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Help Mercy Corps Turn Crisis Into Opportunity

by Mercy Corps
Help Mercy Corps Turn Crisis Into Opportunity
Help Mercy Corps Turn Crisis Into Opportunity
Help Mercy Corps Turn Crisis Into Opportunity
Help Mercy Corps Turn Crisis Into Opportunity
Help Mercy Corps Turn Crisis Into Opportunity
Help Mercy Corps Turn Crisis Into Opportunity
Help Mercy Corps Turn Crisis Into Opportunity
Help Mercy Corps Turn Crisis Into Opportunity
Help Mercy Corps Turn Crisis Into Opportunity
Help Mercy Corps Turn Crisis Into Opportunity
Help Mercy Corps Turn Crisis Into Opportunity
Help Mercy Corps Turn Crisis Into Opportunity
Help Mercy Corps Turn Crisis Into Opportunity
Help Mercy Corps Turn Crisis Into Opportunity
Help Mercy Corps Turn Crisis Into Opportunity
Help Mercy Corps Turn Crisis Into Opportunity
Help Mercy Corps Turn Crisis Into Opportunity
Help Mercy Corps Turn Crisis Into Opportunity
Help Mercy Corps Turn Crisis Into Opportunity
PHOTO: Ezra Millstein/Mercy Corps
PHOTO: Ezra Millstein/Mercy Corps

Jummai’s daily routine starts with feeding her children. From there, she knits and works on whatever project she has on her hands that day — currently, a blue and yellow hat for a one-month-old infant. Then, she feeds her children before going back to knitting. She knits to make extra money for her family.

This was not always her daily routine.

Jummai is a mother of seven children whose ages range from 8 to 33-years-old. She’s also a widow. After losing her husband, she took on multiple jobs to feed her children. Farming, distributing water, selling firewood, among others.

As the sole caretaker for her family, Jummai struggled to make ends meet. She was often forced to have her children make the long trek for water every morning, making them late for school. For a while, this was her daily routine.

Then Boko Haram infiltrated nearby villages, sporadically and frequently attacking her village of Biu, Nigeria along with others. Life as Jummai knew it came to a sudden, unimaginable halt.

“I thought I was dead and gone,” she says, recalling the day they first arrived.

Some days during Boko Haram’s occupation of her village, running simple errands like going to the store to get food were impossible for Jummai.

“[The insurgence] affected us so much. I lost [my 15-year-old son] and many in my village were killed. It was difficult to eat and survive at that time,” Jummai says. “We couldn’t sleep or go out to look for food. It was like a nightmare.”

When she was able to buy food, she had to buy it on credit. The occupation drastically inhibited her ability to work since she couldn’t tend to her family farm or knit — leaving her completely unable to make any kind of living. Her children became malnourished from going days at a time without food.

When the crisis was at its worst, Mercy Corps delivered Jummai emergency food assistance that lasted her and her family two months.

She received a livelihood grant after the Boko Haram crisis ended as a part of our early recovery efforts, which she used to buy knitting needles, yarn and other supplies to open her first business.

Boko Haram’s last attack on Jummai’s village was near the end of 2017. Throughout 2018 and the beginning of this year, Jummai has been working on opening another business. One that will provide sustainable income for her family and the community for years to come.

She persuaded the local Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA), a Mercy Corps-supported group that provides funding, banking and financial literacy services, which she chairs, to invest in the proposed business. They did.

The livestock business provides food, milk and financial security to Jummai, the VLSA and other community members. Jummai employs community members to tend to the livestock in the cattle lot and bring them water, while she counts the cattle every morning and night and ensures that everything is going the way it should.

Both of her businesses, knitting and raising livestock, took off. Jummai now has the ability to provide for her family and save to make bigger purchases in the future — something she could not have done before.

“Before, I couldn’t save money, but now I feel better that I can save,” Jummai says.

