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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Sri Lanka: after recovery comes rebuilding

As we grapple with the humanitarian crisis in Mynanmar, it is important to reflect upon what HOPE International Development Agency supporters were able to do for survivors of another historic crisis.

On Boxing Day 2004, countries bordering the Indian Ocean experienced the worst natural disaster in history at the time. Upwards of 220,500 people were killed by a series of powerful tsunamis. Sri Lanka, where we have worked for many years, was especially hard-hit: many thousands of families were affected by loss of life, loss of home, and loss of livelihood. After the rush of providing emergency relief, our staff helped communities to rebuild their lives, and in fact, to ‘build back better’ whenever possible. Relief was needed in the moment, but a strategy for climbing out of poverty was just as essential.

Our goal was to help 3,000 of the very poorest families affected by the tsunami to rebuild their homes and restart income-earning ventures through low-interest loans. These families are the poorest of the poor, and most commercial banks will not lend to them. To get ahead, they are at the mercy of loan sharks and other unscrupulous lenders. But through HOPE International Development Agency, they receive very low-interest loans, financial counsel, social support, and everything they need to create sustainable livelihoods.

We were especially concerned with widows like Wasanthi, who was left with three children, Niroshini, Kumara and Damayanthi. She was given a small two room house to replace the one that was washed away in the tsunami. She had worked previously as a vendor in the village market but all of her inventory and all her other resources were washed away. She had nothing to start over with. We provided Wasanthi with household utensils and some basic food items, as well as a loan so that she could purchase supplies to restart her small vending business. Wasanthi, who has since repaid her loan, repackages these condiments, spices and snacks in small quantities and sells them in the local village market. Now, every day Wasanthi goes to the market and manages her small business. With her earnings she is able to restock supplies, keep her small enterprise going, and save a small amount. Her great joy is to now, again, be able to send her children to school.

It is our great joy to know that this year, because of the financial resources that HOPE International Development Agency supporters provided, our goal has been met: 3,000 of the families most devastated by 2004’s tsunami are well on their way to building back better. Our work in Sri Lanka must continue, and the work in Mynamar to heal and rebuild is just beginning, but it is encouraging to know that Sri Lankan families have thrived when your help reached them. Let their success encourage you to make the same recovery possible for Mynamar’s families now.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Myanmar photos tell a story no words can describe

This family tethered themselves together in an effort to survive. In the end, the cyclone proved too strong and they perished just like they had lived - together. Sadly, this tragic scene is repeating itself thousands upon thousands of times across Myanmar.

This is the most common non life-threatening injury among survivors young and old. Painful and scaring, the injury is caused by skin being rubbed raw from hours of clinging to trees and branches in an effort to avoid being swept away by raging floods.

Help families today by sending an emergency care package through HOPE International Development Agency.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Hope among the survivors in Myanmar

When we think about the death and destruction, it's enough to overwhelm the senses and the soul.

The magnitude of the continuing crisis is astonishing. Thankfully, our staff and volunteers in Myanmar were spared during the cyclone. But having said that, we feel somewhat uncomfortable with our thankfulness within the context of the enormous and ongoing suffering the survivors continue to experience.

We're always cautious about using numbers to describe a crisis like this but in this case, they are worth repeating simply because they bear witness to the magnitude of the crisis.

Right now, some three weeks after the disaster, there are 2.4 million people in urgent need of help. Estimates put the death toll at a staggering 78,000 people, one-third of whom are children.

Sadly, the death toll will most likely rise - possibly to more than 100,000 - given that there are still 58,000 people missing.

As the weeks pass, we become even more concerned about the surviving children, many of whom lost their parents in the cyclone.

Children are especially vulnerable in the aftermath of disasters like the cyclone, and our people in the field are telling us that an additional 30,000 children could die of soon unless more can be done right away.

Think of it... what could be more heartbreaking than surviving such a catstrophe only to become a victim a few short weeks later.

No better place for hope than in times of crisis!

When people lose hope, we have to help them find a way to hope again. We have to make sure that people can embrace the hope that comes through our actions to help them survive and eventually, rebuild what is left of their lives.

We began helping within 24 hours of the cyclone departing and we'll continue as long as it takes!

With each day that passes, we are able to extend our emergency assistance further into the countryside, moving beyond the 24 villages we are currently working in so that thousands more can get the medical care, medicines, clean water, food and shelter they so desperately need.

