Help Mercy Corps Turn Crisis Into Opportunity

by Mercy Corps
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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

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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Mercy Corps works with young people in the most dangerous neighborhoods in Guatemala City, helping youth envision—and create—a better future. Here, election ink is used to prevent double voting, but also serves as a symbol of pride and democratic privilege. All photos: Corinna Robbins for Mercy Corps.

Luis moves quickly, weaving his way through narrow, winding streets lined with dusty cinder block buildings. It’s midday but the neighborhood is hushed, save for skinny dogs pawing at roadside scraps and the occasional dark truck, driven by men with grim faces and the solitary mission of making their presence known.

Past desolate alleyways and barred storefronts, Luis slips between a set of tall gates, the portal to a small concrete courtyard where faded hopscotch grids keep company with a lone and netless basketball hoop.

The doors click locked behind him. He’s arrived early enough to get a seat—there aren’t enough desks for everyone in his class—but that’s not the day’s success. The real victory, today, is that he made it to school.

At 16, Luis’s life growing up in Guatemala City is a series of cautious, calculated movements. Don’t stray past safe zones: home, school, church. Don’t cross to the “wrong” side of the street. Trust no one. Don’t get noticed.

His is a city fractured by violence: the 23rd highest homicide rate in the world, an alarming degree of rape, murder and abuse of females, and pervasive gang activity with recruitment that starts as young as age 8—plus extreme poverty, high school dropout rates, rampant drug use, a deep sense of lawlessness and countless other indicators that breed the belief that life has nothing else to offer.

“Every neighborhood has some presence of organized crime and international drug trafficking,” says Peter Loach, who led the implementation of Mercy Corps’ violence prevention program in the city.

“There's really no sense of community. [If you’re young] you’re [often] growing up in a single-parent household where you're sharing a room with other families. You might have a school that you can go to. Maybe it's safe to walk to the school, maybe it isn't and you don't get to go every day because of that. As you get beyond elementary school, the quality of education is not very high. You're probably working already at the age of 7, or 8, or 9.

“You add to that [the presence of] guns everywhere, a culture of violence, one of the highest rates of domestic violence in the world—it's just a tinderbox. It's a perfect storm for creating a generation of kids who really don't have too many prospects.”

For millions of the city’s young people, to succumb is the norm. To thrive is the exception.

Student governments give youth choice

Across town, in a concrete school at the end of a lonely alleyway, Cristal, 15, shifts quietly in her seat. In the center courtyard, younger students shriek and laugh, racing to beat one another to the line for a snack. It’s the first time many of them will have eaten all day, and Cristal raises her soft voice to be heard against the commotion.

“You have to be careful here in the community,” she says, casually detailing the risks youth throughout the city will tell you they’re up against every day: gangs, drugs, violence, a lack of opportunity. “There is danger.”

The pivotal difference for Cristal is that there is another side to her perspective. “But if you study to be better I know that you can change the community,” she adds.

Her confidence that a person can deviate from their predetermined path is significant—and it’s new. In just one year since being elected student government president, Cristal has learned she holds within her something that once felt elusive: choice.

“It makes me feel good,” Cristal says, “because I can help my classmates, listen to their opinions, and show others that we … can do something different in school. We can make our voice heard as students.”

Establishing student governments like this one is part of Mercy Corps’ five-year violence prevention program in Guatemala City. It focuses especially on youth growing up in the most volatile neighborhoods, helping them take ownership of their lives and communities in a way that many felt to be impossible before.

“People [here] feel that they don't have a voice,” Loach says. “And maybe no one’s ever asked them. Sometimes you just have to ask people what they think. We’re trying to ask people, ‘What do you want? What do you want to do?’ No one’s ever asked them before.”

Cristal wants to use her new influence as student body president to better her school. Her voice is steadier now, and her thoughts tumble out. She eagerly recounts plans to improve the lighting system and install a water filter. When she’s older, she says, she might run a company, or help her father fulfill his dream of owning a shoe store. She might run for mayor of Guatemala City one day.

“[Before] if anyone had an idea there was no one who listened, who organized it,” Cristal says. “Now it’s different because, if I want to talk, I’ll tell you. It’s as if I had opened a door that was closed for a long time.”

With the freedom to dream, a different future

Back at Luis's school, the student government has changed the narrative, too.