The money Jummai has saved has transformed her life. Through the VSLA, she’s created new friendships and connections in her community. Her businesses bring her consistent income and the ability to save money while giving her children the things they needed to flourish.

Her community is thriving now. The devastation brought by Boko Haram is long out of the hearts and minds of Jummai and her friends, family and neighbors.

“In fact, since the arrival of Mercy Corps things have been so good that we have almost forgotten that Boko Haram ever existed,” Jummai says.

Today, Jummai spends her days tending to livestock, knitting and taking care of her children. They are no longer late to school, thanks to a clean water point Mercy Corps installed closer to her home. Jummai has high hopes for her children as well as herself, wanting to see them complete their schooling and her business continue to flourish.

“Now that I am happy, I would like to see my children educated, to be prosperous, and I would also like to live in prosperity myself,” Jummai says.

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PHOTO: Ezra Millstein/Mercy Corps
PHOTO: Ezra Millstein/Mercy Corps
PHOTO: Ezra Millstein/Mercy Corps
PHOTO: Ezra Millstein/Mercy Corps

Even in the shade, the heat is stifling. It wraps 43-year-old Oriana like a heavy blanket, adding to the weight of her circumstances. Her 15-year-old daughter, Joelbi, lies in a make-do hammock nearby; a group of other young boys and girls — all unrelated, all under 16 — lounge on the ground and trees around her.

One of the boys points to Oriana. That is everyone’s mom, he says.

With warmth but great sadness, Oriana gestures to the bridge and the trash and the parentless Venezuelan kids who’ve found safety with her. None of this was part of the plan.

It wasn’t long ago that Oriana had a steady job at a hospital in Venezuela, her home country. She had a house and was able to support her two children, Joelbi and her 16-year-old son, Yohan.  

When people arrive in Colombia, they often beg until they have enough money to buy coffee, bread, candies or other small items they can sell on the street. They are lucky if they earn between $2 and $5 a day, which they use to scrape by or to send back to Venezuela. For those who do get informal jobs, they are subject to low pay, long hours and exploitation.

“We did not come here to be parasites,” says one Venezuelan migrant in Riohacha. “All we want is to be given the same rights and protections as Colombians. We want to work, but with dignity.”  

Mercy Corps has expanded its existing operations in Colombia to meet the urgent needs of Venezuelan refugees and Colombians affected by Venezuelan migrations. We've already helped more than 7,700 people since last year. 

We are providing emergency cash via prepaid debit cards to help approximately 7,000 people in 10 municipalities in Cesar and La Guajira departments, including the cities of Riohacha, Maicao and Valledupar. 

Between June and September 2018, we helped more than 2,000 Venezuelans get medicine by paying for prescriptions at local pharmacies in Riohacha, La Guajira. For hospital inpatients, in addition to paying for prescriptions, we provided items such as diapers and hygiene supplies.

In Putumayo, Cauca and Antioquia, where we already work to help vulnerable Colombians displaced by armed conflict meet their urgent needs, we are also providing emergency cash to help Venezuelan families living there. We’ve already assisted more than 1,800 Venezuelans (more than 460 families) across these three departments.  

The humanitarian crisis is now the worst in the Western Hemisphere, with more than 3 million people displaced in the region. More people may flee in the coming months as conditions in the country worsen. The UN estimates there will be 5.3 million Venezuelan refugees and migrants by the end of 2019.

As the situation worsens, Mercy Corps is committed to helping vulnerable Venezuelan refugees who are unsure of what the future holds. Our response is only just beginning.

Your help will allow us to do even more to support these families as they cope with the tragedy of losing their homes and livelihoods. 

Noella visits with Banyere, one of the women in her social mobilization group. ALL PHOTOS: Elizabeth Dalziel for Mercy Corps

Around the world, clean drinking water is a matter of life and death.

In DRC, these life-and-death circumstances are exacerbated by other risks: violence, conflict and weak infrastructure that further threaten the most vulnerable.

