Dear friends of Operation Mercy,
as many of you know one of our biggest offices is in Afghanistan. So we want to give you a glimpse of the last days of some of our international staff in the country as well as my thoughts of the situation as we go forward.
All our international staff were evacuated on the 17th of August. We are in regular contact with all our local staff and are happy to report that so far all of them are safe and unharmed. We have undertaken many efforts to bring those most at risk out of the country, but this is been extremely difficult.
The last days ... through the eyes of our colleague:
A few days before I left my home in the North of Afghanistan, my taxi driver, whom I used to call now and then when I had to go somewhere, called me and asked if I was still in town. He offered me and my house mate to come and stay with his family, so that we wouldn't be alone given the security situation. This despite the fear among people in general that contacts with foreigners would even more compromise their safety in the event of a takeover by the Taliban. But my taxi driver – my friend – meant it: “It’s better if you stay with us instead”.
Some families brought in an extra 3-4 families in their homes, as people fled the countryside into the city. Even some of our staff had their house full of guests (never would they called them anything else) but still came to work and took responsibility for a thousand other things at the same time. “How do you handle the stress” I asked a colleague. “It is what it is.” she said. “We could never do otherwise than to take them in.”
Some people showed such a tight-knit calm those days before Mazar-e-Sharif was taken. Like they were watching a storm cloud build up over their heads, but steeling themselves. A friend who was there in the 1990s, and thus well aware of what could take place on the streets at the time of a takeover, said he would buy himself some canvases before the storm broke loose. "I won't be able to concentrate so I can read" he said, "but painting might work." As if he pulled out a mental sun lounger, sat down under open skies just waiting for the downpour. "I can't leave my family. I'll stay here." I myself moved on to Kabul before the first drops of the rains even began to fall. But with me I took a deep respect for the patience, care and faithfulness I have seen in many Afghans.
The last few nights before we left town, I slept on our roof. But I wasn't sleeping. I looked at the stars in the balmy night breeze. Listened to the dogs barking now and then. Heard the sound of bombings, 3-4 of them, some distant away in a couple of disputed villages on the outskirts of the city. I prayed for the city. Felt grateful to be surrounded by it. Somehow being a part of it. And so, the sun rose over the rooftops.
Afghanistan has had a sleepless night for 40 years. I pray it would dawn and for the sun to rise soon. I pray I would be there to see it.
Was it all for nothing?
That is a question many people ask these days, was all the work, the funds – yes even lives of soldiers and development workers – that we have to Afghanistan for nothing?
My deep conviction is NO! A generation of lives have been changed, girls and women have been to school, have learned that they have value and abilities – these are not things one can forget, unlearn or suppress with a change of government.
Our health projects have saved 1000s of new born children and mothers from death, our publishing project has brought books and stories into Afghan homes, the Self Help Groups and community water sanitation and hygiene projects have empowered women and whole communities to care and work together for what is going on in their neighbourhoods. These are lessons learned, behaviours practised, and relationships build that can not be undone by a law or rule.
So we look into the future with hope, even as all work is suspended and our local staff are staying at home to reduce the risk to their well-being at this point.
Yes the future under the new rule will look different, but we hope that they will also keep their word that they value the contributions of international organisations in health and education and that in due time, it will be safe for our people to return to work and once more “restore hope, grow capacity and promote community.
One key condition is that we will be able to employ and work with and for women in the future.
We will keep you updated how all of this will go forward over the next months – but the foundation for new strategies to serve Afghan people in Afghanistan and the neighbouring countries will be laid now, so we continue to be YOUR Partner for supporting the people of Afghanistan.
I hope you excuse this strong focus on Afghanistan in this news update.
We are also celebrating 30 years of Operation Mercy this month - more about that on our social media spaces, for this the Operation Mercy leaders and the board will meet this week. They will also discuss many other plans and strategies to bring hope, capacity and community to places where it is most needed in this world.
I will update you soon about the discussions and discissions taken on that.
Dear friends of Operation Mercy,
this morning I was in an online training with over 30 of our country and project leaders, we discussed what is poverty and what do we think of the theory, that at the root poverty is a breakdown of relationships?
We looked at resourcing, and what can the local community contribute to a project, that will make them proud of doing this work rather then making them grateful to and dependent on us.
