…heaters, fuel, and hope.
To learn more about RI’s life-saving relief programs assisting Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon, please click here.
*Name has been changed.
November 18, 2012
Senior Program Officer, Virginia Zaunbrecher, writes from Darfur, Sudan, about how Relief International programs are keeping people alive and helping them move on with rebuilding their livelihoods.
Darfur is a place that is stuck in the middle. There is still too much conflict for most people to return home, but there is too little conflict to garner public attention. As aid workers, we find ourselves trying to triage the situation, and at the same time look for opportunities to help people move ahead. Two of the people I have met so far exemplify this dynamic.
Relief International is a primary care provider for a population of approximately half a million people in North Darfur, including 164,000 displaced persons. When visiting one of our malnutrition treatment centers in the Zam Zam camp for displaced persons last week, I met 18-month-old Fatima. She was, bluntly stated, the most malnourished child I have ever seen. She was tested for appetite and fed ready to use therapeutic food—popularly known as Plumpy-Nut. She was also referred to the main state hospital 15 km away because she required substantial medical treatment, but that is an extremely long way for her mother to travel with her, especially given that there are other children at home that need attention.
When I visited again this week, I was told that Fatima’s mother had not taken her to the hospital—a “defaulter” in nutrition program terms. Relief International outreach workers are contacting Fatima’s mother and encouraging her to visit the RI clinic (closer than the main site hospital)—which is no small feat in this maze of 164,000 people. Relief International has plans to open a stabilization center that can treat malnourished patients in the Zam Zam camp by 2013, so children like Fatima don’t have to travel for life-saving services.
Above, Staff weigh malnourished children at Relief International’s nutrition center in the Zam Zam Camp.
Just a short distance away at the Hassenfeld Community Center, I met someone who exemplified how the people of Darfur are trying to move forward. Saida is a widowed mother of five, whose husband was killed in the conflict. She fled to the Zam Zam three years ago with her children when they were forced from their village by fighting. Saida’s leg is injured, so she is unable to work as a day laborer, which severely limits her options. Undeterred, Saida hopes to provide a better life for her children. While they are at school, Saida visits the library at the Community Center. She studies books on work skills and English to improve her chances of getting a job. When Relief International was stocking the library, we asked the community what kind of books would be most useful. It is telling that their first request was items that could improve the capacity of people to find work.
Above, Saida (right, dressed in black) uses the library at the Community Center in the Zam Zam camp along with other women displaced by conflict.
Relief International staff find stories like this throughout North Darfur, and our programs here reflect that. We provide basic life-saving health and nutrition services; at the same time we are developing a livelihoods program to help displaced people move forward, despite the challenging situation. And every day we hope we encounter fewer Fatimas and have the privilege to meet more Saidas.
RI’s programming in Darfur is supported by the USAID Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, the Common Humanitarian Fund, and individual donors.
October 9, 2012
Relief International’s board member, Ellen Frost, reflects on her visit to the field in Ghana this past September where board members held one of their quarterly meetings and got an exclusive look at RI’s ground-breaking programs in social enterprise and water, sanitation, and hygiene through field visits.
For members of Relief International’s board of directors, there is nothing like seeing projects firsthand to realize the contribution that Relief International is making to help people escape from poverty in places like Ghana. Imagine the scenes: Peter – a shy, soft-spoken Ghanaian – and his three assistants sitting under a tree at the edge of the Accra city dump, hammering scrap metal into charcoal-efficient cookstoves. At another location, a man is shaping ceramic stove filters using a foot-operated potter’s wheel, while another man punches out ventilation holes. At a third site, the filters are fired in brick ovens fueled by wood and corn cobs. These jobs provide livelihoods to a large number of people. All in all, there are 450 manufacturers and 500 vendors of these stoves, and the market continues to grow.
In the photo above, Peter and his assistants busy at work as Relief International videographer, Carlos, focuses in for the perfect shot.
Above, a ceramicist uses a foot-operated potter’s wheel to delicately craft a Gyapa liner.
Above, Gyapa liners equipped with ventilation holes, wait to dry before they are sent off to the kiln.
At a market stall that we visited, one vendor summarized what she tells customers when she recommends Relief International-sponsored stoves: “Same price as the others but saves lots of money.” The stoves cut charcoal consumption in half, thereby easing pressure on household budgets and reducing pollution – and they earn carbon credits as well.
In the photo above, some energetic children from a school that board members visited.
