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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

Mercy Corps' program offers young people a chance to learn and practice new agricultural practices designed to increase quality and yield of their crops. Mercy Corps is helping young people in Guatemala's western highlands learn to farm better, grow their livelihoods, learn to save and invest, and create more opportunity in their home communities so they don't have to migrate to Guatemala City or out of the country. All photos: Corinna Robbins for Mercy Corps.

As the morning sun slowly warms the hillsides, 16-year-old Olga gently gathers stakes and old vine supports from a dusty plot in the Guatemalan highlands. The harvest is over, and rows of dry, papery stalks are all that remain of the lush snap pea plants that once grew here.

She talks and giggles with the small group of other youth cleaning the land beside her. Once the field has been cleared, it will be ready for them to plant again when the first rains come in spring.

This demonstration plot, a hillside rectangle of soil encircled by tall, brown grass and avocado trees, is where Mercy Corps is teaching Olga and other young people from the nearby town of Panimatzalám how to grow healthier, more bountiful crops.

At mid-morning the group breaks to rest and refuel with a mug of hot corn atole, a thick cornmeal drink. Despite the hard work, the mood is still light — these youth having been working this land together for almost a year.

Still, the idyllic setting conceals a difficult reality: poverty here is virtually inescapable.

So the youth are leaving.

With limited options, youth flee for a future
Almost every family in this area makes their living working in agriculture, but for most of them it’s not nearly enough. Families struggle to meet their basic needs, let alone send their children to school. And income opportunities outside of agriculture are almost nonexistent, especially for young people who can’t afford an education.

“One of the hardest things in this community is the economic part,” Olga says. “Job opportunities here are few, so many young people migrate. It is very difficult to find a good job here.”

In fact, Panimatzalám has one of the highest rates of migration in Guatemala. People who don’t see any other option to earn money flee to Guatemala City or the United States, desperate for a better way to provide for their families.

And the evidence is everywhere. Every other home in Panimatzalám is a large, pristine adobe manor, an immediate giveaway — in a village of otherwise modest homes — that at least one family member is in the U.S. sending money back.

“The truth here in my community is that many families are impacted …,” Olga says. “Each time [someone leaves] our community is deteriorating.”

Olga, too, has felt the pressure to migrate.

Small and stoic, with a round face and a focused gaze, she is seated on a simple bed, one of the only pieces of furniture in the humble residence she shares with her parents and younger brother. The dim hut’s only window casts a small pool of light across the dirt floor in front of her.

“Before … I was thinking about migrating to the capital,” she explains. “I thought that I would have to work to help my parents and my little brother.”

Olga didn’t make it past primary school before dropping out to help support her family. She was sad to leave her education, but she didn’t have a choice. There simply wasn’t enough money.

So, she traded her studies for a life of labor: helping her parents raise chickens and tend the local fields, working as a tailor in a neighboring village and weaving traditional huipiles in her spare time for extra income.

The thought always lingered that she might have to leave to provide for her family.

“I didn’t care if I had to make a sacrifice to see my brother go to school,” she says plainly.

Until getting involved in Mercy Corps’ youth program, she had resigned herself to a life of subsistence agriculture or informal labor in the city. Like so many young people in her community, Olga didn’t have the confidence, or the prospects, to envision anything else.

Mercy Corps provides youth like Olga with agricultural training, financial knowledge and life skills, so they have the resources they need to thrive without having to leave their home. And it’s working.

“When this program started it taught me a lot of things, and now I am more than willing to stay here in my community,” Olga says. “Now I have the hope that I can do what I want, and I can have a different future if I make an effort.”

New resources, new vision
Olga participates in all the Mercy Corps program activities, which provide the youth with resources and education they’ve never had access to before: the demonstration plot, where they’re taught better farming practices; the savings and loan group, in which they learn how to save and invest; the workshops that boost their life skills and teach them about different possible vocations.