"We are all capable,” he says, “but when others are not given the opportunity [to express their opinion] it seems as if we do not value them. We are giving value to everyone to express what they feel and what they want to do."

As president of his classroom, Luis has a rolling list of improvements he wants to make: paint the walls, supply clean water, get three more desks, repair the electricity, ensure every classroom has working light bulbs.

“Sometimes people refer to this community as bad,” he says, sincerely, “but it is not that. It is [up to] each young person if they want to change for good or want to change for bad.”

As much as he has been thinking about his classmates lately, Luis has also been thinking about his future.

He heard on the news about a way he could serve his community, a path he can take to help make it the safe, secure place he knows it can be.

“I want to be a criminology student,” he says, “and be an investigator. They say their job is to help so that there is no more violence.

“I want to do that.”

And perhaps now he will, if only because he believes he can.

How you can help

Informed, empowered youth have the ability to profoundly change their lives and families for the better—and with the right support, they can change the world, too. You can encourage even more young people to transform their communities.

  • Donate today. Every single contribution helps us provide more support to youth who need us around the world.
  • Tell your friends. Share this story and spread the word about the millions of young people facing adversity across the globe.
  • Get your gift matched. Many companies match their employees' and alumni's gifts, making your donation and your impact go even further.


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South Sudan
South Sudan

For millions of people from Africa to the Middle East, hunger is a daily reality. But, for some, the risk of starvation is even greater. People in four countries - South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Nigeria - have been threatened by famine this year. Photos: Jennifer Huxta for Mercy Corps, Peter Caton for Mercy Corps, Tom Saater for Mercy Corps.

For nearly a year, relentless conflict and natural disaster have put more than 20 million people in four countries across Africa and the Middle East at risk of starvation. For just as long, Mercy Corps has been dedicated to helping people in the hardest-hit communities survive, meet their emergency needs and build a foundation for eventual recovery.

Below, Mercy Corps team members from each of the famine-threatened countries report on the current situation, and what more needs to be done.

Earlier this year, the United Nations declared a famine in parts of South Sudan, the first anywhere in the world in six years. While the country is no longer technically experiencing a famine, ongoing conflict continues to fuel displacement, loss of livelihoods and severe malnutrition. Our acting country director for South Sudan, Francesco Lanino, provides an update.

What is the food crisis like right now?

South Sudan entered the harvest season in September 2017 with 6 million people — 56 percent of the total population — estimated to be severely food insecure. Even though post-harvest gains are expected to reduce this number, an anticipated earlier than normal start of the lean season [when people run out of food before the next harvest] will result in an estimated 5.1 million people being classified as severely food insecure between January and March of 2018. Humanitarian assistance is critical in averting the situation deteriorating to catastrophic levels.

In the worst-case scenario — given the severity of the food security and nutrition situation observed during the 2017 lean season — continued conflict, humanitarian access constraints, climatic shocks and economic instability leading up to the 2018 lean season will likely result in famine conditions in multiple locations across South Sudan.

How is Mercy Corps planning to continue responding?

Mercy Corps will keep providing support to the most vulnerable South Sudanese. In Mundri East, where Mercy Corps distributed seeds and tools, our farmers managed to harvest enough to cover the food needs for the lean season and farm again for the next farming cycle. In Panjiyar, Mercy Corps distributed crops and vegetable kits to every single household, and we’ll continue to support people by delivering new seed kits during the coming lean season. Mercy Corps also distributed fishing kits to each family in Panjiyar, and will deliver training on how to properly dry and store fish.

Mercy Corps’ cash transfers program to support the most food insecure families will continue during the coming season. When the harvested food supplies are depleted during the lean season, Mercy Corps will provide cash assistance to enable people to purchase food supplies in the local market, where traders are also supported by Mercy Corps. And Mercy Corps will be running school feeding programs to guarantee at least 6,000 children get one meal per day.

What do you want the public to know as we move into the new year?

South Sudanese people cannot be abandoned. Support is needed more than ever. In 2018, Mercy Corps will continue enhancing the ability of at least 300,000 of the most vulnerable individuals — this is double the number from last year — to be able to cope with the effects of conflict and disease outbreak, while building resilience. Through this increased resilience, communities will be better able to cope with, adapt to and manage shocks and stresses in the future.

