Good Life in the Midst of Bad Circumstances

At first glance it might seem a little incongruous to have a “Good Life Club” in the middle of a war zone, but the name comes from John 10:10 where Jesus promises abundant life. This project, started by our friend, Karen, gives those of us living in safety and prosperity something practical we can do to contribute to the lives of internally displaced mothers and children on the run from the Burma Army. For details of how you can help, click here

For more pictures of the Good Life Club in action….click here.  (This is  a project of Partners Relief & Development and their friends at Free Burma Rangers).  The Good Life Club packs are carried in by the relief teams going into Burma and delivered to the moms and kids who need them.

Welfare, Community Development and the Golden Rule

 How do we walk a mile in someone else’s shoes? It’s not easy. They don’t always fit well. Sometimes we don’t like the style, the material they’re made from, or the way they pinch. Other times, we wouldn’t be caught dead in them–it would ruin our fashion image. What if you were in a part of the world where you couldn’t afford shoes in the first place and just getting food for your family was enough of a challenge? We want the power to choose our shoes, (and everything else in our lives), and we don’t want to be in a position where we have to take whatever shoes we can get. But what if it doesn’t work out that way? If you need help, how would you want to be treated? What kind of help would help you?

In English class I read a story called “Is There Life After Welfare?” written by a former welfare mom. In her story, we met a news story, a faceless statistic, and a self-described “hussy.” But that’s not all. We met a resilient woman who is an author, a college graduate, and someone who can teach us about helping. We need to see through her eyes and try to walk for a morning in her shoes. Many who have much to say about “those ‘tramps’ just using the system” have no idea what it’s like to work for minimum wage for long hours and still be looked at as a bum; to be treated like dirt because the only insurance you can get is medical coupons, or because food stamps help you feed your children. They haven’t been nameless faceless nobodies to a stranger with power to approve or disapprove the paperwork that either helps provide a house for your kids or leaves you homeless. This woman’s story provides a different view than we normally get from our self-righteous high horses and comfortably distanced lives.

Many of us have never had to live without choice. Many of us have never really been poor.  I have never been poor. I have always lived in the wealthiest country in the world and had access to plenty of food, to transportation, to a dry place to live, and  skills to get some kind of job.   If  I want to pay the price in money, energy, commitment, paperwork and homework, I have the choice to get an education. I’m not only white–I’m a white American, so there’s a whole system that supports my success, unlike that of others with richer skin tones.  Unfair? Yes.

Although I have wealthy friends who have at times been appalled at the so called “poverty” evidenced by the cars we drove (or push started at times:), the outhouse we used while we waited to afford indoor plumbing (while we were building a home), or the fact that we are currently in a functional rental triplex and not the owners of our own palatial dwelling space at the moment, my life is blessed. I am privileged and grateful. 

My husband and I are on the board of a local non-profit that provides help to internally displaced people in Burma, among other things.  As a non-profit, we wrestle with how to best give without demeaning those on the receiving end; how to give ownership and empowerment, while maintaining stewardship of the resources we are responsible for. The IRS and the donors need one thing. Those on the receiving end of the gift need something else. In America, agencies proudly put their name on projects….”brought to you by______,” or “your tax dollars at work.” We “give,” but too often it’s still all about us.

We have tried to go a different path in this, following the example of friends who have worked overseas with community development for many years. They have seen the problems that occur when the giving takes away from those receiving and demeans (like welfare) those we are attempting to empower. So, if you look for “World Aid projects” overseas to be identified by big plaques or banners with our name on it, you won’t find them. You’ll find schools, clinics, orphanages, and food supplies under the name and management of the communities who benefit from them. Our job isn’t to make OUR name known; it’s to build up the communities we serve. While it is necessary for to be able to demonstrate to donors and the IRS here in the US and elsewhere what their generosity has accomplished, and so to be able to say “what World Aid did this year….”, on the receiving end, it is not necessary or helpful for it to continue to be “our project.” Our side of the accounting/giving equation needs to demonstrate our stewardship and accountability, but on the receiving end, those we serve need ownership and power of their own lives and over the resources we have been blessed to be able to give them. It wasn’t ours in the first place (it’s been given to us to us to give), and after we give it, it’s theirs, not ours.

It all seems to go back to the golden rule—treating other people the way we want to be treated. Community development and human development….do they have to be that different? Is there a way to help empower people without making them nameless and faceless? Can we learn to listen to each other’s story?  Can we discover what makes the difference between those who rise above their circumstances and those who don’t? Is it luck? Character? Attitude? Or is it realizing how much power and choice they do have to make things happen, like Annie Downey?