The different activities all ladder up to one lesson for the youth: It’s possible to build a stable life in Panimatzalám with agriculture, but it’s possible to pursue other things, too.

“This program is implementing new ideas for young people, and [now] when young people think of migrating they think twice about it,” Olga explains.

For youth like her, simply having an opportunity to dream is new. Being able to make it a reality is transformative.

“I now value myself more. I am not fearful about public speaking, and I feel more confident talking with others,” she says.

There are no traces left of the shy, hopeless girl she says she once was. With a resolute tone and an unstoppable grin, she now speaks assuredly about her future.

She is a girl with plans.

Olga has already shared what she’s learned about agriculture with her parents, so they can increase their productivity and income. With her knowledge in saving, she’s putting money away to eventually go back to school.

And with her new sense of empowerment, she’s determined to stay in her community, finish her studies and become a fashion designer.

A future without migration
Thirty minutes away in the nearby tourist town of Panajachel, Olga takes a seat at her tailoring station in a light-filled warehouse lined by large, dusty windows. Her shift is about to start.

Surrounded by fabric scraps and spools of bright thread, Olga places a piece of blue fabric in the machine and methodically presses the foot pedal.

She knows it will be difficult to go back to school, support herself and continue to contribute to her family, but it’s a challenge she’s ready to take on.

“Since the program began my life has changed,” Olga says. “I did not trust myself very much before. I would say to myself, ‘Oh, well, I cannot do that.’

“But in this program they taught us different topics, so I started to become stronger. … And now I believe more in myself, and I know that if I want something for myself, I can achieve it.”

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.
  • Ask your employer to match your gift. Many organizations match employees' donations, effectively doubling your impact. Visit mercycorps.org/match to see if your company matches donations.

Links:

Mercy Corps is working with women in Niger, Ethiopia and around the world to help them overcome challenges, become leaders and drive lasting change in their communities. All photos: Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps.

Souabayahaya sits on a wooden stool in her village in Niger and pours water into four metal bowls resting on the dusty ground. A small crowd of mothers sits in front of her watching intently, their children balanced in their laps.

“In our tradition, we make porridge, but this porridge is different from our traditional porridge because it contains some nutritious elements,” she tells the women as she mixes the water into powdered millet and roasted groundnuts, two locally-grown ingredients. “You can see that now that you’re giving this kind of food to your children, your children are not falling sick easily. They’re always in good health.”

She finishes mixing and hands the kids the porridge. “It is a bodybuilding food,” she says. “I mix it so the children can be well.”

In many places, traditional gender roles often restrict women to the home. Globally, women spend up to 10 times more time per day caring for children and the elderly than men do, and up to three hours more per day doing housework.

Mercy Corps sees the opportunity to empower women around the world with resources and knowledge, so they can make positive choices about their homes — what they eat, when they go to the clinic, how they spend their money — that make their families healthier and their communities stronger.

In Niger, a country where the adult literacy rate is 15 percent and 44 percent of children suffer from chronic malnutrition, we’re helping women like Souabayahaya lead the way to improved nutrition, health and hygiene in their villages.

We train “leader mothers” like her — Souabayahaya has seven children — to teach other village women important lessons about diet diversity, hygiene, infant care and cooking. Armed with knowledge, the women who attend the small group demonstrations share what they have learned with other mothers in the village, creating a network effect.

“[Before] they didn’t know that a porridge could be made from our crops here,” Souabayahaya says. “They didn’t know about exclusive nursing. They didn’t know about family planning. They did not know about mosquito nets. They did not know how to look after children. But now things have changed. There’s been a great, positive change.”

Another leader mother, 27-year-old Balkissa, agrees. Thanks to the leader mothers’ work, she says that more pregnant women in her village get regular health checkups and fewer children fall ill. 

“Before this activity … you would find more than 50 women in a health center who had just taken their children there because they were sick,” Balkissa says. “But now you see things have gone far and everything works now. I’m very happy.”

