In Iraq and Pakistan, adolescent youth are facing huge challenges as they try to grow up amidst the conflict, danger and uncertainty that surrounds them. With fighting and other security issues interrupting their daily lives, it’s nearly impossible to learn, grow and make important life decisions without a strong support system.
That’s why our programs in these countries are designed to offer adolescents the crucial support they need at the time they need it most.
With support from The Coca-Cola Foundation and Coca-Cola Içecek, Mercy Corps is helping youth in Pakistan and Iraq by offering them a safe place to be active, learn essential life skills and become leaders in their communities.
After-school groups meet every week to play games and engage in meaningful discussions on topics like inclusion, teamwork, communication, relationships, goal-setting and social responsibility. Trained coaches provide direction, but each session is run by a young person so they can stretch their new leadership skills.
Both Iraq and Pakistan have been plagued by regional instability and violence. Growing up in these places is not easy — even when youth have access to school and family support, they may not have the confidence, guidance or skills they need to go after their dreams.
For young girls, the struggle of adolescence is compounded by long-held cultural beliefs that can hold them back from reaching their true potential. Instead of being supported and encouraged in their studies, girls are often pulled out of school early to help with household chores.
But in Lahore and Baghdad, girls in our program are treated equally to boys — for some, it’s the first time they’ve experienced gender equality, engaged in sports or felt the freedom to express their opinions.
That freedom can be transformative.
Iraq: Meet Ala'a
In Baghdad, 17 year-old Ala’a is the youngest girl in a family of six. The neighborhood where she lives with her family regularly experiences bombings and kidnapping threats — they say it’s now just a way of life.
Because of the constant threat of danger, Ala’a has little freedom. Her brother must accompany her to school every day. "My family is very protective of me,” she says. “It made it hard for me to go to school when he was busy.”
Before she joined Mercy Corps’ youth program, Ala’a was painfully shy and had few friends. “I did not have the courage to make new friends,” she explains.
But after just a few days of leadership training with the youth program, Ala’a came out her shell. She began participating in discussions, made new friends, and learned to develop her confidence and leadership skills.
Now, Ala’a runs discussions with other youth on her own. “I love my youth team members,” she says. “We are friends now and we can learn from each other.”
The effects of the youth program reach beyond the group sessions. Because of her newly-gained confidence, Ala’a is no longer afraid to speak her mind. “I feel that my family and friends are listening to my opinion now and I can discuss things with them more freely and openly.”
Pakistan: Meet Mahnoor
In Lahore, a girl just a few years younger than Ala’a is learning some of the same skills through the youth program in her neighborhood.
Mahnoor, 14, lives with her large family in a poor area of Lahore, where most people are factory workers just trying to survive. Before joining the youth program, Mahnoor was doing poorly in school and struggling to find purpose.
While she was unsure at first, Mahnoor quickly became a capable leader in the youth program. After a few learning experiences, Mahnoor learned how to effectively lead a group of her peers in discussions by engaging with them and listening to them.
Before long, Mahnoor became a respected leader in the program and developed friendships with many of her peers. To improve her studies, Mahnoor started a study group with some of her new friends. “I realized after conducting sessions that as a team we can work better, so I thought to make a group for studying together,” she says.
Mahnoor’s family can see how much she’s grown in just a few short months. Because of her new skills and improved confidence, she is doing better in school and is more involved in her own family. “She’s active in sports now and she has started helping our family in different things. It’s all because of the program’s activities,” says Mahnoor’s sister.
In the last year, our youth program has trained approximately 5,000 youth leaders like Ala’a and Mahnoor. After learning new skills through the weekly discussions, youth are then encouraged to create events and projects that will further help their community.
Through the events that they have created, youth in Lahore and Baghdad have reached nearly 25,000 of their peers. The program is empowering thoughtful youth leaders in low-income communities where jobs and opportunities are tough to come by.
Young girls and boys are benefitting from the program in important, but different ways.When both groups come together, they have the power to influence change.Young people like Ala’a and Mahnoor now have the confidence and skills they need to achieve their goals — and the courage to inspire others in their communities to do the same.
Ten years ago today, the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami was triggered by a massive 9.0 magnitude underwater earthquake. It was one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history.
From Indonesia to parts of East Africa, a series of catastrophic tsunamis that tore across the Indian Ocean killed over 270,000 people and millions were left terrified and homeless. The destruction was unlike anything people had ever seen.
Today, we pause to remember those who lost their lives ten years ago. And we're reflecting on the incredible outpouring of generosity from people all over the world to help survivors in their greatest time of need. Because of compassionate supporters like you, people in some of the hardest-hit areas were able to survive those first days and communities built back stronger in the years that followed. See photos from our emergency response below.