Another Relief International project of a different sort centers on clean water, sanitation, and hygiene (“WASH”). Here, the goals are both “hard” and “soft” – to purify or recycle water, build and install latrines, to teach people why they should use them and how they should adopt sanitary procedures such as washing their hands. Since children learn quickly and are natural crusaders, schools are a special target. Board members visited two schools, both of which were bursting with bright-eyed, giggly, energetic children. Also,we visited a group consisting of three long-robed tribal elders, the head of the local youth committee, and a woman who serves on the local water committee. The elders made it clear that the whole community was involved in addressing the community water, sanitation, and hygiene issues.
In the photo above, two smiling boys who hope to become part of their school’s hygiene club that Relief International helped establish.
The board members were impressed by the high quality and dedication of Relief International’s field staff as well as by what we saw at each site. We came away feeling hopeful and encouraged.
October 3, 2012
Development Director, Mark Dawson, reflects on his first visit to Relief International’s Ghana programs where he meet some unforgettable locals whose lives have been changed through Relief International’s innovative grassroots based approach to development.
I just returned from a trip to Ghana, where Relief International’s board of directors had their quarterly meeting and several opportunities for field visits. The Relief International staff, all local with a very few exceptions, are impressive: smart, devoted, hard-working, collegial, and proud to be a part of Relief International. It was a privilege to meet them and to see the fruits of their good efforts. As we traveled around, meeting many beneficiaries of our work, it was wonderful to witness the relationships that Relief International staff have with those whose lives we are working to improve. Their mutual affection and respect towards each other was always evident.
Above, children excited about Relief International’s visit to their school.
One afternoon we met Peter, who, for nine years, has been assembling and selling the cook stoves that Relief International’s EnterpriseWorks division designed and has so successfully marketed. His business has grown to one that now employs ten people, each of whom was clearly happy to have a livelihood. Upon meeting Peter I was immediately a fan, due to his endearing personality and loving management of his team. His plot of land, where the assembly of dozens of stoves takes place six days a week, is on the edge of a vast landfill. Acres and acres of refuse and waste surround Peter and his “boys.”
In the photo above, Peter Atta demonstrates to Development Director, Mark Dawson, and Advisory Board Member, Pamela Ogor, how he assembles the metal parts of a Gyapa cookstove.
Above, Peter and Pamela take a moment to smile for the camera.
Above, a ceramicist shows Relief International board member, Keith Allman, how to craft a ceramic liner for the Gyapa on the pottery wheel.
Along the perimeter of the dump we saw several merchants, each of whom had gathered his or her particular specialty: rubber, tin, glass, all of which would be sold to a recycler. As with Peter, I was amazed by how enterprising, industrious, and resourceful these people were, and by how they had transformed a landfill into a center of commerce.
In the photo above, a local Ghanaian school where Relief International hosts its hygiene and sanitation programs.
Above, children part of a hygiene club established by Relief International at their school. These children lead in the enforcement of healthy hygiene habits around their school and at home with their families.
Another lasting impression was the children. We had the chance to visit more than one school, where Relief International has water and sanitation programs. The students were articulate, bold, confident, and welcoming, with an insatiable desire to learn. They peppered with me questions: about Relief International, life in the United States, English vocabulary, the distance from Accra to Los Angeles, and whether I could visit their school every day. They introduced me to their “brilliant friend who is going to be president of Ghana one day;” another, who draws and paints beautiful pictures, and aspires to see his work in a museum; a soccer devotee, who quizzed me about my knowledge of famous athletes; and their math teacher, whom they adore. Their gratitude for Relief International was abundant. The spirited nature of these children animated my spirit, and even now a broad grin opens across my face as I think of them and remember their winning smiles.
In the photo below, the ambitious children who peppered Mark with questions about Relief International and life in America.
September 28, 2012
Relief International’s Social Enterprise Officer, Meagan Sutton, reflects upon her visit to the field in Ghana where Relief International’s EnterpriseWorks division has developed a locally based fuel-efficient cookstove manufacturing and distribution program.
I recently traveled to Accra, Ghana to meet our Gyapa Enterprises team and tour our production sites of the Gyapa Enterprises’ flagship product, the fuel-efficient Gyapa Cookstove. On the first day of the tour, we visited a manufacturer, Peter Atta, who has a small team of eight staff. To access his production site, we had to walk through a landfill until we approached a small banana plantation, a welcome break from the heaps of trash. In this limiting space, Peter and his team are able to produce about 10 percent of all Gyapa stoves on the market. When we arrived, Peter and a colleague were painting the stoves using a new machine that sprays paint onto the stoves, saving time over hand-painting. They stack the stoves one on top of the other for efficient spraying.