That includes children under the age of 5. Lack of access to clean water, sanitation facilities and hygiene practices are the main causes of diarrhea, which is the second most common cause of mortality for young children there.

We’re working directly in communities to help change that. And women like Noella, pictured above, are instrumental in making that change.

Water Challenges in the DRC

Long-standing insecurity and violence in DRC are forcing desperate people from their homes in search of peace. Families are fleeing their traditional rural and farming areas for towns and cities where they feel safer.

Around 4.5 million people are displaced within the country. This past year, the violent situation has only worsened. This increased level of displacement — coupled with mismanagement and lack of funding for water for more people — has led to a shortage of clean water in Goma and Bukavu in eastern DRC.

In many places, when water isn’t available, it often takes hours of walking to reach a water source. And there are no guarantees that it’s clean. When water is available locally, long lines to reach the taps or wells are likely.

That’s why we’re there, in the communities that need us most, improving access to and education about water for the most vulnerable citizens of Goma and Bukavu.

Imporving the Health of Communities in the DRC


Groups of about 15 women meet all over Goma in DRC to discuss how to keep their children healthy. Noella leads this one.

Noella, a social mobilizer volunteer for Mercy Corps and mother of three, is working in Goma to provide that water education. She’s been volunteering with us for two years to reduce the number of deaths of children under the age of 5.

“[Mercy Corps training] is very important because I have seen some changes in my family in the past year,” she says. “Through the Mercy Corps training, we know how to treat water and how to get clean water. And we know different ways of keeping the place clean and we have seen some changes in the way children were easily getting affected or falling sick. Since I’m getting that training I’ve seen a reduction in the sickness of children.”

In 2016, when she started, there were more than 343 cases of children suffering from diarrhea and about 22 deaths among them. Since then, with the work of care groups like hers, the diarrhea rate in children under the age of 5 has been reduced from 10 percent in 2017 to an impressive 2 percent in July of this year.

Each volunteer who is part of Noella’s group has another 15 women that they share their learnings with.

There are approximately 3,200 volunteers in Goma and each person has 15 people in their group, totalling approximately 45,000 women across Goma.


Noella fetches water at a pump that Mercy Corps installed near her home in Goma.

“All the lessons that you've been teaching us are very important, [like] how you've taught us to wash [our] hands before starting activities like cooking,” says Banyere to Noella, who has been teaching her. “The lessons that you have been teaching us [are] bringing us peace because if there is an outbreak of cholera, if we're following the teaching of Mercy Corps we [won’t] be affected with the cholera.”

Noella showed us some of the hygiene methods she learned from our trainings, which she now shares with others: using a water container with a lid, using soap, washing plates and putting clean dishes in a new basket, discouraging using a cloth to dry dishes, and using three buckets for washing and rinsing.

Noella also visited a clinic for children with malnutrition and participates in other social mobilization activities with volunteers and local Mercy Corps team members, like showing educational films to other community members.

These activities reach additional people, mostly pregnant women and women with children under 5, who do not participate directly in Mercy Corps’ women’s groups.

“[It’s important] to learn and share with our neighbors in regards to protecting our children who are under 5 years,” says Zawadi Cecile, 36, another program participant. “It is important so that they do not fall sick because of the stress it causes, and it costs additional money.”

And that’s the value of empowering people directly affected by crises. Noella may be just one volunteer, but she is part of a larger movement that’s making waves across her community.

How you can help


Silvie Bienda, a program officer in DRC, left, walks alongside Noella as she heads to the pump to fetch water.

This year, we’ve doubled our humanitarian response in the Democratic Republic of Congo. We plan to help more than half a million Congolese over the next year, making Mercy Corps one of the largest organizations working in the country.

Help us make our work go even further by donating today.

Get your gift matched. Many employers match their employees' donations, doubling your impact. Check our website to see if your donation through GlobalGiving can be matched by your employer.

Tell your friends. Share this story or visit us on Facebook and Twitter to read more stories like this one.