The coastal village of Meulaboh in Indonesia was destroyed by the tsunami. Mercy Corps was one of the first organizations to respond there. Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps
Within hours, we mobilized our largest emergency response to date, sending dozens of staff to tsunami-devastated areas with lifesaving relief and supplies. Mercy Corps was one of the first humanitarian organizations to arrive in remote areas of India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia’s Aceh province, a war-torn coastal region near the epicenter of the deadly earthquake.
We rushed emergency food rations, temporary shelter supplies and blankets to help more than half a million people survive immediately after the disaster.
A group of men in Banda Aceh, Indonesia receive tools to help in the rebuilding efforts. Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps
Building supplies helped people construct temporary shelters for their families. We also quickly began building and repairing latrines, bringing in water trucks and reconstructing wells, and repairing essential health clinics to ensure that survivors stayed healthy in even desperate conditions.
Fisherman try to push a washed-up boat back into the water after the storm. Photo: Cate Gillon for Mercy Corps
In Indonesia, where the storm hit hardest, we helped more than 423,000 people in 64 villages earn daily wages to repair public facilities. Local workers cleared and constructed hundreds of miles of roads and cleared debris from more than 32,000 acres of public land. This work helped revive the local economy and gave individuals a way to earn income to restore their own livelihoods.
A Mercy Corps staff member from Indonesia observes one of the first rice harvests after the tsunami. Photo: Shirine Bakhat-Pont/Mercy Corps
We also distributed seeds, tools and fertilizer to help farmers earn income after their fields were washed away. More than 1,000 farmers were able to replant and harvest their rice fields.
Mothers hold onto their children at a refugee camp in Sri Lanka. Photo: Dwayne Newton for Mercy Corps
Our teams in India, Sri Lanka and Somalia responded to urgent relief and recovery needs in similar ways: providing emergency relief supplies, hiring locals to rebuild roads and public spaces, and helping people restart their farms and small businesses.
With an eye on the future across the tsunami-struck region, we also paid workers to repair ruined classrooms and provided supplies, uniforms and tuition to help 30,000 children return to school as quickly as possible.
Over the course of our tsunami response, Mercy Corps provided assistance to more than 1 million survivors of the disaster. More than 250 of our field team members and hundreds of local partner staff in the region contributed to this massive effort.
It's been a decade since the Indian Ocean tsunami, but the work that supporters like you made possible has not been forgotten.
“Much of the disaster response work Mercy Corps is now doing has been informed by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. We learned so many lessons at the time – lessons which are now incorporated into our program design to help ensure that a disaster of that magnitude does not claim that many lives again,” said Indonesia Country Director Paul Jeffrey.
Mercy Corps in Indonesia today
Our work in Indonesia continues today, to make sure communities are more prepared for future disasters and have the resources they need to recover more quickly. We've worked with the government and local businesses to create earthquake and tsunami education programs, early warning systems and tsunami evacuation maps, as well as establishing shelters that are adapted to better withstand a disaster.
Outside of emergencies, we're focused on improving health in areas where disease and malnutrition are a chronic threat, helping communities increase access to water and sanitation, and working with new mothers to ensure proper infant care. We are also partnering with local people to create new economic opportunities and more inclusive businesses and social enterprises that bring greater prosperity and security to people throughout this region for years to come.
You can continue to make a difference by:
Saida’s dream of becoming a teacher was shattered when she was only 17.
She was forced into marriage, became pregnant with triplets, and gave birth to four children all before she had even turned 20.
Instead of pursuing her dream of becoming a teacher, Saida spent her days cooking, cleaning, and caring for her children.
Saida’s story is not unique in Somalia, where barriers like early marriage, household responsibilities, and restrictive gender roles make staying in school nearly impossible for girls and women.
Somalia has some of the lowest enrollment and retention rates in the world for girls and young women. Only 23 percent of girls are fortunate enough to attend primary school, and even fewer attend secondary school – an appalling 96 percent of girls between the ages 14 and 17 are out of school.
Walking alone to-and-from school is a risk in itself. And upon arriving at school, female students have access to few, if any, girl-friendly spaces. Some schools don’t even have private latrines for girls.
With few female teachers, girls in Somalia have no role models or female advocates championing their education.
Thanks to your generous contributions, young women like Saida, are able to break free of this vicious cycle, pursue their dreams, unlock their economic potential, and empower other girls and young women to do the same.
Saida is one of 50 women currently attending a two-year-long teacher training at Amoud University in Borama, Somalia. Through the training program, Saida has developed a new sense of confidence. She engages in group discussions and frequently raises her hand to ask questions.
“When you are learning to become a teacher, you need to be confident in yourself,” she said. “Then when you’re in your classroom, you need to build the confidence in your students and encourage all to participate in class.”
With her own dreams unleashed, Saida hopes to pave the way for a better future for girls and young women in Somalia.
“I want to act as a role model for my community,” said Saida. “I want to be a teacher to empower the next generation of girls.”