Balkissa just completed a house inspection for Aichatou, a 27-year-old mother in her group. As she checked Aichatou’s house, constructed from wood thatching and mud bricks, she noted the firewood needed to be moved away from the house.

“She needs to take it away because mosquitos can go inside and hide, and at nighttime they can come out,” Balkissa says. And more mosquitos means an increased chance of her family contracting a mosquito-borne disease, like malaria.

Otherwise, the house looked good; Aichatou passed the inspection, which was a relief. She has seen the benefits of Balkissa’s teachings, and she was eager to demonstrate that she fully grasped them.

“Before, my child was sick from time to time,” Aichatou told Balkissa during the inspection. “But now, for months, he has never been sick.”

We’re helping women step up to lead their communities and build healthier families not only in the areas of nutrition, sanitation and infant care, but also finance.

In southeastern Ethiopia, 15 women aged 20 to 50 gather in a small shed just off the main road through the town of Kebribeyah. Surrounded by bags of wheat, the women circle up in front of a lockbox, which requires three keys: one each for the cashier, the chairman, and the secretary.

When everyone is present, the women turn their keys and open the box. Inside? The pile of money they’ve collected over the past several months.

The women meet once a week to save money through the savings group Mercy Corps helped them organize. This week, everyone in the group contributes an additional 15 birr (around 65 cents) into the pool, from which the women can take loans.

Access to even this small amount of money can be life-changing for these women and their families. By working together and pooling their money, they build themselves a financial safety net to cope with emergencies, and even fund new livelihoods.

Sahara, a 50-year-old widow and mother of seven, has been a member of the finance group for almost a year and a half. She borrowed 5,000 birr for two months to purchase bulk wheat and butter, which she resells in smaller quantities to support her family. She repaid the loan, and now the money is available for another woman to borrow.

“I was better off taking the loan,” Sahara says. “It increased my income and the quality of life of my household.”

Across Ethiopia, women who see such positive, immediate results from working together are motivated to step up and help their communities overcome other challenges, too.

Halima, a 19-year-old who lives with her son in a rural area outside Dire Dawa, began holding her own cooking demonstrations shortly after attending a Mercy Corps leader-mother demonstration in her village.

At home she began cooking porridge with oats, vegetables and beans for her baby, instead of the sugar water and butter mixture that is common, and she has seen first-hand how nutritious meals can improve a child’s health.

“Since I got a good benefit, I had a desire to share the information with other members of my community,” she says.

“I was inspired, so I started to take the lead to cook the food for the public and demonstrate cooking to the community. My next plan is to share the information on how to cook for my neighbors and other villages as well.”

Around the world, the training and resources women like Halima, Sahara and Aichatou receive through Mercy Corps are allowing them to improve their families’ lives and create change in their communities.

Now, they can begin to realize the future they may have only dreamed about. Sahara sends her children to school. Aichatou hopes that her children will study to become “health agents.” And Halima aspires that her son will grow up healthy, and become an engineer.

Empowered by her experiences, Halima is confident that the work she and other women do will continue to improve lives.

“If I demonstrate and take the lead, the community is eager to learn,” Halima says.

How you can help

You are an important part of the solution. When we work together, we can help even more people stay healthy, support their families and forge ahead to a better, stronger future.

  • Donate today. Every single contribution helps us provide more support to families who need us around the world.
  • Tell your friends. Share this story and spread the word about the millions of people who need us.
  • Get your gift matched. Talk to your HR representative or search for your company at mercycorps.org/match for more information on how to double the impact of your gift.

In Niger, 76 percent of girls are married by their 18th birthday. Mercy Corps is empowering girls like Dahara to change the narrative through safe spaces in their villages. All photos: Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps.

When Dahara speaks, she speaks with a purpose: confident, eloquent hopes about her future and the things she wants out of life. She is young and driven, ready to claim her place in the world.

But not long ago, Dahara did something that put her entire future in jeopardy.

She turned 14.

