Posts tagged humanitarian aid

A “Note From The Field” from Women in the Zam Zam Refugee Camp, Darfur, Sudan

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”


 of newly displaced people from the area of "immigrants" to the Zam Zam Camp”

 - 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
 - Building latrines in the new camp
5 - Building
 5 [grain] mills and peeler (scaler) 
 - 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” 

Relief International’s Emergency Response Coordinator, Mary Ana McGlasson, Reports from the Field in the Za’atari Refugee Camp, Jordan

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.  


Mary Ana


To learn more about RI’s life-saving relief programs assisting Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon, please click here.


*Name has been changed.

Relief International’s Senior Program Officer, Virginia Zaunbrecher, Reports from the Field in Darfur, Sudan

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.


Relief International Board Member and Filmmaker, Chip Duncan, Reports from the Field in Myanmar

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.

Chip Duncan

Relief International Board Member and Medical Director, Doctor Hernando Garzon, Reports from the Field in Myanmar

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

Relief International Board Member and Filmmaker, Chip Duncan, Reports from the Field in Myanmar

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. 

Chip Duncan

Relief International’s Technical Director, Jon Naugle, Reports from the Field in Uganda

May 23, 2012


Relief International’s Technical Director, Jon Naugle, reports from the field in Uganda, where he met a woman by the name of Mama Manjeri, whose life was greatly influenced by Relief International’s domestic rainwater harvesting bag, Bob™.

Before purchasing her rainwater bag, Bob, a Ugandan woman named Mama Manjeri used to walk two and a half miles over a ridge and down the other side of a hill to fetch water and then walk back the same distance carrying a container of water. She is a very spry woman who still works in her garden even though she is in her late seventies. Mama Manjeri had heard about Bob — Relief International’s innovative low-cost rainwater bag — from her husband who had seen a demonstration in a nearby town. She told her neighbors that the next time the sales agent from her district came by she wanted to see him to purchase one. 

The next time Adam Juko, the Relief International Bob sales agent, came by he stopped to see Mama Manjeri and she told him that she wanted a Bob. Unfortunately, he did not have one with him that day, but he promised to come back the next day. Mama Manjeri purchased her Bob the next day with 125,000 Ugandan Shillings (approximately $50 USD) for Bob with 1,000 and 2,000 shilling notes that were all neatly folded — money that she had earned from her garden.

The photo below shows Mama Manjeri standing proudly next to her Bob™.

As Relief International’s Technical Director, I got to visit Mama Manjeri. Mama Manjeri had constructed a base for her Bob and had started building a mud and wattle shelter to protect it. I could see that she clearly values her Bob and appreciates having water for washing, bathing, cooking and drinking right at her door step. Mama Manjeri was so happy with Bob that she insisted on giving me a 1,000 shillings, neatly folded, as all the bills she used to pay for Bob. This is something that I will treasure, knowing that the efforts of this project are changing people’s lives for the better.

Relief International’s Human Resource Generalist, Diana Kankunda, Reports from the Field in Uganda

March 23, 2012

Relief International’s Human Resource Generalist, Diana Kankunda, visits her native Uganda, and the field office in Mbarara where Relief International and its Enterprise Works division are implementing a domestic rainwater harvesting program.

Recently, I made a visit back to my parent’s hometown of Mbarara, Uganda. I was actually born and raised in Uganda before I decided to come to the United States. In addition to seeing my family, I visited Relief International’s field office in Mbarara. Here, Relief International and EnterpriseWorks are working on a program to bring clean water directly to Ugandan households through the creation of a rainwater harvesting bag called “Bob.”

The above photo is me and the Uganda field staff standing next to “Bob,” the rainwater harvesting bag created by Relief International and EnterpriseWorks. 

In rural areas of Uganda, women and children, who are usually tasked with collecting water, walk long distances to fetch water. It is exhausting and takes up valuable time that the children could be spending in school. Children are also especially vulnerable to diseases caused by unsafe water consumption. Growing up I was lucky to have access to clean water, but not everyone is as fortunate. This is why Relief International developed the rainwater harvesting bag so that Ugandans can have a safe water source right from their home.

It was also really nice to finally meet all the field staff face to face. As part of the Human Resources staff at Relief International, I regularly get to interact with these people, but it is usually through email and phone.

“Bob” has had a huge impact on my hometown. News of the rainwater harvesting bag has spread through word of mouth to other small towns, mainly through community venues like churches. It has even become a popular subject with my family. I hope in the future “Bob” can be implemented at my aunt’s primary school.

The picture below is me and some girls at the primary school my aunt teaches at.

A “Note From the Field” from a Thirteen-year old Beneficiary in Palestine

April 24, 2012

The Relief International team recently received a “note from the field” from a 13-year old beneficiary in Palestine.

The letter reads:

“My name is Mohammad Hamadori from Jenin. I am thirteen. I heard from some friends about Relief International and the activities that they do. ..and to present myself to you and tell you about some of my hobbies and some activities I have done with relief.”

“The Relief gave me the power to be useful to my community…and now I have the power and I will to make a difference and because I am ready to give my help to anyone who needs it…through our activities and skills.”

“In the end I want to thank you all for being here…and I hope to see you again.”

Today’s Photo Update from Relief International Volunteer, Bashir Mohamed, reporting from the Doro Refugee Camp of Mabaan, South Sudan

March, 30 2012

Today’s photo update from Relief International volunteer and Deputy Community Service Coordinator, Bashir Mohamed, reporting from the field: 

This girl is grinding Sorghum as part of routine meal preparation. Her name is Sarina and she is nine years old. The baby she is carrying is one of  her twin nephews, Younis.

Sarina’s family, including her father Bell, mother Saima, and twin nephews, Younis and Julliet, arrived in Doro four months ago. They had fled from Belila, which is located in the Blue Nile State of Sudan, because of the increasing violence and conflict in the community. 

Sarina is grinding Sorghum in the picture below.