Help families today by giving to HOPE International Development Agency.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Devastation is widespread in Myanmar

This is where a family lived and died when they couldn't escape the cyclone.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Field Report: Drinking water a key concern in Myanmar right now

Today my 32-year-old Sears Kenmore sewing machine and I embarked on a rainwater-collector prototype sewing project. We’re trying out different designs that are simple to set up once they get to the field. Yesterday, we had a group of church people, a senior monk, several HOPE International Development Agency staff and some miscellaneous friends of the staff, all crammed into our office area, gathered around a pile of tarp, brainstorming how to design water collection equipment for the situations they are currently aware of in the Delta.

With a prototype in hand, we will quickly get someone else with more appropriate equipment to produce more of these rain collectors.

We had contact with the medical and relief teams this morning. They have been kept in place by a storm for the past 24 hours, but plan to leave today for a group of villages that is directly south, near the coast.

People straggling through the teams’ current location have reported that the situation remains dire for people in those areas to the south, and no help is reaching them yet.

In order to get there, the teams have to go by boat. It has taken awhile for them to find a boat willing to take them down there with their equipment and supplies. They have managed to borrow some lifejackets for team members, so eight people will go out this morning and be down there for a few days, out of contact.

The conditions on the roads and bridges to the Delta are terrible now, with so many heavy vehicles trying to cross and with all the rain. The wait to cross the damaged bridges is many hours and people are getting stuck waiting overnight to cross.

We had vehicles of partners going out yesterday and today, but yesterday’s vehicles have not arrived in Bogalay as yet. In additional to the rainwater collection kits, medicine, and clothing, we are also getting food out to these areas.

A huge Thank You goes to each and every one of you who has sent or is sending donations to help. Please don’t stop giving.

Emergency relief is getting to people in need and local volunteers are continuing to work tirelessly to support people most affected by Nargis.

I know you are hearing stories of how the relief supplies are ending up being sold in the markets of Yangon. None of us at HOPE has seen any of those supplies in the markets here, and we’re actively keeping our eyes open.

Further, no one we know who is repeating that story has actually seen any such supplies, either. We realize it is a real danger and a real possibility, but thus far we haven’t seen any evidence of it.

Hope is emerging a bit more everyday!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Field Report: Hope is begining to emerge amidst the crisis in Myanmar

You are probably hearing a lot on the news about what is not going well here in terms of delivery of assistance to cyclone survivors. But let me counter with a dose of the good stuff – the cooperation, compassion and resourcefulness we see all around us from the people of Myanmar and from local and international agencies and their staff.

Yesterday, we were re-supplying the medical and relief teams that went out earlier. We were also trying to gather supplies to send out into a relatively inaccessible area of the Delta. Based on the experience of the medical teams last week, we have learned more about the physical forms that relief assistance has to take in order to reach people in need and be most useful to them.

People in many areas of the Delta rely for much of the year on rain water for their drinking water supply, but they have lost their rainwater collection materials. Water baskets and water purification supplies are essential to provide, but so are supplies to collect rain water. So part of our job yesterday was to try to quickly figure out a way to provide rainwater harvesting materials. In fact, based now on two consecutive days of rain, and forecasts of rain every day for the next week, it appears that the monsoon rains are starting in earnest. So, we’re starting to place more focus on rainwater harvesting.

Another member of HOPE International Development Agency’s staff has now gone out with the medical teams this week, and his responsibility will be to test out and then teach others how to establish water baskets and rain harvesting systems in local communities. He will report back to us his experience with the rainwater harvesting tarps so that we can get feedback so that changes can be made to the design and more harvesting tarps can be rushed into the field.

Cooperation, compassion, resourcefulness – we are fortunate to be surrounded and inspired by these on a daily basis, in spite of all the discouraging news we are also receiving. I hope you are inspired by these positive stories too.

Help families today by giving to HOPE International Development Agency.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Field Report: Hope is on the horizon!

There’s a lot to write and I don’t know where to begin. Whatever I write, it is not enough to express this situation.

Perhaps I should start by letting you know that the government may be easing its grip on supplies coming into the country. Several countries and agencies have received clearance for their cargo planes of supplies to come into the country in the next few days.

The only restriction being placed on distribution of some of those supplies is that someone from the government must accompany those doing the distribution. Depending on the availability of government staff to accompany distribution teams, there may be more supplies flowing to more people soon.

We are also hearing that the most successful way to distribute supplies to the neediest areas is to go by boat. One of the HOPE International Development Agency staff came back last night from the area where the medical and relief teams have been operating. She is resupplying and, along with two of our other staff, will head back with more medical supplies and water treatment and rainwater harvesting supplies.

We have had really good cooperation with other international agencies and we’re all working hard to get support to the survivors.

Apparently there is a new form of greeting among cyclone survivors in the Delta. When they see someone they recognize, the first question they ask each other is, “How many family members did you lose?”