Dahara lives in a small village in rural Niger. By almost any measure, it is one of the worst places in the world she could be an adolescent girl. In the 2014 United Nations Human Development Index, a list that measures basic human benchmarks like health, education and standard of living, Niger ranked last in the world.

To consider the weight of what Dahara is up against, imagine a group of 100 girls from Niger. Only 15 of them can read. Fewer than 10 of them have learned about HIV and AIDS. About half of them will have a baby before they are 18, and two-thirds of them will do it without a skilled attendant in the room. Four of them will die in childbirth.

And the majority of them will be married. Niger has the highest rate of child marriage in the world, in part because of its widespread poverty. Three out of every four girls in Niger are married by their 18th birthday, many of them years earlier.

For parents with large families, marrying their children off young brings the hope of prosperity and a higher social status. But the reality for girls like Dahara is often a life of hard work and childbearing that begins far too early.

The freedom of childhood is replaced by a life of labor. The opportunity for education is gone for the burden of caring for a family.

Dahara wants more: a chance to finish school, a few more years to grow up with the girls around her. But the math is against her. Next year, she will turn 15 — the legal marrying age in Niger.

A safe space for girls

Child marriage, like most social issues in Niger, disproportionately impacts girls. While 60 percent of all adolescent girls in Niger are married, the number shrinks to only 3 percent for adolescent males. It sets off a chain reaction of inequality: Girls go to school fewer years than boys, are less likely to be able to read, and earn far less over their lifetimes.

It’s not only an issue of opportunity, but subordination: According to the 2016 UNICEF State of the World’s Children report, 27 percent of men in Niger said they felt justified in using violence against their wives for reasons like burning their food or neglecting their children. Women were more than twice as likely to agree.

“Girls are considered the weak sex, and men are considered the strong sex,” Dahara says. She is standing outside her home on a blistering Tuesday afternoon, discussing why she has decided to try to change the narrative.

Dahara is a member of one of three safe space groups for girls in her village, a place Mercy Corps provides where adolescent girls can be together to learn job skills, reading and writing, and hygiene and nutrition training.

The groups provide a protected place for girls to be together, but they also offer them something that’s hard to find anywhere else: a sense of empowerment. In these meetings, girls are shown that it’s possible for them to build a life for themselves.

They are encouraged to stay in school, to discover their own talents and abilities, and to not feel like they have to rush into marriage and start having children.

Since safe spaces started in this village, no girls have gotten engaged to be married before 18. "The girls are very happy. Even their parents are very happy about what we’re doing," Hadiza says.

“When a girl is married early and when she is pregnant, there is a consequence,” Dahara says. “The mother can die, or the baby can die.”

There is a good chance she has seen it happen: Girls in this village have died in childbirth before. Others have lived, but lost their infants.

At a safe space meeting earlier today, Dahara listened as her mentor, Hadiza, shared these important health-related reasons why girls shouldn’t get married so young. But she also heard something more powerful.

She heard another woman tell her it was OK for her to be herself.

“A man can have a farm, a car, a bicycle,” Hadiza told the girls, gathered together beneath a tree. “But you? You have to try and earn your own money. This is why you have to manage to find something to do. Don’t always depend on men.”

Creating her own opportunity

In a shady corner of her yard, Dahara kneels next to an iron kettle. Inside it, water and groundnuts boil over an open flame. As the August breeze moves in, the thick smell of smoke gives way to the floating aroma of sugar.

In an hour, the nuts will be a caramelized golden brown. Dahara will cool them, bag them, pack them, and then walk alone across her village into a crowd of men, where she will sell each bag for 25 Central African Francs — about 5 cents — and return with an empty bucket and a tired smile.

The money, like the business, is all hers. When the girls in Dahara’s safe space group were told to choose a skill, Dahara decided that she wanted to learn to start a business. She buys her supplies, does the labor, and manages the money, fitting it all around her schoolwork and housework.

Business these days is booming: she sells out in minutes.

“I feel very happy,” she says, “because I was trained to do an activity, and now I perform the activity and it works. I get money, and I feel happy.”