More wildfires, hot days and extended droughts.

As climate change continues to exacerbate these problems, along with hunger and conflict, young people  - especially those living in the world's poorest countries — will bear the brunt of the impact.

Climate change compounds already fraught situations like economic instability and refugee crises. Whether it comes in the form of unbearable heat waves, harsh winters, or extreme weather, climate change undermines humanitarian efforts and creates new challenges for organizations and communities to address.

That's why we're a part of young people’s communities, working together to address their needs today while making them more resilient for what's ahead. We can’t prevent disasters and conflicts from happening, but we can ensure that young people have the tools they need to prepare for and recover from them.

Find out how we’re partnering with young people around the world to help them cope with the effects of climate change, and learn more about how you can help.

At 23 years old, Ida is the youngest female farmer in her small town of Terara, Indonesia. It’s a trade she inherited from her parents and two older brothers. Unfortunately, she also inherited shorter rainy seasons and longer dry seasons — consequences of climate change that her parents never had to face.

By 2050, total rainfall in Indonesia is expected to increase on average by nearly 10 percent from April through June, but decrease by 10 to 25 percent from July through September. As Ida gets older, she will need new to develop new farming techniques to help her adapt to a changing climate in order to continue making money for her family.

That’s why we're helping Ida's farmer group by providing training on effective farming practices, which will help them produce more and better crops, even as weather patterns become more unpredictable. As the treasurer of her farmer group, Ida is becoming one of the most trusted members in her community. As she gets older, she’ll continue to strengthen her community as she builds her farming and bookkeeping skills. Her leadership and expertise will be critical as weather conditions continue to deteriorate.

Every year, during the hunger gap, people in Niger begin to run low on food from last year’s harvest while still awaiting their upcoming harvest. These hunger gaps continue to grow in severity as climate change decreases crop yields and increases the length of time that people go hungry. Families are forced to eat only one meal per day or even less, with devastating results: More than four in 10 children under 5 years old have stunted growth. These outcomes will intensify without interventions that improve food production.

That's where the goat comes in. We gave Fatsuma, 14, two goats, which she’ll keep until the goats have kids. She’ll keep the kids and then pass their mothers on to another member of her girls safe space group. That ripple effect means young people like her are more insulated from the worst of the hunger gap. Goats are a critical part of life in Niger, providing milk and a source of income in times of need. For Fatsuma and others like her, goats will also help them gain independence and develop their own livelihoods.

Nepal is no stranger to natural disasters. Where Sushma, 24, lives was one of the areas most affected by the 2015 earthquakes; one of them leveled her home. In the immediate aftermath, we provided emergency supplies and cash. Bu our Nepal recovery work has been ongoing as natural disasters like landslides and flooding continue to threaten the country.

Some scientists believe that climate change is affecting earth’s structure, triggering earthquakes and other geological disasters, which means they will happen with increasing frequency and intensity as sea levels rise and rain patterns change. Earthquakes and landslides, already a common occurrence in Nepal, will be even more frequent.

Our ongoing efforts in Nepal provide livelihood and financial literacy trainings, and family dialogue workshops, which help women and men work together to become more resilient — before and after disasters. “I didn't know much [after the earthquake], but I took the trainings, and I realized that if I work hard I can actually do something myself,” Sushma says.

Young people will witness even more dramatic shifts in the climate as they get older. Without support, they risk losing their livelihoods, their communities, and even their lives. We must help prepare them now, before it is too late.

Together we can make sure that young people have the training and resources they need to be more resilient. As a member of the global Mercy Corps community, you are part of the solution and you help make this work possible. Thank you for your ongoing support! 

Photos by Sean Sheridan and Ezra Millstein

Ida in Terara, Indonesia
Ida in Terara, Indonesia
Fatsuma in Niger
Fatsuma in Niger

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Food is central to human well-being: it provides the body with nourishment, offers livelihoods that lift people out of poverty, and brings communities together. Although food is a basic human need, too many people are trapped in a cycle of hunger by forces beyond their immediate control, like poverty, disaster, conflict and inequality.