America is not the center of the world, but only a part of it. There is great poverty of many kinds here, as well as in the countries my heart is attached to in Southeast Asia. Americans have much to teach, but also much to learn from our sisters and brothers in places we can’t pronounce, and in the houses next door. Everyone has a story and a dream. 

All of us can change the part of the world we are responsible for, if we’re willing to pay the price. For some, the path to dignity means long hours, faceless interviews and menial tasks for low wages.  For refugee friends, it means leaving the familiar and taking a risk that the promise of America is real, and that if you work hard and listen well you can learn to survive in a place where the government might not be the enemy, you can be free, and your kids can get an education. For us at World Aid, it means listening to the hopes and needs of the communities we work with. They already have the culture, the language and the heart. We can help provide funding and help share their stories with the rest of the world. One of their fears is being forgotten….that no one knows their story, their reality, or their dreams. If we listen to each other, and learn from each other, treat other people the way we want to be treated, that can be changed. The Golden Rule still works.

Starfish tossing

I don’t know where the story originally came from, but most of you have probably heard it….the one where the guy is running along a beach in the morning and he comes to part of the beach that’s covered with beached starfish.  There’s a little girl there picking up starfish and tossing them back in the sea.  The man questions her on what she’s doing, and tries to tell her she can’t save all of them-asks what difference she can make.  The little girl responds, as she throws in another one, “Made a difference to that one…..”  Being unqualified, uneducated, inexperienced, and doing too little, too late, with not enough, for too few seems a lot like that sometimes.  But to the one (or more!) that you do get to encourage, bless, walk beside, befriend, help feed, house, care for or educate by the actions you do, I got to believe it makes some kind of difference!  

In the words of St. Francis, “Preach the gospel.  If necessary, use words.”

World Aid, Inc. Year End Report

Thank you for your support for World Aid in 2008.  Because of partners like you, many people in Burma, and those being resettled to a new life in the US, received both practical help, and the hope and encouragement that the rest of the world has not forgotten them.

Currently in the Karen state, the Burma Army continues to increase the number of troops deployed against civilians in the ethnic areas. Meanwhile, the offensive against the ethnic nationalities has gone on with minimal effective response from the international community for over 60 years. 

 In May of 2008, the world watched as Cyclone Nargis devastated the delta region of Burma, killing over 84,530 and 53,836 reported missing (Asean Report). The Burma Army at first blocked aid to those devastated by Cyclone Nargis, and then later arrested some of those who tried to help their own people.

In 2008, World Aid continued our partnerships with the ethnic peoples in Burma.  Some of the ongoing projects included:

  • Providing relief to communities devastated by Cyclone Nargis in partnership with Karen churches, Buddhist monks, Thirst Aid, and others already in the cyclone area.  We continue to help in expanding an ongoing communications network, provided over 800 water filter units (each $20 filter produces enough safe water for a family of 6 or 24 children during a school day),and continue partnering to provide food (and the means to grow it), medical and educational resources, and resources needed for rebuilding communities.  
  • Providing medical supplies, food and support for villages in remote areas where no other source of supply is available.  In 2008, we provided funding three clinics in areas of Burma where they are the only medical help available.
  • Partnering with the Karen Teacher’s Working Group (KTWG)—a network of Karen teachers working throughout Karen state providing education and teacher training (see and Partners Relief & Development. Generous donors made it possible for the first time, for all 2875 teachers working with the 913 schools and 59,604 internally displaced students to receive a $40 year stipend, helping them to be able to continue teaching instead of having to quit teaching in order to raise their own food.  KSEAG Film About Schools in Burma
  • Partnering with Free Burma Rangers ( to support their work of training multi-ethnic relief teams, providing relief to IDPs, and working for ethnic unity.  Currently in 2008, there are 50 full time FBR teams active in the Karen, Karenni, Shan, Arakan, Chin, Kachin, Lahu and Pa’O areas of Burma. Each team is comprised of 4-6 men and women who have received training in public health, first aid, advanced medical and basic dental care, human rights reporting, counseling, video and still camera, map and compass, land navigation, solar power, and communications. Each team conducts 2-3 month relief missions each year and is equipped with enough medical supplies to treat 2,000 IDPs, as well as packs for children, clothing for IDPs, toys, and sporting equipment. Since 1997, relief teams have treated over 300,000 patients and helped over 750,000 people.
  • Partnership with Christians Concerned for Burma by continuing to support the Global Day of Prayer for Burma (coming March 8, 2009).
  • Partnering with the Karen Women’s Organization ( selling handcrafts for IDP relief.  100% of funds raised here go back to the Karen community to help with relief efforts for internally displaced people.
  • Partnering with the Karen refugee community here in Seattle  in supporting refugees being resettled to new life in the US.

 Thank you for your partnership in helping to serve the people of Burma.  Your support continues to allow for humanitarian projects of all sizes, big and small, to be possible. We at World Aid are grateful for your help! 