Since January 2017, a dangerous combination of violence and severe drought have forced almost 1 million people to flee their homes, unable to grow food in their agricultural communities. Humanitarian interventions helped avert famine, but drought conditions persist and 3.1 million people still cannot meet their daily food needs. Our country director for Somalia, Abdikadir Mohamud, explains.

How has the food crisis changed in recent months?

The humanitarian response has been very proactive in trying to address the need. There are gaps, definitely, but the situation is not as alarming as before. The rains have just started — although not as strong as expected — but rains are not enough [for people to return to their homes]. The insecurity challenges are there. There is a lot of activity in terms of military and a lot of political instability. What we are finding is that people are going in and out of the camps to go see their places, but there is not much activity in terms of farming.

How is Mercy Corps planning to continue responding?

[We will] continue with provision of basic needs, which are water, rehabilitation of infrastructure — farm infrastructure or agricultural activities — and also trying to see how we can support those in camps. Our team is highly dedicated and committed to moving supplies and other aid services into the communities.

We are talking about, for example, provision of food for school children, and also trucking water to the places that have not seen any rain yet. We are also doing cash-for-work activities so we can inject cash into the markets and the populations, so that they can afford to buy their food in different areas. Those who have severely lost their livestock, we're trying to restock livestock for them, and then also training community animal health workers to provide essential services.

What do you want the public to know as we move into the new year?

What we really need people to know is that the situation is still the same in Somalia. As much as we give it hope, the needs are there. That has not changed. We still require international support. We require regional support. And we also require the public's support to make Somalia stable again.

The picture is that the situation in Somalia is dire, and we really need your support so that the Somali community, and the children of Somalia, can live through this calamity. Hopefully, by the new year, there is rain and people can do their farming. That is when we can talk about trying to see whether we can move people to recovery. Now we are only talking about how to save lives.

Families in Yemen are in dire need after years of war have crippled the economy, disrupted basic services and made essential supplies like food, medicine and fuel inaccessible. An estimated 17 million people do not have the food they need, and the United Nations reports the country is on the brink of the largest famine the world has seen in decades. Hannah Hilleson, senior program officer for the Middle East, shares more.

What is the food crisis like right now?

The food security situation in Yemen is extremely challenging. As a result of the ongoing conflict, food stores are limited, especially in remote parts of the country. The country imports most of its food, and access constraints into and out of the country limit the availability of nutritious foods.

What's interesting is that while limited, we are still seeing food available in many communities, though at an increased price. Yemen is also suffering from an ongoing banking and liquidity crisis, which means that while food stores may often be available, the average Yemeni may not have enough funds to purchase the food. The situation continues to evolve with the ongoing conflict and we continue to track it closely to ensure we are meeting the urgent needs of those most vulnerable.

Why is it important for people to continue caring about need in Yemen?

Yemen is the poorest country in the Middle East, and was already food insecure before the current conflict. As a result, the ongoing crisis is wreaking havoc on the Yemeni people and creating a number of follow-on effects that will continue to pose challenges for years to come.

For example, less variety and availability of nutritious food reduces a person's ability to combat health related issues. We saw this clearly in 2017, as cholera spread — and continues to spread — across Yemen. Additionally, during times of food insecurity, heads of households are forced to make really tough decisions for themselves and their families, including taking children out of school to reallocate those funds for food and skip or reduce the number of meals they consume.

What motivates you to keep doing this work?

The Mercy Corps Yemen team is absolutely remarkable. Their dedication to bettering their communities and serving those most vulnerable — while they are themselves also facing extreme challenges — never fails to amaze me. They are a constant motivation to do my very best so they can do theirs.

In northeast Nigeria, the home of Boko Haram, violence has uprooted 1.7 million people from their homes and livelihoods, effectively robbing their ability to feed their families. As the Nigerian government has recently regained control of certain areas, it has paved the way for recovery while simultaneously unveiling the scale of need in communities that were previously inaccessible. Darius Radcliffe, our country director for Nigeria, reports.

How has the food crisis changed in recent months?

The big message is famine has been averted as a result of the massive scale-up in humanitarian assistance. In areas where humanitarian organizations have intervened, collectively, they have made a tangible difference.

