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.