Mercy Corps

To alleviate suffering, poverty and oppression by helping people build secure, productive and just communities.
Nov 10, 2015

How a Young Woman is Fighting Back for Change


  • At just 16 years old, Masika has suffered through horrible violence. But now, she's focused on protecting her young daughter, and creating a better environment for other children in DRC. All photos: Corinna Robbins/Mercy Corps

At just 16 years old, Masika has suffered through horrible violence. But now, she's focused on protecting her young daughter, and creating a better environment for other children in DRC. See additional photos below. All photos: Corinna Robbins/Mercy Corps

Home for Masika is a small hut made of sticks and covered with tarps. It’s barely big enough to stand up in, yet she shares it with 10 family members — and has for the last seven years.

This is where 16-year-old Masika grew up: Mugunga 3 displacement camp, a sprawling sea of cramped shelters just like hers, on the outskirts of Goma in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It’s the oldest of many camps in this area, where Mercy Corps provides clean water and sanitation to keep families healthy.

Mugunga was first established to host refugees from the Rwandan genocide over 20 years ago, and is now home to nearly 5,000 Congolese people who’ve fled the brutal and widespread violence of rebel armies in the countryside.

And this is where Masika is raising her infant daughter, Prefina.

“Everyday is a struggle,” she says quietly while nursing her 3-month-old on the shelter’s only bed. It’s a platform of sharp lava rocks covered only with a thin blanket. “We lay on rocks. We hardly eat. All this time, I have been enduring, but it is very hard.”

DRC is known as the most dangerous place in the world to be a woman, with reports that an average of 1,100 women are raped every single day. Sadly, one year ago, Masika was one of them.

“It happened when I went to get some firewood in the bush,” she explains hesitantly. She and four other girls were attacked by armed men who killed two of them and raped the others. “At this moment, I got pregnant, but I didn’t realize it.”

Like so many people in DRC, this wasn’t Masika’s first encounter with violence. As a child, she and her family fled rebel army attacks on their village in the contentious mining region of Walikale. She remembers bombings and machetes, and running, and then walking for a week to get to the relatively safe haven of Mugunga 3.

“We were in our homes, we lived a good life. We had farms, we had animals. We grew cassava and many different crops and always had enough to eat,” she remembers. “But when we moved to the camp, everything changed. We are living a whole other life. We struggle day by day.”

In this environment, the start of little Prefina’s life was marred by violence, but Masika is determined to give her daughter the best chance at a healthy future. She looks for opportunities to fetch water or sell small goods to make some money and help bring in food for the family.

And the obvious highlight of Masika’s day is when the aspiring nurse goes to the children’s hygiene program that Mercy Corps started in the camp, where she is a leader and teacher. The program is part of how Mercy Corps engages the community, in addition to bringing clean water to tap stands and building latrines.

While adults are part of a hygiene and sanitation committee that manages the facilities, waste removal, and water use throughout the camp, the children’s program brings kids together to learn how to keep themselves healthy and their surroundings safe for everyone through discussions, songs and skits.

“I teach them how to wash their hands, how to maintain sanitation, and how to behave. And I will be able to teach my daughter the same things,” Masika explains.

“The only thing that is good here is that we have clean water and some sanitation [latrines, soap distribution, waste removal programs]. Without the water, people would die. People will just use rainwater for their needs, and that is not clean.”

“But for me, the future of these children will depend on their health and wellbeing. So it is a calling to help care for the children for their good future.”

The future in a place like this is uncertain. But each day that Masika works to protect Prefina and be a positive influence for children growing up here adds up to something better.

It’s vital to have clean water, but it takes remarkable people like Masika to bring hope and strength to Mercy Corps’ work for change, despite the odds.

Nov 2, 2015

Why Cash is Key to Helping Nepal Rebuild


  • All photos: Tom van Cakenberghe for Mercy Corps

All photos by Tom van Cakenberghe for Mercy Corps

It's been six months since a massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal, killing more than 9,000 people and rupturing the lives of nearly 8 million.