However, while internal displacement is beginning to curb, food insecurity amongst internally displaced people (IDPs) and host communities remains particularly high: 5.2 million people are still severely food insecure, and 2 million are currently receiving food assistance. Humanitarian access remains a major constraint — some areas facing emergency levels of food insecurity are completely inaccessible due to insecurity and logistical challenges.

How is Mercy Corps planning to continue responding?

The need is still there. There is still a response that is necessary — but it’s a different type of response we’re now looking at. Mercy Corps is continuing food vouchers and distributions to combat food insecurity, but we’re also expanding our approach to include early recovery and resilience efforts. That means supporting livelihood recovery activities and providing agricultural training to allow people and communities to become agents of their own recovery.

We are also expanding our conflict management efforts in the northeast to further strengthen and support communities as they recover from the crisis. We're continually trying to find solutions rather than just deliver humanitarian aid.

Why is it important for people to continue caring about need in Nigeria?

The crisis in Nigeria remains one of the largest humanitarian emergencies in the world. Without food assistance, many millions of people will suffer needlessly, and we risk slipping away from the early recovery seen in parts of the northeast.

In addition, the conflict is not abating. Over 80 percent of Borno state, the state most caught up in the crisis, is considered at high or very high risk. More needs to be done to access these people and assess their needs. And we need to help people affected by the conflict transition from dependence on humanitarian assistance to early recovery. Without these efforts, we risk food insecurity in the northeast becoming a chronic and intractable humanitarian issue for years to come, with significant ramifications for the safety and stability of the entire region.


  1. Donate today. Every single contribution helps us provide even more food, water and support to families living in areas affected by famine and around the world. Get your gift matched by your employer to double your impact.
  2. Tell your friends. Share this story or go to our Facebook page or Twitter page to help us spread the word about the millions who need us.


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In the aftermath of the battle for Mosul, nearly 1.5 million people have been affected and the need is immense. Mercy Corps is distributing emergency supplies and cash to support families as they begin the hard work of recovery. All photos: Ezra Millstein/Mercy Corps

Ayad’s children nap on the dirt floor inside their tent, dusty sandals splayed beside them. In this desert displacement camp, Ayad grieves that their lives have morphed into a series of water collection and food distributions, but they have nowhere else to go. Their home was razed nine months ago.

In Mosul city, Faiza fills a small plastic tub with what water she can spare, improvising a pool to keep her six grandchildren cool. The heat is sweltering in the bullet-pocked shelter they now share with five other groups, but Faiza can’t afford a fan. There is no work, and she’s been borrowing money just to keep her family fed.

In another neighborhood, Samer* sits in the cramped courtyard of his rented shelter trying to catch relief from the same heat. He rubs what is left of his tender legs — both of which were lost after hitting a roadside bomb — as his young children run circles around him. As he describes what they are facing, he calls to his wife for confirmation, but she doesn’t respond. The blast took her hearing.

“We were rich people once,” Samer says wearily. “We helped people in need. Now we are the ones who need help.”

‘They lost their humanity’
Before this — before the city fell to ISIS, before the excruciating battle to liberate it — Mosul was a historic, vibrant city where 2.5 million people built their lives.

Parents sent their boys and girls to school with colorful backpacks draped over their shoulders. People gathered on the banks of the Tigris river, laughing and roasting fresh fish on the tree-lined shore. Families packed streetside cafes. Students filed through the doors of the university library, thick textbooks wrapped in their arms. Men and women tended to the city as doctors, policemen and teachers. Centuries-old architecture peppered the skyline. Life was everywhere. People were happy.

That was before.

When the battle to reclaim Mosul began last October, after three years of rule under ISIS, the choice to stay or leave wasn’t an option as much as a gamble: flee and risk being shot by snipers, or stay and brace for the bombs.

“Some people prepared to stay and protect their property, and they did not want to jeopardize their lives and their kids’ lives,” says Hassan Waleed, Mercy Corps’ emergency response program manager for Mosul. “Others thought, ‘I’m dying either way. Let me take my chances and flee.’”

Access to vital necessities — fuel, water, electricity — was cut off. Basic foods reached exorbitant prices; 1 kilogram of rice alone cost $25 USD. No one — civilian or fighter — was safe from the daily onslaught of explosions and gunfire. Nearly a million people were forced from their homes, many of which were bombed and shelled with residents still inside.

By the time the city was declared liberated nine months later, it had suffered a battle so severe it has since been called the most brutal urban combat since World War II.