The money Dahara earns doesn’t just impact her. Because she’s able to save it, she can use it for things her mother no longer has to buy. Last year, Dahara was able to use savings from her business to buy her own new dress for a village feast.

That’s money her mother can now use to buy food, clothes and household items for Dahara’s seven brothers and sisters. This extra bit of help is critical during Niger’s lean season, when food is not yet ready to harvest and it can be hard to find enough to eat.

With every plastic bag of caramelized nuts, Dahara helps spark a new chain reaction: By deciding to take control of her future, she eased the burden on her family.

“My mother feels happy because she doesn’t have to buy me clothes,” she says. “I buy my clothes with my own money. This is something that has helped our life.”

Dahara is just one of many girls in this village who are learning to invest in their own futures. Saade, another girl in Dahara’s group, has been a member for two years.

“Boys can go out of the village and look for money and whatever they want to do,” she says. “But girls have to stay at home.”

In the safe space group, Saade learned about the risks of early marriage, the importance of staying in school, and ways she can keep herself and her future kids healthy. Now she has a new goal: to keep the cycle going by becoming a health worker or a teacher.

“If I become a teacher,” Saade says, “then I could teach my sisters and my brothers to break the barrier of illiteracy and ignorance.”

‘The will to learn’

It’s easy to see how the group has affected the lives of individual girls. But the impact can also be seen on the community: Since the group started, it is now against village rules to take a fiancée younger than 18. No girls here have registered to get married early.

That’s a huge difference, Hadiza says, and it’s happened in part because her mentorship focuses on the outside forces that influence the girls — including, if necessary, their parents.

“If we hear about a girl who is getting married earlier, we go to the parents and talk to them and tell [them] to wait two or three years more before she gets married,” Hadiza says. “They do not refuse. They accept.”

“We want our village to develop,” she says. “We want our village to have prosperity. All these young girls have the will to learn what I am teaching them.”

Hadiza smiles as she looks on inside Dahara's yard. Almost as quickly as Dahara opens for business, it’s over for the day. But there is still work to be done: millet to wash and pound, farm work to finish, siblings to care for. It will always be a life of work, but thanks to the support she’s found through Mercy Corps, it’s a life of her work.

With a sense of purpose comes the confidence to answer life’s big questions. And there’s one in particular that no longer weighs on her mind.

What would she say if a man asked her to marry him?

Dahara answers without a beat. “I would not accept,” she says.

How you can help

  • Donate today. Every single contribution helps us empower women and girls like Dahara around the world.
  • Get your gift matched. Many companies match the gifts their employees make. Find details at mercycorps.org/match or talk to your HR representative about how you can double your impact.
  • Tell your friends. Share this story and spread the word about the millions of people who need us.

Links:

Photo: Camille Lepage for Mercy Corps
Photo: Camille Lepage for Mercy Corps

When violence first erupted in Juba in December 2013, Mercy Corps immediately launched an emergency response to provide hygiene items, mosquito nets and other necessities. Today we are providing clean water and hand-washing stations to prevent the spread of disease, training teachers so children can continue to learn, and implementing cash-for-work programs to restore markets and dignity to families affected by the crisis. See additional photos below.

South Sudan should be a country full of hope five years after gaining independence. Instead, it is in the grip of a massive, man-made humanitarian crisis.

Political conflict has caused massive displacement, raging violence and dire food shortages. Over 5 million people are in need of aid, and more than 6 million are facing severe hunger. Despite the lack of international assistance, Mercy Corps is working with the brave people of South Sudan to address urgent needs and promote resilience throughout the country.

When did the crisis start?
South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in July 2011, but the hard-won celebration was short-lived. The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, the ruling political party that originally led the way for independence, is now divided and fighting for power.

In December 2013, political infighting erupted into violence in the streets of the capital, Juba, after South Sudan’s president accused his vice president of an attempted coup. Fighting between the two factions of government forces loyal to each soon moved to Bor, and then to Bentiu.