 For the World Aid team                           

Crisis in Congo-link to a letter to Senators

A google search of “crisis in Congo” returned 2,120,000 hits.  It’s not like the world doesn’t know there’s a problem, a big problem.  Harper McConnell, of Heal Africa, explained that while many international organizations have pulled out of Congo, they are still working in the midst of the conflict.  Their web site tells of the ongoing life changing and life saving work they do.  

Several  ACTION STEPS that we can take are listed on their web site, along with the following explanation: “Through much of the media, the unrest is presented as a tribal conflict, but it is a conflict rooted in control for resources. Resources such as coltan (in latops and cell phones), diamonds, gold, tantalum, minerals which drive the global economy. It is the people of DR Congo who are suffering for the extraction of these minerals which are sold to multinational companies. Write your senator using this letter to tell them to support Senate Bill 3058 and enforce multinationals to follow strict extraction and purchasing guidelines. ”  (There’s also a link to a letter to write to companies using coltan to check their sources, a link to a petition to print out and gather signatures on, and a donation link).  

The video linked here shows another report done by the Pulitzer Center on Coltan and the Congo: 

“God, make me angry, and in my anger help me to act”

The above quote by Chris Marlow was his prayer for the year. I love that prayer. I read his amazing post this morning about why he is passionate about the work his organization, H.E.L.P. does to help orphans in Zimbabwe, and was impacted.  

As a Christian, seems like some of us tend to anger over the wrong stuff-not the stuff God gets angry about, like injustice!  We get angry about inconvenience or disappointments or standing in a line somewhere, or someone late for an appointment.  And then we get depressed over injustice-not empowered.  Ecclesiastes 3:1 says “there is a time for everything.” Ephesians 4:26 says “be angry and sin not.”  So looks like it’s possible to be angry and be empowered, instead of staying at stuck at overwhelmed and DO something to use that energy to promote change and justice and live out our faith?  

The other part of Chris’s post dealt with why he was so passionately involved with what he was doing, and he’s trying to do a lot!  I resonate with that one too.  (The passion part-I’m only doing small things).  It’s always about the people.

A few years ago my husband and I had the privilege of going to Thailand and went to one of the refugee camps with a pastor friend there.  As we met people in person whose work we had supported from here through World Aid, Inc., I was permanently changed by what I saw.  I remember the moment where I realized Galatians 6:3 “Bear one another’s burdens and fulfill the law of Christ,”  was not an option or a warm fuzzy thought.  It’s a command.  

As a mother of three children, I could relate in a very small way to some of the burdens the women of Burma face. I have given birth with the privilege of having medical care and a safe, comfortable place to do it in, and then time to recover.  I cannot imagine giving birth in the jungle without assistance, while you are trying to run from the military.   My three beautiful babies are now three healthy adults who have gotten or are getting the education they need.  I cannot imagine losing your babies to malaria or having them become a statistic in the high infant mortality rate that is Burma.  My husband is alive and well.  I cannot imagine seeing family members killed or blown up by landmines. We voted this week.  I cannot imagine running from an illegal government and having  less rights than a sea lion has here in America (although I know some Americans can).  These are some of the burdens they bear. That day, I knew I had to do something.  It became personal, mother to mother.  

What am I angry about?  I am angry that people die needlessly and that mothers who love their children as much as I love mine do not get to see them become adults.  Two friends, Leah and Alan, asked for meaningful wedding gifts last year…..they got malaria nets for 40 donated in their name.  We (World Aid), support the work of the Free Burma Rangers relief teams, who bring food, medical and dental care, and hope to IDPs in Burma, of a nurse who helps support Karen Women and Children both in Burma and those needing to come across the border for more extensive medical treatment, a nurse practitioner going to provide medical care and education for the Akha people in Thailand, support education projects for IDPs through the Karen Teacher’s Working Group, support those who are trying to rebuild their lives after Cyclone Nargis and more.  These are a few of the ways we can help bear their burdens.  

“God, make me angry, and in my anger, help me to act.”  And please God, don’t ever let me forget the people on the other end, who I may never see, but whose lives will be changed because the body of Christ, and the heart of God, have not forgotten them.

Newly Elected Head of Karen National Union

Naw Zipporah Sein, a long time leader of the Karen Women’s Organization, and former Nobel Peace Prize nominee, was elected head of the Karen National Union (KNU) last week.  The YouTube video linked below shows an interview done in July of 2007, discussing the situation in her country and the ways she has been involved in advocacy for many many years.   She is a leader who tries to bring unity, who “reaches across the aisle,” and who serves her people with integrity….. may God bless her, give her wisdom, and protect her.  (The last person who had this job was assassinated in February of 2008).