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Hard Places Appeal Afghanistan Ex1

Hidden stories from Hard Places

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Some of Tearfund’s partners are working in places where they must exercise special caution in how they approach their work, for example because of government restrictions on civil society organisations, or because of religious persecution and discrimination. We invited some of our partners to share anonymously about how they are serving in these hard places.

Restoration of hope and relationships

One of our partners is working in a part of South Asia where in recent years, political upheaval, and resulting economic insecurity, have been layered over already-existing poverty and hardship. A staff member talks about the importance of faith, and describes how small “drops of change” can, over time, create a river of hope.

In 2023 we are looking at about 30% of the population in my country experiencing a high level of acute food insecurity. This includes about eight per cent experiencing emergency levels of food insecurity.

There are many stories of how our work is impacting people - in the context of millions of people in need it can at times feel like a drop in the ocean - but we celebrate the small drops of change through the work that we do since small change can create a river of hope.

One woman, her husband was killed and she was previously getting enough money from the government to survive. When the new government came in, that stopped. So she was in a dire situation. We supported her with two months of rations, but at the same time, we wanted to give her an income generation program to move her away from dependency. She opted to receive a goat, which was pregnant at the time. Now she has about eight goats.

We have project work which is supporting hearing impaired children. Some of the children we taught in preschool and now they have gone to different schools. Recently we brought them together again and there was so much joy. They were talking between themselves in sign language, joyfully looking at one another, finding out what others have been doing, and in seeing that, we see the joy which we are creating in families.

Here in this culture, disability is considered a curse. If you are disabled in a war, you are considered a veteran and glorified. But if you’re born with a disability, then it is a curse. When we create an environment in which kids with disability can come together in community and get integrated into schools, it’s actually restoring a broken image and relationships between people, and also instilling in the minds of able students and teachers to have an inclusive attitude.

We also have disabled people in our income generation program. One was a man who cannot walk. Our economic development project involved helping him get set-up with a a shop, which has given him hope, and he himself improvised the shop. We assisted him with only some of the groceries to sell there, but he felt there was a need for gas. So he set up the system and started selling gas. Then he realised also, if he has a refrigerator, it will help him to sell things which are perishable, like cheese, milk, those kinds of things. So with the savings that he had, he bought a refrigerator. So seeing those things, you can see the small steps of change built on - and nurturing - the underlying hope. Okay, we did a small thing, but he took that and developed it and moved on even further. Those are the drops, and we are seeing it becoming a river where we can change the lives of the people and transform them.

Recently we were meditating on Psalm 27. David raises the rhetorical questions “Whom shall I fear? Of whom shall I be afraid?”. Because he has the Lord as his light and his salvation. Since David has the Lord, has no fear, and has confidence because the Lord is with him. And he is also assured that in the day of the trouble, the Lord will keep him safe and will hide him in his shelter.

Every time when I go through a difficult situation, my heart says “seek his face”. When we dwell in the house of the Lord and seek him, we can also say like David, I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. So these are words that keep me going. One thing we have to do as David concludes in his Psalm is to wait for the Lord, be strong and take heart. Waiting reminds us that the Lord is in control, to put our whole trust and confidence in him in the midst of great adversity and pain and trouble.

So a lot of the time we have to wait upon the Lord to work out things. There’s always hope. And so I wait upon him to say that he will work out everything for good. I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

Building resilience

Another partner working in a part of south Asia that has seen political instability says that in the midst of great hardship, there’s also incredible strength to be found in communities.

Looking at the challenges, people were already poor over the last 20 years – very poor. And now they are in a more difficult situation. So they don’t have food to eat, they don’t have water to drink, they don’t have basic life needs like clothes. And equally to that the mental health pressure and health challenges rise up for the people because there is poor hygiene, there is limited access to hygiene infrastructures, limited access to basic life needs such as food, hygiene and so on, water and so on. So these are the challenges people are facing and the priorities for people change because in the past they were able to send their children to school but now they have to send their children to beg.

While they [children] are in such a difficult situation, not able to [access] education, not able to work, not able to pick up any skills, what do we have to hope for them in the future? So the future of this country is going to be at high risk because of having no future for the current children – no education.

What I love about my work is when I sit with the communities … I can see some love through the people, I can see some signs of hope. What I see is lots of sociality. When somebody’s wife has died – lots of commitment from the community. Even if they are now in the most difficult times in their lives, I see a high level of commitment from the people. For example, I see many people are volunteering to support the development and relief response activities in their communities. And people are happy with basic things – with small things. So people celebrate as soon as they have rain, people celebrate as soon as they have the ground green. So you know, they are very good things – so they easily can forgive, they are still looking for things that make them happy.

This is the opportunity that I see in the community, because looking from a resilience perspective, looking at how to keep people happy, these are things they don’t need a big development to make them happy, so they are happy with very small things, with basic things, and that’s good because that gives them good resilience to survive in the current situation.

Through serving, we become more like Christ

One of our partners is working with communities in a remote part of southeast Asia, where there are high rates of child malnutrition, domestic violence and community violence. There are also low rates of education and widespread poverty. Our partner works alongside local churches to connect with families and support them so that they can enjoy better health and stronger relationships.