Today, thanks to our supporters and partners, communities are slowly beginning to recover.

In the past six months, we’ve reached more than 135,000 people with emergency supplies, cash, food support, safe water and temporary shelter.

The earthquake devastated local economies and brought down electricity lines, leaving families with little money and no electricity.

But cash assistance — distributed to 23,000 families — is helping people get the supplies they need to rebuild. And solar lamps, included in many of our emergency kits and equipped with mobile charging ports, are helping families communicate with each other.

In the coming months and years, we will continue to help vulnerable families access financial services like recovery loans, and we will engage communities in emergency planning to better prepare them for future disasters.

Below, meet a few of the earthquake survivors you’ve helped us reach and find out what support they’re most grateful to have.

Jyanu

See photo below (top)

Her story: Jyanu, 32, owns a small restaurant in her village. She and her husband work there to support their three children. Jyanu and her family used to live in the same building as the restaurant and grow vegetables outside, but April’s earthquake damaged the living quarters, so they had to build a temporary shelter nearby.

“Before the earthquake, everything was in order,” Jyanu says. “The restaurant was good, the farm was good. After, everything was messed up. I was afraid of losing our [temporary] shelter because of the winds and the aftershocks. But now the aftershocks have stopped.”

Mercy Corps distributed emergency kits in the village — Jyanu and her family received cooking supplies, sleeping mats, blankets, a solar light, and cash to help them rebuild.

What she’s most grateful for: The solar light that Jyanu received is helping her whole family, including her three children, who study by its light each night. “The solar light is best,” she says. “Even before the earthquake, we had problems with electricity. The light is dim at night. We use the solar light all evening until bed.”

Jyanu is preparing for a brighter future, too. She saved a portion of the cash assistance for each of her three children.

Kumari

See photo below (second from top)

Her story: Kumari was six-months pregnant with her baby Santosh when the earthquake struck her village. Her older child Ridham, 7, was injured in the earthquake. Kumari and her husband’s home was destroyed, and they had to sell their valuable oxen to pay for Ridham’s medical bills.

Kumari’s husband works as a plumber and makes about 600 rupees each day, but they estimate it will take 80,000 rupees to build a new home. For now, they are living in a temporary shelter until they can rebuild.

What she’s most grateful for: Kumari and her family received an emergency supply kit and 7,500 rupees in unconditional cash to use for whatever they needed most. Because their home was destroyed, they used the money to buy corrugated metal to help construct their temporary shelter.

Kumari also appreciates the solar light that came in her kit — it gives her the light she needs to cook healthy food for her family.

Muya

See photo below (third from top)

Her story: Muya moved to this area when she married her husband 30 years ago. They’ve lived in their home for 20 of those years, raising their five children ages 15-28.

“When the earthquake happened, I was running and crying. I fell down and started to cry,” she remembers, standing on the same ledge where she stood at the time. She was only steps away from falling down the hill with the crumbling rock.

Muya and her family are living in a temporary shelter now, but it’s not as close to home as she’d like — she’s anxious to rebuild the family home. “When I was first married and came here I didn’t know anyone and I was sad. But then I fell in love with this place. Now I know everyone, I don’t want to leave.”

What she’s most grateful for: “I couldn’t bring anything from the [damaged] house so I could use everything,” she says when asked about the emergency kit her family received. “Clothes, kitchen stuff, the solar lamp. We use it for cooking and for going to the toilet at night.”

Muya and her husband used cash assistance to help build the temporary shelter they now live in with their children.

Basanta

See photo (above)

Her story: Before the earthquake, Basanta and her husband lived in a secluded home up in the hills with their young daughter Yasna. Basanta was outside taking care of their cattle when the earthquake hit — tiny Yasna slept inside on the ground floor.

