Refugee Crisis

Photo: Prosperity Candle

Photo: Prosperity Candle

The numbers have been staggering: nearly 900 people have died over the past week trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea. Our hearts break. We shake our heads and perhaps cry a few tears. Then we click to a new webpage, a new story, and set aside our laments until the next heartbreak headline. Yet, every day, thousands of refugees live at the edge of death, trying to escape the violence of their homes. Hundreds of thousands live in overcrowded camps or wait along borders, without enough to eat but with more than enough fear. Every day, not only when the headlines demand our attention, our neighbors, our siblings need us. They need us to care, to pray, to act.

Week of Compassion is committed to walking in solidarity with refugees every day. Your gifts to Week of Compassion have already and will continue to facilitate the work of our partners, who daily are providing food, hygiene supplies, education, and more to refugees around the world. Your gifts say: "where you go, I will go."

 

Ecuador Update

For a moment, around 7pm on April 16, the earth shook in Northwest Ecuador, as a 7.8 magnitude earth quake struck. Over the next 24 hours, over 55 aftershocks followed. Over the next several days, hundreds of survivors were pulled from the rubble, as hundreds more were pronounced dead. In the immediate aftermath of the quake, Week of Compassion partners on the ground offered emergency aid and supplies.

Now, 6 weeks later, the shock has faded, rescue efforts are winding down, and the news crews have moved on. Yet, the work of recovery, which will be long and difficult, is just beginning. This week, we received a second appeal for support from our international partner, ACT Alliance. With these funds communities whose infrastructure was destroyed in the earthquake, will be able to construct latrines and water sanitation systems, thus preventing the secondary crisis of waterborne illness. Funds will also help provide temporary shelter for over 600 families.

Week of Compassion is collaborating with One Great Hour of Sharing of the United Church of Christ in a Joint Appeal for Ecuador, to work together to express our solidarity with the people of Ecuador. You can be part of the effort through your prayers and your gifts. The resources linked below offer ideas for involving your congregation.

 

Our Global Responses Since May 26th, 2016

Where you built relationships with struggling neighbors

Christ is Risen

We pray for and lift up the more than 130 individuals who were killed in terrorist attacks during this Holy Week.
 
In the face of such brutal violence it becomes easy for us to wish, as did the Psalmists, to see our enemies destroyed. We may cry out for God's wrath to "shower...upon these attackers," as did Nasreen Bibi while her two-year-old daughter lay in the Lahore, Pakistan hospital. After so many senseless deaths, our anger feels inescapable; vengeance seems justified; retaliation appears necessary; and more death seems the only possibility.
 
Yet, we have also rejoiced with choruses of "Christ is risen, indeed!" and embraced again the mystery of an empty tomb.

The message of Easter is that love conquers all, even terror and death. Though by the weapons of terror Christ was crucified, by the instrument of God's Spirit of life, Christ lives! As Pope Francis stated in his Easter homily, "With the weapons of love, God has defeated selfishness and death."
 
Even in the midst of our anger and our sorrow, we choose to be people of the resurrection, recalling that love is the only power with any hope to defeat death and overcome such evil acts. Love is the only way by which we might bring peace to this world. Love, rather than wrath, is what Jesus showed to the world when he cried on the cross, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." 
 
This Easter Season, Week of Compassion honors the lives and individuals who were affected by the attacks in Belgium, Iraq, Pakistan, Ivory Coast, Turkey, and elsewhere by calling for Christ's people to show the love and compassion that Christ exemplified through his life, death, and resurrection.  We honor these individuals and we serve God by working toward wholeness and reconciliation in a fragmented world.

Asylum Seekers in Eastern Europe

by Week of Compassion Executive Director, Rev. Vy T. Nguyen

Belgrade, Serbia, March 14, 2016 - It was a quiet morning when we arrived at the Center for Asylum Seekers at Krnjaca, one of the five locations in Serbia that are receiving the thousands of refugees who are fleeing Iraq, Syria and the surrounding Middle East countries. Immediately we noticed that although there were several swings and playground areas for children, the center was comprised of mostly barracks--barracks that had once served as a factory for one of the biggest corporations in Serbia and that, after being abandoned, was later converted into a refugee camp in the 1990s for refugees of another conflict, the Yugoslav Wars.
 
We first met with Rade Ciric, the camp manager, who shares his small office with the other staff and doctors providing support for the refugees. Rade began working at this center last year, but he has been working with refugees for three decades. In a corner of his office hangs art painted by the many children who once lived in this camp after fleeing from their homes.
 
Yemen
Somalia
Afghanistan
Bangladesh
Ghana

These were only a few of the places painted by the hands of small children--places that were once homes, places from which they fled, places they remembered after they eventually arrived at this center. The paintings, and especially the hand prints, make you wonder where those children are now and how they are doing.
 
Week of Compassion and our partners, including Church World Service, have been supporting centers similar to this one since the crises in the Middle East intensified last year. As these refugees cross the borders into Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, and Serbia, this center is where their asylum applications are processed, a procedure that allows them to be in the camp and gives them a permit to move within the country for 72 hours. This enables them to move forward. Only a day prior to our visit, however, we learned that the borders are now closing. For these refugees, this means that moving forward will be a new challenge: as other countries make the decision to close their borders, refugees are now stuck, and families who were on the route together will be separated.
 