Because of the situation in Mosul, Bouchra’s children —one daughter and three sons, including 11-year-old Ahmed — haven’t been to school in more than two years. Her husband was shot during the battle for Mosul city, so it’s now up to her to put their lives back together.

Once-colorful city blocks lined with schools, churches and parks have been reduced to piles of rubble and twisted metal. Families have been severed. By some estimates, 40,000 people have been killed and many more injured.

Those who remain are left to salvage their lives in a city covered with 11 million tons of residential debris and so many leftover landmines the United Nations estimates it will take a decade to clear them.

This is the hard truth about war: to experience it is one thing, and to survive it is something else entirely.

“War always has a domino effect,” says Waleed. “It doesn’t end by announcing victory or liberating an area. People suffer. They will carry on wounds, physical and mental. People died — nothing will solve this.

“It takes a really big effort just to recover, to help those people come back to proper life and decent life. They are somehow breathing, walking and eating, but they lost their humanity, their idea of being a human.”

A lifeline of support
“I am so tired,” Marwa says.” Her husband, Thaa’er, has Parkinson’s disease and was severely injured in an explosion near their home. His poor health prevents him from working, and they have four children to support. “We have no money for medicine,” she says. “If there is food, I eat. If there isn’t food, I don’t eat.”

Across Mosul — and especially in the historic west side of the city — at least 8,500 homes have been leveled and many more are fragmented and in disrepair. Nearly 100 kilometers of roads are damaged. Public services, including water, electricity and medical care, are debilitated. Job opportunities are gone. And the need is enormous.

Of the 1.5 million people who have been affected, most, like Marwa, are struggling to meet every one of their basic needs.

“Every single household has a story that definitely will break your heart,” says Waleed. “The stories that you hear are horrible, horrifying. It’s beyond our imagination.”

Mercy Corps has been responding to the crisis in Mosul since the month after the first clashes began, aiding those who fled the violence and providing hygiene kits, cooking materials and shelter supplies to help them survive.

In the wake of this disaster, we’re beside — and we’ll stay beside — families still in Mosul city with cash and support to meet their needs as they slowly begin the hard work of recovery.

Tens of thousands of people have so far received emergency funds to purchase medicine, clothing, shelter and other urgent priorities. The cash is a lifeline that brings not just immediate practical reprieve, but relief to stop worrying about today, and start thinking about tomorrow.

For people like Faiza, that makes all the difference.

Back in her family's shelter in east Mosul, she keeps one eye on the kids splashing in the makeshift plastic pool, and chases Yusuf, her 1-year-old grandson, around the next room.

“All day I’m running after them!” she says with a tired laugh.

Like so many others, Faiza lost everything in the conflict, not least of all her ability to support the people who depend on her. And with her grown children often out searching for work, daily childcare for the little ones falls to her — giving her plenty to worry about.

Now, at least, providing food and shelter isn’t one of them.

“This cash saved us,” Faiza says.

How you can help
We’re committed to helping Iraqis survive this crisis and rebuild their lives no matter how long as it takes. But we need your help. Here’s how you can join us:

  1. Donate today. Every single contribution helps us provide even more food, water, shelter and support to Iraqi families and people in crisis around the world. Get your gift matched by your employer to double your impact.
  2. Tell your friends. Share this story or go to our Facebook page or Twitter page and spread the word about the millions of people who need us.
  3. 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.

*Name has been changed to protect identity and safety.


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South Sudan has been mired in a violent civil war since 2013, displacing nearly 2 million people within the country. Mercy Corps is on the ground providing resources like cash, water, livelihood support, fishing kits and seeds to help people meet their urgent needs. All photos by Jennifer Huxta for Mercy Corps.

I’m on a dusty road just outside our Mercy Corps offices in Nyal, South Sudan. It’s hot, and my skin is burning under the midday sun. As I look around, I replay the same sentence over and over in my head: “A better world is possible.” But I’m finding it hard to keep that focus.

It can be tough to remain hopeful and optimistic when you are faced with so much need. Lines of people have formed outside our office — families who have walked five or six hours to receive a cash distribution we are running that day. They will receive the equivalent of $16 every two months so they can feed their families during South Sudan’s lean season.