Their home was destroyed, but fortunately Yasna survived. “I was lucky my daughter wasn’t upstairs where she usually sleeps,” Basanta says. “I wouldn’t have been able to get to her before the house collapsed.”

Now, Basanta and her young family have moved in with her mother-in-law. Their home is cracked, but livable, and Basanta has a small garden to grow food. But the village’s water source was damaged by the earthquake. “Before the tap was repaired, we walked 35 minutes to fetch water, two or three times a day.”

What she’s most grateful for: For Basanta and her family, clean water is the most important thing they could ask for. Mercy Corps repaired the village’s water tap, and now the family is happier. “I go to the water tap about 15 times a day, to get water for the livestock, to wash clothes, carry water to the house and garden,” Basanta says.

Cash helped Basanta’s mother-in-law repair the family home, and they use the utensils from the emergency kit to eat meals together.

Buri Maya

See photo below (third from top)

Her story: Buri Maya’s home was completely destroyed during April’s devastating earthquake. She’s been married for 37 years and is a mother to five boys. Three of her sons are married, and all of the children lived together with Buri Maya and her husband before the earthquake hit.

Rebuilding will be a struggle for Buri Maya and her family — they face the challenge of removing large amounts of debris from the area before they can build a new home.

What she’s most grateful for: “Everything is perfect, but I liked the solar lantern best,” she says of the emergency kit she received. “It has helped a lot for cooking, and lot of household things. My son uses it to do his homework.”

Buri Maya and her husband were able to build a temporary shelter with the cash they received, as well as enough rice to feed the family for a month after the disaster.

Sharmila

See photo below (bottom)

Her story: Sharmila and her husband live in a village near Sharmila’s parents. After the earthquake, they came back to care for Sharmila’s ailing parents, and have been with them ever since.

“When I came to home to see my parents after the earthquake, the village looked like a refugee camp,” Sharmila says. “Even though the houses are still standing people can’t live there.“ The houses are too damaged to be safe anymore. “My husband and I, we’ll be ok, but I’m worried about my parents,” she says.

The earthquake had another unfortunate effect on the area — as the earth shifted and rock crumbled, previously running water sources dried up. After the earthquake, families were struggling to recover and had no source of clean water nearby. “One day I was feeling so thirsty but I didn’t have the energy to fetch water.”

What she’s most grateful for: “Water is the most important thing,” Sharmila says. Mercy Corps partnered with the village to install a new water tap to bring fresh water to families like Sharmila’s.

Sharmila was grateful for the emergency kit that her family received, and especially likes the solar lamp. ”When we wake up, we put it in the sun,” she says. “It’s like a ritual.”

Oct 21, 2015

Feeding the future: School Lunches Set Kids Up

Photo: Corinna Robbins/Mercy Corps
Photo: Corinna Robbins/Mercy Corps
Students at Habbouch Public School in Lebanon get ready for lunchtime. They received healthy bag lunches through our lunch delivery program, which helped fight hunger in Lebanese schools that serve refugee and low-income children. See additional photos below.

 

By 7 a.m. most mornings last spring, the kitchen at Mommy Made, a food skills training organization in Beirut, Lebanon, was bustling with staff lovingly preparing lunches for some of the city’s most underprivileged primary schools.

By 10 a.m., meals of chicken, fish, beans, salad, fruit or ma’ajinaat — small, doughy snacks usually filled with spinach, cheese or meat — were packaged, loaded onto refrigerated vans, delivered to the schools and distributed to every student at lunch time — for free.

Before Mommy Made’s food deliveries, 4-year-old Najya went the majority of her days at kindergarten without any lunch at all. She’s one of the lucky ones — just 25 percent of Syrian refugee children are enrolled in class in Lebanon — yet her family could rarely afford to send along the food she needs to be at her best.

Najya is not alone.