The photo above shows Gyapa Cookstoves in midst of the manufacturing process.
Later that day, we visited Addison in North Kaneshi in Accra. Addison is a ceramist who produces liners for the stoves and sells them to Peter. Addison joined Gyapa in 2006 and is a ceramist by trade, having exported pottery to Europe in his past. Addison uses a mechanized press he built himself that presses the liners into the appropriate mold. He typically produces 1500 to 2000 liners per month.
In the photo above, clay being prepared for the Gyapa cookstoves.
It was absolutely inspiring to meet both Peter and Addison, and to see the hard work and perseverance behind the quality and success of the Gyapa stove. The Gyapa stove not only improves indoor air quality and saves money for its users (among other benefits), but the localized producer network provides livelihoods to 450 manufacturers and 5 ceramist teams. We are always looking for ways to support our producers’ businesses through capital loans and training, and it was highly rewarding to meet Peter and Addison and observe their successful production.
A woman using her Gyapa Cookstove.
June 5, 2012
Relief International Board Member and Filmmaker, Chip Duncan, reports from the field in Myanmar. This time Duncan gives a background on Burmese life and culture to create an understanding of modern Myanmar.
Understanding modern Myanmar (aka Burma) and Relief International’s efforts to facilitate long-term initiatives in health care, food sustainability and education requires basic knowledge of Burmese life and culture.
More than 80 percent of the population in Myanmar practices Buddhism. Most believe in an orthodox practice called Theravada Buddhism. Theravada, considered the practice of the elders or ancient ones, is also common in the neighboring countries of Laos, Cambodia and Thailand.
Monastic life for young people in Myanmar is much like a spiritual rite of passage in other nations. Most boys and girls, often as young as ten, enter monastic life for a period of time to learn and to meditate. Young monks in particular, participate in daily begging rituals, but with an important twist: the monks beg so others can give. It’s not uncommon to see orange-robed monks or pink-robed nuns at meditation centers, monasteries, temples or simply walking in the communities throughout Myanmar.
The photo below shows young monks begging.
The most well-known spiritual sites in Myanmar include the Schwedagon Pagoda in Yangon and the fabled ancient Buddhist temples of Bagan.
The photo below shows the Bagan Temple ruins.
Located south of the capitol city of Yangon (aka Rangoon), is the delta region where most of Relief International’s programs are underway. Most people in the delta region make their living on fishing and farming. Rice is a major crop in the region and part of the Relief International team is working on sustainable agricultural initiatives including educating farmers about new hybrids of rice and best planting practices.
A Burmese fishermen pictured below.
The landscape of Myanmar varies from mountainous to the dry central plains to tropical areas in the south. Most farming techniques are still small scale and hand-powered and currently Myanmar offers very little in terms of agricultural export. Still, the country’s resources are vast and the open-air markets in Yangon offer a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and fish.
The photo above shows a vendor at the Yangon market.
June 5, 2012
Relief International Board Member and Medical Director, Dr. Hernando Garzon, reflects on his visit to the field in Myanmar.
As a member of the board of directors and as a physician involved with Relief International health program operations in the field, I have wanted to make site visits to each of the ongoing Relief International health programs. In conjunction with another board member, Chip Duncan, we’ve had the privilege of making such a visit to Myanmar.
With the existing Relief International health program as the focus of our visit, our trip was designed to facilitate the development of additional and more comprehensive health programs, including the possibility of establishing a program to have U.S. health care volunteers spend time teaching local providers and providing care in under-served areas. Our visit included trips to the rural delta outposts where substation clinics are manned only by a single midwife and suffer from lack of essential medical supplies, to meetings with the deputy minister of health, the director of foreign affairs, and the dean and faculty leaders of the premiere medical university in Yangon.
The health care status of Myanmar looks much like that of a developing country with under-served medical needs. Myanmar spends an average of $14 per person a year on health care. Compare this to the $44 per person a year the World Health Organization says is the minimum required to provide basic health services (The U.S. spends $7,960 per person a year). With $14 per person, Myanmar simply cannot provide basic medical services for its population! In addition, Myanmar is behind schedule in achieving the health related U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s) by 2015 (MDG #3: Reducing under age five child mortality; MDG #4: Improving maternal health; MDG #6: Combating HIV/AIDS, Malaria, and other diseases).
Myanmar has only 4.6 doctors and eight nurses/midwives for every 10,000 people. Compare this with the U.S. which has 24.2 doctors and 98.2 nurses per every 10,000 people. I could go on and on, but this alone should be enough to see that the challenges Myanmar faces in providing adequate basic health care for its population are huge.