Violence spread across the young nation like wildfire, displacing 413,000 civilians in just the first month of conflict. Tens of thousands of civilians rushed to seek refuge in U.N. bases that were subsequently turned into makeshift displacement camps.

The fighting has continued, becoming increasingly brutal and affecting nearly the entire country.

What's going on now?
A handful of peace agreements have been signed over the course of the war — the most recent in August 2015 — but they have been repeatedly violated. The situation remains highly unstable.

While some regions have recently become slightly less volatile, allowing people to move around fairly freely and return to their homes, violent outbreaks are still occurring throughout the country.

In February 2016, the U.N. displacement site in Malakal was attacked, killing 25 people and wounding over 120 more. Regions that previously had been relatively safe from clashes have experienced assaults over the past several weeks.

And, most recently, a fresh wave of violence erupted in Juba starting July 8, 2016, just one day before the country's five-year anniversary of independence. The clashes killed more than 300 people over the course of a few days and could push the young nation back into deep chaos.

On top of these unpredictable attacks, the country's economy is in crisis — the South Sudanese pound has declined in value, and the cost of goods and services has skyrocketed. Food prices are at a record high.

What's happening to people in South Sudan?
Since the conflict began, 1 in 5 people in South Sudan have been displaced. More than 2.3 million citizens have been forced to flee their homes. Just over 720,000 people have escaped to neighboring countries in search of safety, but most are trapped inside the warring nation.

Those who’ve run have lost loved ones and their homes, their land and their livelihoods. Violence toward civilians has been widespread, including targeted attacks, kidnappings and murders. And assaults on aid convoys and looting of supplies have become increasingly common, making it difficult — and dangerous — to reach in-need families with the support they need to survive.

In the country's most conflict-ridden areas, 70 percent of schools have been closed due to the fighting. Nationwide, hundreds of thousands of young ones are facing an uncertain future.

Ongoing violence continues to keep people from their homes, damage markets and disrupt planting, all of which keeps families from getting the food they need to survive. Around 6 million people are currently at risk of going hungry.

Why did the humanitarian situation deteriorate so quickly?

After decades of conflict, South Sudan was and still is one of the least-developed countries in the world, which has further complicated the situation. The larger cities in South Sudan had experienced some development, but the majority of the nation is rural. Even before the crisis, more than half of its citizens lived in absolute poverty, were dependent on subsistence agriculture and suffered from malnourishment. Many people were already refugees and were only beginning to resettle and rebuild their homes. Because the economy was already fragile before fighting began, people have very few resources to help them survive the long-term conflict and displacement they're faced with. In addition, the country has very little formal infrastructure — roads, buses, buildings — which makes it difficult to transport food and supplies. Many towns and villages become inaccessible during the annual rainy season due to closed airstrips, washed out roads or lack of roads altogether, sometimes limiting any delivery of humanitarian aid to the isolated areas that need it most.

Where have people fled to?

Just over 720,000 people have crossed into neighboring countries including Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda. Inside South Sudan, 1.6 million people are displaced. The crowded U.N. displacement sites are frequently depicted in news about the crisis, but the truth is only a small fraction of those who’ve escaped the violence reside in these camps. The majority of displaced families live outside the camps, wherever they can find safe shelter — often in small villages that offer some security, tucked away from the main areas of fighting. For some living in the most violent areas, there is no other choice but to flee into the bush with what little they can carry with them.

What is life like in camps?

While there may be relative safety in the six U.N. camps, the conditions there are dire. The bases were not designed to host this many people for so long. Proper sanitation, hygiene and waste disposal are inadequate in such crowded conditions, and heavy seasonal rains flood many of the camps, making things even worse. In some camps, flooding has collapsed newly-built latrines, forcing people to walk through knee-high water that is contaminated with sewage. There have been reports of mothers sleeping standing up, holding their children, because there is nowhere clean to rest. In December 2015, the World Health Organization called South Sudan one of the worst health emergencies in the world.