They are vulnerable, innocent people who didn’t ask for war, but are caught up in a conflict that threatens their very existence.

Outside the office, I meet Thulnaath, who left her village at 3 a.m. with her 6-month-old baby and 6-year-old daughter, Rebecca. Rebecca is quiet and listless, so I ask if she is alright. Her mom says she hasn’t eaten today and won’t eat until they get home again.

“As a mother, we are suffering a lot because of the famine in the area,” Thulnaath tells me. “When the child is crying and you have no food to give, it hurts you as a mother.”

For anyone looking on, it may seem strange that we have the power to decide if someone is able to eat today or not. But in South Sudan, where 1.7 million people are experiencing extreme levels of hunger, our interventions can mean the difference between life and death.

Mercy Corps is providing cash payments to help families cope with the crisis the country is facing, but the cash is just a starting point. Mercy Corps is also providing fishing and vegetable kits, including seed and crop kits so that families who have had to flee their homes because of conflict are able to recover and build towards the future.

The conflict in South Sudan began in December 2013, and since then the situation worsens day by day. Cholera outbreaks occur frequently because there is not enough clean water or hygiene supplies, and there is also rampant hyperinflation. A meal that would have cost 25 South Sudanese pounds two years ago costs 500 today. Regularly missing one or two meals is a dangerous pattern that can quickly lead to malnutrition, or worse. South Sudan has one of the highest child mortality rates in the world.

I step to the side, taking shade under a mango tree. There I start to wonder: In these dire moments when peace seems so distant, is it enough to believe a better world is possible?

Mercy Corps has been working in South Sudan since 1995. Last year, when horrific attacks occurred in the capital, Juba, and many organizations left, Mercy Corps chose to stay. When South Sudan topped Afghanistan as the most dangerous place in the world for aid workers to do their jobs, we persevered.

Over the last few months, in response to the outbreak of famine and widespread threat of starvation across the country, we have increased our staff numbers to 165.

We are not giving up on South Sudan. We are not going anywhere.

It is this commitment that makes me so proud of our work in this country. The story of Mercy Corps in South Sudan isn’t just about the people we are helping — it’s also about our heroic team members who are the backbone of our work.

Our team members face intense difficulties and have to walk a tightrope to remain impartial in the midst of a civil war. Almost every South Sudanese staff member I speak with has family that has fled for safety and food. Perhaps they are now in Uganda, or in refugee settlements in Kenya.

Fuel is expensive. Communities are hard to reach — sometimes only by wading through waist-deep swamps. Every day, their own security is at risk. Despite this, our team members have stayed here in South Sudan, committed to supporting their country.

The work we do there is built upon their commitment and optimism. Many have not given up hope that their families will be able to return one day in the future.

When I see our team’s commitment and passion, it makes me believe in the power of possibility.

I also feel it when I see the impact we have on the lives of vulnerable people — people like Bayak and Linydit, sisters-in-law who are in their eighties. One is blind, and the other partially blind. They walked hours today to reach the cash distribution in Nyal.

They tell of their village being burned in 2015, and how they are living under metal sheeting. But they also tell me that the cash they are receiving will make a big difference to them.

“We are going to buy soup and slippers and eat dried fish,” Linydit says.

As I prepare to leave South Sudan, I’m reminded of one of my favorite Nelson Mandela quotes: “Our human compassion binds us the one to the other — not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.”

It is this opportunity — to help people in South Sudan and around the world survive and build a stronger future — that drives Mercy Corps to continue this work, even in the darkest of circumstances.

We can see a better world. We know it’s there, and we want everyone else to see it, too.

How you can help
We're not giving up on South Sudan — but we need your help. You can help us provide urgent assistance and reach the millions of people in South Sudan and beyond who need our help.

  • Donate today. Every single contribution helps us provide lifesaving assistance to people facing crisis in South Sudan and around the world.
  • Sign the petition. Tell Congress to reject extreme cuts to humanitarian aid. Around the world, people are in need of lifesaving assistance. We must continue to support them.
  • Tell your friends. Share this story or go to our Facebook page or Twitter page to spread the word about the millions who need us.


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Organization Information

Mercy Corps

Location: Portland, OR - USA
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @mercycorps
Project Leader:
Jenny Keating
Portland, Oregon United States
$36,091 raised of $50,000 goal
260 donations
$13,909 to go
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