The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full. (John 10:10, NIV)

Growing up in this community, and living in a Christian home, left me with a question: how would I comprehend such a verse in my own context? You’ll be amazed at how God has blessed the land where we live with abundant natural resources and beauty. And yet, the only large Christian-majority island in this Muslim-majority place hasn’t learned the lesson of being a good steward. Or maybe the enemy is stealing, killing and destroying our community through the inequitable distribution of wealth to its community members and by the increasing poverty rate, which reached 27.43% in 2018.

It’s been my home for three decades, and infrastructure development here still remains way below average: road access, availability of proper drinking water, home ownership, access to proper sanitation, inadequate health facilities, and inadequate education.

I have been working for over five years for a local NGO. We are challenged to live out the main point of this verse from John’s Gospel: Jesus came to give us, this community, abundant life amidst deeply-rooted cultural and social barriers. These formidable challenges have become our fuel to keep on trying ways to end poverty through health and livelihoods programs. We can do so little with our limited resources, but God has chosen us; He is faithful and has used us to assist families to be able to provide nutritious food for their children and have sustainable livelihoods from their garden produce, and to help reduce domestic violence among families, and provide access for children and youth to learn computers, English, and character-building lessons.

Our island is culturally and socially different from the rest of the country, and each community on this island is even more diverse, which encourages us to learn more about each of them so we can serve them well. It’s always been my hope to lead my team and inspire them unceasingly to do their work right and better by perceiving difficult road access, the diverse social and cultural life in the communities, lack of access to health services, prolonged inter-ethnic conflicts, conflicts within the household, and conflicts between church organisations as goals to overcome, not merely problems. In our team, we have tried to make these obstacles our motivation to even work harder and fight our limits to provide services for the families from the assisted villages.

It’s been my goal for my team to realise that our organisation is our way to serve others who are really in need: to not merely empower the community, but also to provide a broad opportunity for staff to continue to develop and serve others, giving others hope in life. We believe when we serve, we are developing to be more like Christ.

Our hope is that through our programs, the families we are serving now and in the future will get access to proper health, dependence on external aid will decrease, and people will be able to manage natural resources properly, increase and sustain their income, decrease domestic violence, and provide education for their children.

Please pray for our staff and families, and please pray for all our projects to run effectively and efficiently. Thank you Tearfund Australia for continuing to support us with prayers and funds for this project. May God bless you!

The pandemic has made things so much harder

Another of our partners is working in a country in southeast Asia where conflict and the COVID-19 pandemic have driven a humanitarian, economic and health crisis in recent years, significantly setting back progress in tackling poverty. A staff member from our partner organisation shares about what this has meant for staff and the communities they work with.

Our organisation has set up Self-Help Groups in poor urban communities since 2006, with the aim that they would be sustainable and self-sufficient by 2021. In 2020, women’s Self-Help Groups were able to withstand the effects of the pandemic by sharing their group funds to support group members who were facing hardship. They planned to restart the groups with new energy in 2021. But political change affected that plan. Our organisation was not able to phase out its involvement as planned.

Moreover, the plan for youth to empower and strengthen youth groups and youth leaders by opening a youth centre in this community could not go on. Youth are often directly targeted by the government security forces. We tried to reach out to youth via online platforms to provide life skills training and psychosocial support.

In urban poor communities, when people have no work, basic needs cannot be met, and their situation collapses because they do not possess land or a home of their own. It is a fragile situation in urban poor communities.

The effect of the pandemic caused people to be unhealthy both physically and mentally, and the political situation challenged the security and confidence of people. Both effects increased joblessness and affected people’s incomes.

All the systems broke down: children and parents had disagreements about attending school; provision of education was affected; people with chronic disease stopped taking their medicine; adolescents stopped attending school and applied for jobs. Many of the youth in emotional wellbeing training said: “I feel guilty for being unable to provide income for my family, and all my plans and motivation were lost”; many people could not afford their rent and some moved to rural areas; hospitals had insufficient staff and became the place for the last minutes of life for poor grassroots and middle-class people. Most youth are learning Japanese with the desire to flee to Japan for work, and are prone to unsafe migration risks.

In this incredibly challenging context, our partner is supporting young people through life skills and vocational training, and follow-up guidance to help them improve their chances of finding employment; and empowering women through social and economic development within Self-Help Groups. These groups benefit women in many ways. For example, they develop the confidence to raise issues of concern in their communities and identify solutions; they can receive training in health, rights, vocational skills and leadership skills; and they can participate in group savings plans to provide loans for income-generating activities or funds to support families through hardship.

Some young people share how they’ve been supported by our partner to get vocational training:

“Because of the pandemic, I stopped learning but I got vocational training to attend nurse training, and am now looking for a job.”

“We had a hard time in the family. My father was not making as many sales as before. My mother took a loan from others and this debt is hard to pay back, so she can’t support me. I want to attend an accounting course but the family could not support me, so I applied for a scholarship for vocational training … with their support I can continue my training.”

Pray with us

1 Thessalonians 5:17 calls us to “Pray without ceasing …”. Please pray for our partners working in hard places, especially those places where political factors mean that our partners are especially vulnerable, and can face risks in doing their life-giving work.