What are the most urgent needs in the camps?

Displaced families receive some food, but there are urgent needs for additional food and disease prevention through better sanitation and access to clean water.

Is South Sudan getting enough assistance?

The short answer: no. The U.N. appealed for $1.6 billion to assist 4.6 million people in need in 2015, but the effort was only 62 percent funded. So far only 39 percent of the $1.29 billion requested for 2016 has been funded. Many humanitarian organizations, including Mercy Corps, are partnering with the U.N., using both private contributions and funding from the international community, to address the urgent needs of innocent people in South Sudan.

How Mercy Corps is providing urgent assistance:

Mercy Corps is working to provide desperately-needed latrines, showers, hand-washing stations and clean water to help people survive and prevent the spread of disease in camps and communities. To help prevent outbreaks, better sanitation, and clean water are critical. Building latrines and teaching proper hygiene and waste disposal are the best ways to ensure that water sources stay clean for people to drink, cook and bathe. In the small villages where many people are sheltering, we have rehabilitated living spaces, provided seeds and tools so people can grow food wherever they are living, and implemented cash-for-work programs to give vulnerable families some money to purchase supplies. We're also distributing emergency funds to help traders and families access goods in hard-hit areas of the country. And our emergency education program trains teachers and provides school supplies so children can continue learning despite this crisis. But the needs of displaced families in South Sudan are increasing, and your support is allowing us to do even more.

How you can help:

  • Donate today. Every single contribution helps us provide food, water, shelter and support to people in South Sudan and other families in crisis around the world.
  • Get your gift matched. Many companies match the gifts their employees make. Talk to your HR representative about how you can double your impact for South Sudan refugees.
  • Tell your friends. Share this story and spread the word about the millions of people who need us.

The people of this young country need our help, and among the world’s other crises, we must not forget them. We are working on the ground to reach families who are struggling to survive — but our lifesaving work starts with you.

Photo: Sanjay Joshi/Mercy Corps
Photo: Sanjay Joshi/Mercy Corps
Photo: Camille Lepage for Mercy Corps
Photo: Camille Lepage for Mercy Corps
Photo: Camille Lepage for Mercy Corps
Photo: Camille Lepage for Mercy Corps
Photo: Jacob Zocherman for Mercy Corps
Photo: Jacob Zocherman for Mercy Corps

 

Dima is the sole provider for her eight children, and her livelihood, like that of her community near Yabello, Ethiopia, depends on cattle. Dima has learned to run a successful small business buying and selling milk. Photo: Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps

Hunger: It’s not a new problem for many countries in Africa.

While food is a basic necessity for human life, the reasons why millions of people go hungry are complex.

Crops are failing in Ethiopia due to dry weather conditions caused by El Nino, leading to the worst drought in a decade and triggering a hunger crisis that is affecting 10 million people.

In South Sudan, political instability and widespread displacement due to violent extremism have combined to create a double threat to food security.

And in Niger, widespread gender inequality keeps good nutritional information and regular meals out of reach, especially for women and girls.

These are just a few examples of why solving hunger takes more than just food. Better farming practices, safer communities and empowered women—these are some of the key ways we work within communities to tackle food insecurity at its source and come up with solutions that ensure families have enough to eat today, and tomorrow.

In Ethiopia: Better business can create more food

We define food security as a milestone achieved when all people at all times eat sufficient, safe, and nutritious food and practice behaviors that promote both their economic stability and well-being.

In a country like Ethiopia, where 80 percent of the population relies on rain-fed agriculture for the food and income they need to survive, this means building resilience against El Nino, climate change and other unpredictable weather patterns.

We’ve been on the ground in Ethiopia since 2004, working with local farmers and families to help them access more food and earn steady incomes. And we are continuing to work within communities to strengthen their economies and communities, so they can overcome the 2016 drought and hunger crisis.