What a stark statement of the magnitude of this tragedy! But last night we also started hearing some amazing survival stories. We learned of a seven year old child who was found still alive, three or four miles from his village. He had been swept away during the storm and badly injured – he was hit in the head by a board with two nails in it, and the nails went into his skull. He was brought to the medical team, and they were able to do surgery to remove the board and nails and treat infection. The child seemed to be recovering well after the surgery.

One of the most common injuries is a loss of all the skin on certain spots on the arms and across the torso and elsewhere. This occurred because the survivors clung to coconut trees or other rough places for 6-8 hours while the worst of the winds, tide surges and flooding occurred during the storm. Imagine clinging to something so precarious for so many hours, alone in the dark, with the wind and water dragging at you and making it hard to hang on, all the while fearing or knowing that other members of your family have been swept away.

The medical teams also report that they are having to use sedation in a lot of cases where people are completely distraught or are no longer in their right minds after the huge losses of kin and community. Injuries to the psyche are at least as prevalent as physical ones.

We have been buoyed by the news of so many of you who have a part of your heart now living in Myanmar and are working to help provide much-needed aid and other types of support.

Continue to pray for the people!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Field Report - crisis deepens in Myanmar

This post is from our field staff in Myanmar.

We are incredibly grateful to be alive and be in a position to help in the aftermath of such a terrible disaster. We are equally grateful that HOPE International Development Agency donors are rising to the challenge and sending much needed funds so we can continue to move forward with our emergency relief efforts.

The post-cyclone situation here is worse than even our previously pessimistic estimates.

Information coming in from the villages in the area indicates it is normal for a community to have lost 50-60% of its population by now. It appears that the smaller the village, the larger the percentage of deaths.

One member of our team met with the single survivor from a village that used to be home to 100 people.

The death rates appear to be higher among women and children than men. Much of this simply has to do with physical strength. Women and children in the Delta were less able to climb and cling to high places during the surges of waves, while men more often had the strength to hang on and survive.

Our health team has been able to treat more than 2,000 injured men, women and children since Wednesday afternoon and have handed out lots of water purification tablets. We're currently restocking their supplies in preparation for another trip into the countryside.

Relief efforts are beginning and local aid agencies, including us, our doing our best to establish the infrastructure needed to help the most seriously affected. Displaced person camps are being set up by the government and local agencies and more camps spring up every hour. We're really worried about the people who can't make it to one of these camps and are doing our best to help them as well. People are scavenging for their daily food and water and continue to live out in the open because they've lost everything they own.

HOPE International Development Agency team members are heading out into the countryside again to organize more emergency relief efforts.

Pray for the people of Myanmar!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

HOPE International Development Agency launches Myanmar emergency aid effort today

Having heard from HOPE staff in Myanmar, David McKenzie, our Executive Director, sent out an urgent call for help today with an emergency appeal sent out to all HOPE International Development Agency supporters.

Here's some of the information we've learned from our staff in Myanmar. The death toll is continuing to rise above the initial 22,000 people. It's estimated that 1 million people are homeless.

Survivors are desperate and are scavenging for food and have resorted to drinking water from wherever they can find it, including ditches and ponds.

Farm fields are littered with the bodies of men, women and children who didn't survive the storm.

David is asking our donors and the public to help us send as many emergency care packages to survivors as we can. It costs just $45 to prepare and provide one emergency care package. The contents, including essentials like food rations, water purification tables, blankets, clothing and temporary shelter materials, will ensure suvivivors do not become victims in the aftermath of the storm.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Cyclone destruction in Myanmar extensive and death toll climbs to 22,000

We haven't been able to contact our staff and volunteers in Myanmar because the cyclone has damaged communication networks but we have heard that the state radio in Myanmar has raised the death toll from Saturday's killer cyclone to more than 22,000 people.

As many as 41,000 have been reported missing and the death toll is expected to rise significantly in the coming days.

In some villages, only 5 per cent of the inhabitants remain alive in the wake of the terrifying storm.

We hope to connect with HOPE International Development Agency staff and volunteers in the next 24 hours and we are already making preparations to provide emergency care packages that will help the survivors stay alive in the coming days.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Cyclone Nargis slams into Myanmar

It's been less than 48 hours since the killer cyclone Nagris ripped through Myanmar.

Early estimates coming out of Myanmar suggest that the damage is extensive and that the death toll, initially set at less than 1,000, will most certainly rise by the hour.

We're attempting to contact HOPE International Development Agency staff and volunteers in Myanmar to get a more in-depth report on the situation so we can mount an emergency appeal for help right away.

While we're thankful that our staff and volunteers in Myanmar survived the storm, our thankfulness is tempered by a great deal of sadness because we know that so may men, women and children have been injured or killed by the storm.