Programs like this, which rely heavily on your support, set in motion long-lasting changes within communities and across the country.
Saida and the other trainees have committed to return to their hometowns to teach at their local schools for three years, providing girls in their communities with role models who will increase their confidence, help develop their skills, and advocate on their behalf.
The benefits of an educated female populace extend across entire communities – not just to girls and women. When women earn income, they invest 90 percent of it into their children and households for more nutritious food, school fees, and health care. Furthermore, a 10-percent increase in female enrollment is linked to a three-percent increase in GDP.
Your generous donations are bringing hope to girls and young women across Somalia and improving the quality of life for Somalia’s youngest generation – both male and female.
Change is not possible without your help. Thank you for helping set in motion long-lasting and far-reaching positive change in Somalia.
After armed Seleka rebels overthrew the government in 2013, the Central African Republic (CAR) – already one of the world’s poorest nations - devolved into a scene of chaos and terror. Marauding bands of Seleka and anti-balaka soldiers swept across the country massacring innocent civilians, pillaging, and destroying homes. Nearly one million people, half of them from the capital of Bangui, fled to overcrowded refugee camps lacking clean water and adequate sanitation facilities. As the rainy season began, refugees found themselves exposed to turbulent weather - dangerous gusts of wind and heavy downpours. To make matters worse, overflowing latrines, puddles of dirty water, and piles of trash fostered the ideal setting for an outbreak of malaria and typhoid fever.
Despite the dire situation, all hope is not lost. There continues to be an opportunity to positively influence the course of action in CAR. And that’s where you come in.
Thanks to your support, Mercy Corps has launched an emergency response to assist and protect those impacted by the conflict. Immediately after the coup, Mercy Corps refocused existing programs in CAR to prioritize urgent needs, with an emphasis on providing safe spaces for children, preventing gender-based violence, and raising awareness about hygiene. At the most populous refugee camp, Mercy Corps is overseeing the construction of 100 latrines and draining channels for stagnant water. In the coming weeks, Mercy Corps plans to distribute clean water and soap to 25,000 people, as well as continue to educate refugees about good hygiene practice. Finally, Mercy Corps continues to prioritize work around gender-based violence and listening centers remain open to provide emotional support, legal counseling and medical referrals to those who have suffered gender-based violence or sectarian attacks.
Saving and Improving Lives in the World’s Toughest Places: When you donate to Mercy Corps, you make it possible to deliver emergency food and supplies, and help families and communities become more resilient to crises long-term. In CAR, your donation helps protect vulnerable survivors, meet their basic needs for water and food, and provides the nation’s residents with hope that, one day, they can live in comfort and safety.
Change is not possible without you. Thank you for being a partner in this life-changing work.
Ayesha’s husband died 10 years ago. As a widow and mother of nine, Ayesha struggled to provide for her family. “After my husband’s death I didn’t see any hope for the future because I was alone and carrying the responsibility of the children,” she told us.
Ayesha, her son and eight daughters live in a two-room home in the highlands of southwestern Yemen. When we met Ayesha, poverty was rampant in her village, and job opportunities were few.
She earned a small amount by selling firewood she collected during twice-daily trips to the valley, but it was not enough to feed her family. Five of Ayesha’s children had to drop out of school; they scavenged for firewood, peppers — anything they could sell for a small income. Still, at times, the family went hungry.
Families in Crisis: Their story is all too common. More than 40% of Yemen’s population is food insecure — that’s 10.5 million people who don’t have enough food.
Political instability, endemic poverty and high unemployment are just a few reasons Yemen is one of the hungriest countries in the world. Continued tensions are putting the population on the brink of an emergency situation.
Help Families Thrive: When you donate to Mercy Corps you make it possible to deliver emergency food and supplies, and help families and communities become more resilient to crises long-term.
In Yemen, compassionate supporters like you are helping people like Ayesha fight poverty. “Now that Mercy Corps has helped me I don’t feel that feeling of insecurity,” she explained. “I try to work, but if there is a gap, Mercy Corps helps.” You made this happen by providing food, clean water, education, infrastructure, jobs and training.
You also help youth develop job skills or attend school. “The most important thing to me is education,” Naserah, (Ayesha's daughter) told us. Because of you, Ayesha's children have returned to school.
But so many families are still hungry. And so many kids are deprived of the opportunity to learn, which threatens the future of these regions. We have the chance to help them. Will you donate today to help another family in need?
When you donate $30, you'll receive a free thank you gift: a beautiful, handcrafted frame (frames are limited!). Here are examples of how your gift can make a difference for families:
Change is not possible without you. Thank you for being a partner in this life-changing work.
PS: If you would like to receive a free frame with your gift, click this link. Or, if you visit the main project page, be sure to click "Add to Cart" under the "Gifts for Good" section to get your frame.
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