By supplying herders with animal feed, scaling up training and supplies for veterinarians, and connecting herders in hard-hit areas who need to sell animals with commercial livestock traders we are supporting livelihoods.

And to help the Ethiopian government overcome these cycles of crisis for the long term, we’ve partnered with them to manage their early warning systems network, which monitors things like rainfall and market information to predict food shortages before they happen.

In the agriculture sector, only crops that can weather climate change and drought will support food security in the long term.

In South Sudan: Conflict and hunger create vicious cycle

Food security and conflict are deeply connected.

Take South Sudan, which declared independence from Sudan in 2011. While South Sudan has agricultural potential, civil war since 2013 has stunted its development as a nation. More than 2.4 million people — nearly 1 in 5—are displaced due to violence.

Violence interferes with spring planting and then often closes markets due to safety concerns. What little food is available soars in price, and most displaced families have no money to buy any goods. These food shortages are the most dire in Unity, Jonglei and Upper Nile states.

Since the conflict began, our team has been providing urgent food, water and sanitation assistance. We identify vulnerable families in otherwise inaccessible areas, ensuring critical assistance — vegetable seeds, fishing tools, water purification tablets, nutritional biscuits and other supplies — reaches the people who need it most.

And in more accessible places, we distribute cash so people can get the food and provisions they urgently need to provide safe, healthy lives for their families.

Local traders receive funds to resupply their market stalls specifically with the necessities that are most in-demand, including foods like sugar, flour, rice, beans and salt.

Having access to clean water is key to sanitation and food safety in places like South Sudan and Somalia, where violent extremism and political instability has displaced 1.1 million people.

Food shortages can also cause political instability. In 2007-08, rapid increases in food prices triggered unrest in 43 countries, including a government overthrow in Haiti, as populations reacted to rapidly rising costs for critical food staples.

In Niger: Empowering women empowers communities

Research shows that when men and women both have access to information, education and financial resources, everybody wins. Over the past few years, women's role in food security has come into sharp focus.

Women farmers produce 60–80 percent of the food in most developing countries and are responsible for half of the world’s food production.

In the home, women—especially those in rural areas—are primarily responsible for selecting food and preparing meals, playing a decisive role in their families’ dietary diversity and health.

Tell Congress: Improve the health of women and girls with Food for Peace

In Niger, 10 percent of children suffer from acute malnutrition and 44 percent are chronically malnourished, according to the World Food Programme. Because women do most of the farming and feeding in Niger, we know that empowering them with information and resources is key to fighting hunger here.

Our work throughout Niger helps mothers learn about proper nutrition. We train village leaders who in turn train the village’s mothers about the importance of good food and fruits and vegetables to ensure the health of their children.

We also are teaching women new ways to keep animals healthy, manage new wells and use new farming techniques that make the most of limited resources and are more resilient to climate change.

How you can help

 

 

  • Donate today. Your support helps us provide emergency food, support farmers and encourage budding entrepreneurs so they can feed their families.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Share with others. The hunger crisis in Ethiopia and the ongoing conflict in South Sudan need our continued attention. Share this story with friends so they can learn more about how they can help create lasting change that stops hunger for good.

 

Captions: (corresponding to photos below)

(top photo) A group participates in a coffee ceremony in Ethiopia. We've been working with local farmers and families in Ethiopia since 2004 to help them earn steady incomes and become more resilient to the impact of unpredictable weather patterns. Photo: Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps

(middle photo) Civil war has displaced more than 2.4 million people in South Sudan and left nearly 3 million at risk for starvation as violence shuts down markets and interferes with planting. Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps

(bottom photo) Fati, mother of 5, was selected by the community to receive health care and nutrition training from Mercy Corps to pass on to fellow mothers in her village in Niger. Photo: Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps

Links:

 

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Organization Information

Mercy Corps

Location: Portland, OR - USA
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @mercycorps
Project Leader:
Jenny Keating
Portland, Oregon United States
$35,591 raised of $50,000 goal
 
256 donations
$14,409 to go
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