We practised monitoring and discussed why it is so important that we track our progress towards the goals the community and we have set together.
Next week we will finish this 30 hour online Project Management course - we can see our own capacity grow week by week, as we discover new things, new ways of doing "old" things, or are reminded of best practice we knew but started to not think about any more.
But this is only the first step, already we are discussing, how can we pass on what we are learning to the rest of the local staff, to our local partner organisations, to the community and stakeholders in the community.
It is so exciting to see the capacity of my team build up, but it is even more exciting to then think about how to build the capacity of others, how to implement and multiply what we are learning.
So, thanks again for your support, that is making it possible to build up our own and the communities around us!
If you want to know more about how that is happening practically - I also have good news, the annual report 2020 with many great stories and insights, windows into our communities is now online on our webpage, to have a look and enjoy our stories, click on the link below!
You can also follow many of our projects on social media so have a look and say "hello" as you do!
A quick word about the pandemic - numbers are still raising again in several our Central Asian countries, some projects have been put on hold once more, and relief to those who have lost income due to restriction on day and migrant labour is ongoing.
on the other hand, immunisation is starting to happen, and we are working hard on helping all our staff who want to be vaccinated to get access.
I am planning my first field visit in 18 months by the end of July, when will have both my shots.
So I am looking forward to share first hand again with you all after that!
Yours Andrea - international director of Operation Mercy
Dear friends and hope givers with Operation Mercy,
this has truly been one of the most unusual 12 months in my life. As a long term worker with Operation Mercy I have lived abroad for over 20 years and then since taking leadership travelled to visit our teams to understand their specific situations, celebrate successes and build capacity in what we do.
Now it is almost 12 month since I last travelled. But this doesn't mean that our work has stopped, that we are standing still, that the candles of hope are flickering and that community and capacity is dwindling.
Community actually has increased in some areas as all our teams have faced the common specific issue of COVD 19 - and we have developed joined strategies and support structures. We are grateful to you all that we have not had to lay off staff or cancel any projects in 2020 or 2021 so far.
Instead we have been able to provide relief to those most affected by the pandemic and through this gain new insights into the communities we work with; stepped into homes and talked to people previously outside of our circle of influence.
These experiences will enable us to continue to build better and stringer projects for these communities in the future.
Here a specific example from a COVID 19 relief project in Kazakhstan a few weeks ago:
During the second distribution we were able to fill 200 bags with 43kgs of staple food, cleaning and hygiene supplies. Our project managers worked together across our four projects – disability, life skills, women’s empowerment and antihuman trafficking - to get the relief to those in our projects who needed it the most.
Many times, during the distribution we heard the thankfulness for the timely relief. One woman said: “I used my last teabag yesterday and today you arrived with more tea.” Another said: “I used my last drop of oil and I had no idea how I was going to get more, and then you came!”
One single mom with a very small child was amazed at how much food we were giving her. “I can make this last two months for my child and myself!” she exclaimed.
People were delighted to accept the food relief during the crisis and in the midst of winter – Covid19 has made things more difficult for everyone and as one lady said: “It’s good to help each other through the crisis.”
During the distribution, we were reminded again that poverty isn’t only the lack of food or material things, it’s also the lack of relationships and community. During the second COVID 19 relief distribution in Kazakhstan we saw how it helped to build and deepen relationships and communities.
We had a relief delivery point where members of our women’s empowerment groups were told to come and collect their parcels. The parcels were extremely heavy and even though the women all lived within the area, we mostly needed to provide transport to get them and their parcels home.
As we transported them home in the van with the food there was community being created in the car, learning where each person lived, often only a few roads away from each other. One mother’s young son had a jacket that wasn’t warm enough for the snow. The women were problem solving together, one woman said: “Maybe we could sew a flap over the zip to make it warmer”, and others offered their suggestions.
When we arrived at the home of one grandmother, the gate to her entrance was locked and she couldn’t get into her one roomed home. She didn’t want to inconvenience anyone further, so she told us that she would just wait until one of her neighbours came home (in the ice and snow). With that, one of the younger mothers climbed through the fence and managed to unlock the gate for her.