Dr. Hernando Garzon, third from left, pictured below.
Getting to “experience” these statistics in action and seeing the reality of health care delivery in this limited resource setting was a very moving experience. The substation clinic medication cupboards are bare, medical equipment is antiquated or broken and non-functional, and huge gaps exist in supplies, staffing, and training. Although I have seen poor patient outcomes from such limited resources before, perhaps the most difficult part of my trip came during a routine tour of a township hospital. During our tour, a third trimester pregnant mother of seven arrived to the hospital hemorrhaging, and we witnessed the initial stages of her evaluation and treatment. With no blood bank system as we know it in the United States, they immediately called several volunteers from their pool of “live blood bank donors.” They responded quickly to what is certainly an innovative and somewhat risky solution to provide an emergency and potentially life-saving blood transfusion. In the end, neither mother nor baby survived – and I continue to struggle with the idea that “if only” adequate resources were available, both would have made it.
Relief International is coordinating very well with the ministry of health and the national plan for improving maternal and child health and basic comprehensive medical care in Myanmar. In addition to health programs, Relief International is also involved with livelihoods and agriculture programs. The work being done by the Relief International Myanmar staff is exceptional and I am very hopeful that Relief International will continue to make a difference in the health and economic development for the people of Myanmar.
Dr. Hernando Garzon
June 5, 2012
Relief International Board Member and Filmmaker, Chip Duncan, reports from the field in Myanmar.
Myanmar (aka Burma), achieved independence from the British in 1948. Since that time, the nation has experienced significant challenges both economically and politically. Until very recently, Myanmar was largely isolated and was considered a difficult place for foreigners to visit. Today, Myanmar is undergoing a domestic reform movement resulting in democratic elections and new efforts promoting international trade and commerce. Recent diplomatic visitors to Myanmar include India’s Prime Minister and the US Secretary of State.
I made my first visit in 1995 while filming the television series “Mystic Lands.” The episode on Burma, entitled “Triumph of the Spirit,” featured the devout Buddhist spiritual life of the Burmese people. The episode included stories about the Schwedagon Pagoda, the ancient city of Bagan, Mount Popa and the monastic retreats in and around Mandalay and the Sagaing Hills.
The picture below shows tropical housing on a delta in Myanmar.
This past May, I returned to Myanmar with Dr. Hernando Garzon with the goal of assessing and documenting the maternal health and food sustainability programs of Relief International. Relief International was among the humanitarian aid groups responding to the devastating Cyclone Nargis during May 2008. The cyclone is considered among the worst natural disasters in modern Burmese history. Nearly 120 mph winds and a huge tidal surge had a devastating impact on coastal and delta areas south and west of the capitol city of Yangon (aka Rangoon). Families in the region relied largely on fishing and rice production for their livelihoods, much of which was destroyed by the cyclone. Damages exceeded $2.4 billion. Estimates are hard to quantify but it’s believed that more than 80,000 people were killed with as many as 300,000 missing. Women and children were most impacted by the cyclone.
Smiling Burmese children in the picture below.
Like so many Relief International efforts, the success of Relief International’s immediate crisis relief and humanitarian assistance evolved into long-term, sustainable programs in maternal health care and food sustainability. The needs continue and Relief International has stated a commitment to serving the people of Myanmar for many years to come.
Below is a nurse midwife at Kyon Dah Station Hospital.
Dr. Garzon and I visited several locations in the delta region featuring the health care work of the Relief International team including the Kyon Dah Station Hospital on the island of Kyon Dah, the Dedaye Township hospital and the Pya Pon District hospital. The 40 person Relief International staff is comprised almost entirely of Burmese personnel with only one expat on the administrative team. Please visit Dr. Garzon’s blog post for specific details on the health care programs and assessment.
May 26, 2012
Relief International board member and filmmaker Chip Duncan reflects on his visit in May to the RI field office in Myanmar with fellow board member and RI Medical Director, Hernando Garzon.
Dr. Hernando Garzon and I had the privilege of visiting Relief International’s field programs in Myanmar. The team here of about 40 staffers is outstanding. In addition to their work on maternal health programs, they’re doing some groundbreaking work with food security and rice production in the delta area hard hit by Cyclone Nargis in ‘08. We welcome everyone to join Relief International’s efforts to improve primary and maternal child health throughout southern Myanmar.
The photo below shows the smiling faces of the Relief International team in Myanmar and Dr. Hernando Garzon (center).