Despite decades of progress in reducing world hunger, 2017 saw increases in the number of people who are hungry. More than 800 million people still go to bed hungry every night — that’s one in every nine people who don’t have the food they need to live a healthy, productive life.

The World Health Organization considers this to be the single greatest threat to global health. Hunger is cyclical and generational: it inhibits people’s ability to work and learn to their fullest potential, which can curb their future and trap them and their families in more poverty — and more hunger.

Mercy Corps takes a multi-pronged approach to helping end world hunger, including implementing programs that tackle the multiple drivers of food security, while also engaging in policy discussions that influence our programs. Learn about this work and what is being done to stop world hunger below.

Common causes of hunger

World hunger is caused by so much more than a shortage of food. Even in places where food is plentiful or can be grown, challenges like disasters, conflict or poverty prevent people from accessing it.

People in poverty generally spend between 60 and 80 percent of their income on food, which can force them to prioritize feeding their families over meeting other basic needs or reaching long-term goals, like sending their children to school. If an emergency strikes, they may need to skip meals in order to cope financially — and the cycle of hunger continues.

According to the Food Security Information Network, conflict and insecurity were primary drivers of food insecurity in 2017, alone accountable for putting 74 million people in need of urgent assistance.

Hunger can also stem from inadequate food systems, like a lack of road infrastructure to connect people to markets, or poor storage facilities, through which food gets wasted and never reaches those who need it.

Weather shocks, due in part to climate change, are also increasingly driving hunger. Half the world’s poor grow their own food, and natural disasters like droughts and floods frequently wipe out vulnerable families’ entire food supply and income.

But even if all these obstacles to food access were removed, the world will still need to change its agriculture practices to meet the needs of its growing population.

What is being done to end world hunger?

Work humanitarian organizations are doing
We can only tackle world hunger effectively if we address what causes it in the first place. This means improving systems and behaviors that enable secure access, availability and use of food.

Fighting the drivers of hunger is key to Mercy Corps’ work with vulnerable communities in more than 40 countries:

During acute crises, we provide at-risk communities with lifesaving assistance and the tools to re-establish healthy bodies and prosperous livelihoods. We help people with food, livelihood tools, and cash donations when food supplies are low or unaffordable, such as when people are displaced by conflict or natural disasters.

We also work with governments, multilateral institutions and other key stakeholders to support funding programs and implementing policies that help stop global hunger and malnutrition and improve the lives of millions around the world.

Legislation and help from the government

After decades of underinvestment, countries like the U.S. have begun to reinvest in programs to fight global hunger. The effort has built momentum over the years, culminating in 2015 when the global community came together to commit to pursuing the Sustainable Development Goals, with ending hunger as a top priority.

Private companies, NGOs, universities and academic institutions joined national governments with new agriculture and nutrition investments in response. In the United States, these new partnerships led to the Feed the Future Initiative, an anti-hunger response that has achieved impressive results: 9 million people lifted out of poverty, 1.6 million households free from hunger, and 1.8 million children properly nourished.

The passage of the bipartisan Global Food Security Act made this effort into law in 2016, and led to a new Global Food Security Strategy that built on the successes of Feed the Future.

How you can help

  1. Donate today. Every single contribution helps us provide even more emergency relief for families facing hunger and others in crisis around the world.
  2. Tell your friends. Share this story or go to our Facebook page or Twitter page to post the infographic and spread the word about the millions who need us.
  3. Advocate. Sign our petition telling Congress not to cut international aid. Around the world, people are in need of lifesaving assistance. We must continue to support them.

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Organization Information

Mercy Corps

Location: Portland, OR - USA
Website:
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Twitter: @mercycorps
Project Leader:
Courtney Meisenheimer
Portland, Oregon United States
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