Missing meals is a stark, daily reality for many refugee and low-income families in Lebanon. Over a million Syrian refugees have flocked to the small country for safety from Syria’s civil war, and legions of people are barely scraping by as resources like jobs, food and shelter become increasingly scarce under the pressure. There are currently more than 1 million refugees and Lebanese citizens living in poverty in Lebanon.

Camelia, a staff member at Rawdat-al Toufoula School, which is located on the edge of a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, told us most of the students there are Syrian. “We also have Palestinian, Lebanese, Sudanese [students]. They are very poor,” she said.

“Some of the children don’t have food. They don’t bring food to the school,” she continues. “Some of the others bring a little sandwich from home, but it’s not enough, or something very little.”

Earlier this year, we partnered with Mommy Made and Arab Salim Women’s Cooperative, another local organization, to fill the bellies of students at three impoverished schools in Lebanon, including Rawdat-al Toufoula School. Nearly 40 percent of surveyed families who have children enrolled in these schools report not having the quality or quantity of food they need to be healthy.

But kids can’t learn without nourished minds and bodies.

So, we helped Mommy Made and Arab Salim Women’s Cooperative get healthy lunches to the schools — and students — in their communities who needed them most.

We provided financial backing and logistical support to make the effort possible, including coordinating with school administrators, connecting with local farmers and food producers, and linking the organizations with the resources they needed to rehabilitate their kitchen spaces, learn about safe food handling, prepare nutritious meals and begin deliveries.

Children in Beirut received warm, balanced meals planned every week by Lynn Charabaty, Mommy Made’s dietician. On each of the five school days a different source of fiber or protein — chicken, fish, meat, beans — was featured, always with a side salad and healthy dessert.

“We try our best to make it [as] healthy as possible and tasty at the same time,” she explained.

“It’s a plate that’s varied, it’s colorful,” added Labiba, a worker at Rawdat-al Toufoula School who helps serve the lunches from Mommy Made. “It’s something that they’re not used to.”

Cold lunches worked best for students at Habbouch Public School in southern Lebanon so, each weekday, the female staff of the Arab Salim Women’s Cooperative assembled and delivered bag lunches — a fresh sandwich, piece of fruit and a bottle of water.

Most days you could find the children enjoying their sack meals together on the playground.

“Some of them feel this is their main meal for the day. Their parents aren’t able to give them this much food,” said Linda Teto, a kindergarten teacher at Rawdat-al Toufoula School. “They came from poor families. They hardly have any money. They can’t provide this much food.”

“The food is filling them up with energy so they can concentrate,” she added. “When they’re hungry they can’t really pay attention.”

The guarantee of a balanced meal also increased students’ attendance and encouraged parents to choose education over child labor as they saw their household food costs decrease. On average, affected families were able to reallocate 10-15 percent of their income, per student, to other basic needs.

“The impact has been that the children are coming to school more frequently,” said Lynn. “They’re gaining weight, which is great. They’re energetic, they’re happier in general. They’re how kids should be. Not hungry.”

And because all the services and ingredients for the lunch program were sourced locally, it created more than 40 new jobs and pumped tens of thousands of crucial dollars into the Lebanese economy.

Throughout the course of a few months, our partners provided over 37,000 lunches to thousands of young students in Lebanon, giving them the fuel they needed to learn, grow and succeed, regardless of their family’s culture, background or income level.

“Some of the kids had enough food, but some didn’t. It depends on the child,” said Ms. Teto of the days before the program. “I used to tell them to share their food so that everyone would get some food. So none of them would feel that they were missing.”

“Now they feel they are equal. They eat the same thing. They say, ‘You have the same food that I do. We’re equal now.’

Photo: Corinna Robbins/Mercy Corps
Photo: Corinna Robbins/Mercy Corps
Corinna Robbins/Mercy Corps
Corinna Robbins/Mercy Corps
Corinna Robbins/Mercy Corps
Corinna Robbins/Mercy Corps
Corinna Robbins/Mercy Corps
Corinna Robbins/Mercy Corps
 
   

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