The center is an important place for these refugee families. It is a resting place for them after their long journey. The center provides warm food, clean water, beds, bathrooms and showers, medical and social services, play areas for the children, and more while they are here. Just in the last year, this center processed and took care of 10,000 refugees from the Middle East. "When the families and children get to this center, they have been through a lot. They are tired, and exhausted; and we try to help and provide comfort as much as we can," says Rade.
 
One of the refugees I met was Alana, a young, beautiful 21-year-old mother of 2 boys--7 years old and 4 years old--and a 7-month old girl. Her home was Damascus, Syria, but she fled four months ago with her family by boat over the Aegean Sea. Alana described her journey for us: "The three-hour boat ride to get to Lesbos island felt much longer, scary for me, as the boat was very crowded and I was trying to hold onto my 3 month old daughter to keep her warm from the cold wind and chopping waves." They arrived in Greece and spent a month in Athens before arriving in Serbia. Not all of Alana's family are together. Some may be in Germany, but she is not quite sure. They were separated along the route. They are all she can think about as she holds on to those in her family who arrived with her.

When Alana was sharing her story, another woman came to mind--Naomi, from the book of Ruth in the Hebrew Bible. Alana and Naomi are mothers from different times, but they both have been separated from their land, their family, their community. They are mothers who do not know what their futures hold.
 
For Alana and many other refugees at this center, their future is full of uncertainty and the unknown. They have been at the center for a month, but they don't know what is next. The situation is changing very rapidly. In the coming months, Rade, the center manager, is expecting to receive more refugees from the many who are currently trapped in Serbia and neighboring countries: these are refugees who cannot move forward, and who will need a place to rest and stay. They do not know when they will be allowed to move forward.
 
Even in the midst of this uncertainty, we are called to be with people like Alana, to pray with her, to accompany her and her family. We turn to our sacred book of Ruth and are reminded of the image of God in Alana and each of her children, community, and family. "Where you go, I go; where you stay, I stay; your people shall be my people; your God shall be my god." We will be with them, rest with them, and hold them as they try to catch their breath and figure out next steps, and we will be with them as they try to move forward on their journey. We will accompany them for the long, difficult journey that lies ahead.

Our Global Responses Since March 15th, 2016

Where you built relationships with struggling neighbors

International Women's Day

Every day, Week of Compassion uplifts women around the world who suffer oppression due to their gender, especially on this International Women's Day. We work with partners to support programs intentionally designed to empower women, most notably through educational and employment opportunities. Week of Compassion created the Women's Empowerment Fund to demonstrate dedication to this issue and give YOU the ability to specifically support women. We know that if women are afforded the same opportunities as men, communities become more productive, sustainable, and peaceful. We praise the work of our partners, such as Prosperity Catalyst, working with women in microfinance programs in Iraq and in Haiti; IMA World Health, providing healthcare to women in rural places; and CWS, facilitating adult literacy classes targeted to women. We thank God this day, and every day, for the opportunity to fight alongside strong women to claim their rights and make the world a better place.

 

Drought Draws Support to Nicaragua

"We were eating just two pounds a week between the six of us." -Doña María

"We were eating just two pounds a week between the six of us." -Doña María

When the rains didn't start falling in August as had been expected, the staff of Fundación San Lucas became very concerned. The drought in Nicaragua had started back in May 2015, and families throughout Central America had already lost their first corn and bean crops. Now the lack of moisture was threatening the second harvest, and rural families had few opportunities available to them. Some families had already made the tough decision to send a family member to Costa Rica to work in the sugar cane fields. Others had sold off their livestock for a little income, but the prices they received were low. A few families decided to eat the seed they had stored for the second planting. It was clear that if the drought continued, vulnerable families would suffer from hunger in the coming months.

Fundación San Lucas's staff began working with the rural communities that their nonprofit organization serves in the dry corridor of Nicaragua. In Santa Gertrudis, they worked with Melba, a tireless community leader to develop criteria for identifying the most vulnerable families. Melba and other community volunteers went door to door, and interviewed those in their community to see which families had to ration their meals. They also created a list of households in Santa Gertrudis that included single mothers, elderly family members, and people with disabilities, as these people didn't have the option of migrating or working in the city as day laborers.

Fundación San Lucas repeated this process in the surrounding communities and identified one hundred families that would suffer the most if the drought continued. August and September passed and still there were no signs of rain. It was at this point that Fundación San Lucas reached out to Week of Compassion for help as it was clear there would be no second harvest. Fortunately, Week of Compassion responded. Vulnerable families received a package of food to supplement the help they were receiving from their neighbors.

Adela with Rosa, the community leader of La Pita.

Adela with Rosa, the community leader of La Pita.

Doña María from Santa Gertrudis shared "I live with my brother and sister, who are older than I am, and my daughter and her children. My daughter is unable to work because she suffers from epilepsy. We were eating just two pounds a week between the six of us. Children in our community had fainted at school from hunger. Then food packages came and I thought, God has remembered us. Please say thank you to the people who helped."

Adela from the community of La Pita shared, "I am thankful for the food packages. I am retired and don't have a salary, and with the drought there was no harvest. I didn't have a place to turn. I give thanks to God because you showed us his love for us through your help."

by Alex Morse of Foods Resource Bank, a partner of Week of Compassion

 

Our Global Responses Since March 1st, 2016

Where you built relationships with struggling neighbors