Most of the women needed help carrying the parcels all the way into their homes. Carrying parcels over the threshold, however, means that you need to eat bread together. In the one roomed homes, there was usually only a small amount of bread on the table and the cupboards were bare, with no margarine to put on the bread. Despite this, we needed to “touch our mouth” with the bread so as not to as to think ourselves greater than the bread.
Our project mangers enjoyed having a reason to visit people’s homes and to see how they lived and, in many cases, to observe the extent of their poverty.
The relief distribution went a long way to meet people’s immediate physical needs, as well as to build community.
Thanks for continuing to build hope, capacity and community with us in 2021!
Yours Andrea Vogt
International director of Operation Mercy.
Dear friends and supporters of Operation Mercy,
we are living in special times, in a season of change - a few months ago we thought it might be short term redirection, some quick interlude of different activities as we support communities in 19 nations to build hope, capacity and community.
Now it is 8 month, since i last was able to visit face to face with one of our project teams, and no change in sight, while the first initial wave of shifting from community development to COVID 19 relief work is finished and brough many positive encounters and led to new connections and understanding of ourselves, our partners and the communities we work and live in, we need to start adjusting not only short term but long term strategies.
Our project teams are now starting to reengage in the community projects, with adjusted activities, outcomes and the added goal of building awareness and resilience towards the effects of COVID 19 medially as well as psycho-social and economically.
In one of our maternal health projects, they now use life size dolls to demonstrate the birthing process, and how to support a woman in labour, so that the course participants don't need to touch each other and risk spreading the virus. Group size in most projects have been reduced, hand washing and hygiene lessons more important than ever before.
With all that we need to look forward plan for the new future
Economic development, livelihood and food security projects will be more important than ever in the coming years, girls and children with disabilities will be even more vulnerable to drop out of school early, due to lack of family funds for school fees, clothing, shoes, books ...
So more than ever we are "building planes in the air" adjusting ongoing projects, adjusting our internal organisational development programme and adjusting the future plans to engage in new countries and communities.
While we adjust, we do not give up! We still see the need and the "call" to be at the forefront of building hope, capacity and community In our region.
One of our core values is perseverance and persevere we will. Others is prayer and partnership - as people of different faith in Operation Mercy, we all trust that God has a plan for mankind, and that in partnering with each other across boundaries, and partnering with you out there we will build hope, capacity and community.
Thanks for standing with us.
I’ll end by sharing the link to a poem from Rumi, a Persian Poet – we recently reflected on, on our webpage – have a look at the link below.
Dear friends of Operation Mercy,
it is a difficult world we live in right now; my plans were to visit the projects in Afghanistan this summer instead we are talking online, monitor not only the COVID statistics but also the impact of the pandemic on our project participants and our partners around the world.
We have started COVID 19 response projects in all our countries and if you want to give specific to that check out the project here on GlobalGiving. The pandemic is still heavily affecting our work and has arrived in our midst with people we know and love being sick and losing family members to the virus.
The people we work with are some of the most vulnerable in countries with low capacity heath care. So is there anything good to report anything that gives hope?
YES there certainly is - one of the most amazing things for me is how the pandemic has broken down silos in projects and the whole organisation that we have wanted to see disappear for a long time but it took pain to make things shift.
For example the response to the pandemic has lead to a lot of cross programme and project work, in Afghanistan the staff of the Self-help group programme, the WASH programme and the Rahmat Good Books publishing project have created two booklets on COVID 19 together and are reaching all their previous project participants across the project boundaries with this important awareness lessons - the books have been distributed over 80,000 times in Afghanistan.
We also have seen an amazing community among our country directors as we come together initially weekly and now every second week - learning from each other, building each other up, raising funds across country boundaries and seeing the others needs first.
So while there are worries the community and communal capacity that is rooted in deep relationships across our projects and work has grown and is making us a stronger and more resilient organisation today then we were six months ago!
You want to be part of that community? You can by giving but also by following us on Facebook or Instagram and spreading the hope, community and capacity we see develop in all our projects.
I also want to invite you to celebrate with us the achievements for 2019 in our attached annual report, which also includes a finance and audit report for your information.
Project Reports on GlobalGiving are posted directly to globalgiving.org by Project Leaders as they are completed, generally every 3-4 months. To protect the integrity of these documents, GlobalGiving does not alter them; therefore you may find some language or formatting issues.
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