Mercy Corps

To alleviate suffering, poverty and oppression by helping people build secure, productive and just communities.
Jan 20, 2015

Winter Storm Hits Refugees

  • Syrian refugees in Jordan are facing terrible conditions after snow, rain and wind hit the middle east last week. Photos: Mercy Corps

Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon are struggling to stay warm since a frigid winter storm hit the Middle East last week. Some areas have been blanketed with snow, while others have sustained pounding rains and strong winds.

Most refugees are living in spaces that are not designed to withstand any kind of inclement weather — fragile tents, uninsulated shelters, or buildings with no heat.

To make sure that refugee families are safe and warm, we work in the region to repair drafty shelters and give refugees the supplies they need to make it through another winter away from home.

More than 95,000 refugees are currently living in Zaatari and Azraq camps in Jordan, and the conditions over the past week have been grim.

To help them get through this unusually-brutal winter weather, we've been providing heaters and distributing coats, shoes and warm boots to children in Zaatari.

Throughout the storm, Mercy Corps staff and volunteers have been at the camps, working to help refugees as they face freezing days and cold, bitter nights. Our team in Lebanon, where many Syrian refugees live in informal tent settlements, is also helping people get through this storm safely.

“We've been hit with quite a bit of now over the past few days. The camp is very wet, cold and muddy,” said Mercy Corps’ country director Rob Maroni after visiting Zaatari. “Everyone has their clothing and blankets hanging out to dry, even though there's no way anything will dry under these overcast, cold conditions.”

The freezing temperatures are unusual for the area — it’s the first time Zaatari has received any snow since its opening nearly three years ago. Refugees have been forced to push inches of snow off their tents and huddle inside for warmth.

“One of our volunteers explained how he helped one family get a tent back up after it collapsed under the weight of snow at 10 pm with a person inside,” Maroni told us.

Mercy Corps has more than a dozen child-friendly spaces throughout the camps, designed to bring a sense of normalcy to refugees who are far from home. On most days, hundreds of children and adolescents come to play, take dance or martial arts classes, exercise at the gym, or learn computer skills.

We’ve kept these spaces open during the storm, offering a place for children and their families to come play or take shelter. Our staff and volunteers have been working to make sure that all the spaces are equipped with gas heaters and generators.

“Our facilities are open for everybody during the storm. Not just the kids,” said senior camp coordinator at Zaatari, Osama Telfah. If the weather gets worse, the Mercy Corps team is prepared to shelter refugees in these facilities, which are spread throughout the large camp.

Below are photos of the storm from the Mercy Corps team in Jordan. The photos, from both Zaatari and Azraq camps, show the hazardous conditions that refugees have faced over the past week.

Learn more about how we're helping Syrian refugees in Jordan get through the winter 

How you can help

Jan 6, 2015

Indian Ocean tsunami: Ten years later

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:

  • Donating to change a life today. Your support not only helps make sure communities are better prepared for future disasters but also healthier for families and individual residents in periods outside of emergencies. Please consider becoming a monthly donor. Every dollar helps. Thank you!
  • Be an advocate. Read more about our work on our website and through our social media channels, and share with your community!


Dec 11, 2014

Goats lead Santou's Life on a New Path

  • Photos: Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps

Most days are the same for women in rural Niger. The work appears never-ending.

Santou’s life is no different.

She wakes up and prays.

Sweeps the house and courtyard.

Washes the children and their clothes.

Makes millet porridge for them, including Zouberou, 8.

Fetches water and tends the garden.

Pounds more millet.

Makes more porridge.

Fetches more water.

The idea of rest puts a smile on her face, but those stolen moments of calm are rare.

“If you aren’t suffering, you will see that you are happy. Like if you don’t have anything to pound and you can come sit down, or if you have already prepared the porridge and you can come sit down,” Santou explains.

Her taxing daily routine highlights the challenges of life in the Sahel, a semi-arid region that stretches below the Sahara Desert.

Like Santou, most people here depend on subsistence farming, mainly growing the staple grain millet. But increasingly frequent droughts are drying up the land, making every day a struggle to meet the most basic needs.

Even more than rest, Santou dreams of food.

“Health is the only thing that you are praying for God to bring you. I want to know there will be enough food for the year,” she says. “If you can get that, you’re going to laugh and be happy.”

Finding enough food always seems to be precarious. But Santou is a determined woman — obstacles have only made her work harder to find ways around them, to make life move forward.

When the millet harvests started getting smaller, she planted a garden with tomatoes, cabbage, onions and lettuce. She added to her family’s diet, and when it grew well, she sold the extra to buy more grain.

Then another enemy appeared —not drought, but bugs.

“A pest came and ruined my tomatoes. You work hard watering the plants until they should bear fruit, and then something comes along to ruin everything. We needed a new kind of work to do, to not rely on only the tomatoes and the plants.”

So she saved little by little and bought a goat. Santou knew that the animal could be the start of a different life, providing milk even during the dry seasons — enough to keep her children fed and to make money by selling yogurt and cheese.

What could happen next? A flood.

It’s the bitter irony in a land wracked by drought — the ground is so dry and poorly managed that when the rains finally do come, the ground can’t absorb it and the water has nowhere to go.

“If the water comes up, it carries everything with it. People tried to stop it until they tired. There was nothing anyone could do,” Santou remembers. “Even the houses over there, the water took them.” Her goat was lost.

And Santou was lost, too — for once, she wasn’t sure what to do next. All of her savings were invested in her goat. How would she start over without any money?

That’s where Mercy Corps came in — after hearing about the flood, our team visited Santou’s village and assessed the damage. They helped families repair their homes, they taught people to prepare the land before the rainy season so prevent another flood, and they brought Santou and many other women new goats.

“If Mercy Corps hadn’t come after I worked so hard to get that one goat, I don’t know what I would have done,” she says. Read our original story about Santou from 2012 

“I’ve had these goats for almost three years now," she adds. "My goats are healthy. We are thankful.”

Caring for her goats isn’t necessarily less work — every morning, Santou walks for nearly an hour taking them into the bush to graze, and then has to round them up again at the end of the day.

But she is resting easier knowing that she has a sustainable and growing source of food and income — in fact, she’s already turned the pair of goats into a herd of five.

If the worst happens, like a desperate food shortage, these goats are a safety net: “Now if I don’t have enough to feed my children, I can sell one of my goats to buy food for them,” Santou explains.

She’s looking beyond the obstacles now — to a future where she can cope with whatever comes her way, to care for her daughter and grandson, Massaoudou, and her five other children.

“If these goats keep reproducing, then I will have enough food for many years,” she says. “If you have what you need, then you can smile.”

Hear from Santou herself in this short video.

You can help another woman like Santou lift herself out of poverty.

Give the gift of hope. Your generous gift helps women and families like Santou's become less vulnerable and helps improve their health and access to nutritious food. Thank you!




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