Saturday, 23 July 2016


His eyes filled with tears as he spoke passionately about the impact of reducing Aid budgets. He spoke of the effects of the worst drought in 30 years; of one community rationing themselves to 1 litre of water a day (which the women and girls collect in 25l jerry-cans from between 500m and 3km away); of another where 99% of children under 5 are malnourished, about 60% chronically; of another where conflict has surfaced because one has a shallow well, and the other an open source.

Let’s face it, no matter how you do the maths, no matter what data you use, no matter what the method of analysis used to make the decisions and choose priorities, the outcomes and the life choices are “sub-optimal” – or just plain lousy!

How do you tell the mother of a vulnerable, hungry child that you can’t help support her with nutrition supplements anymore because Australia’s funding has been reduced and from now on we are only able to support the most vulnerable, the chronically malnourished? How do you tell one community that you cannot support them with water source rehabilitation because at least they have some water, (even if it is shared with their livestock) and with the money available we have to narrow our focus to the neighbours who have less water and more people? How do you decide to close out of education programming in favour of water and food – because they are lifesaving as opposed to life-skills?

How do you tell the people with whom you have been working, and to whom you have made commitments that as a result of funding reductions you can no longer deliver on those commitments because the donor has reduced the funding - instead you will narrow the focus of your programming? How do you break promises, without breaking relationships and hope?

“We build relationships with the people, we make promises, we deliver and they trust us! Now, I have to break my promises. I don’t care so much about what the government thinks, I care about the children and I feel like I will let them down.”

From the distance of my comfortable office in Australia I can tell these passionate and committed community development workers that they should never make promises (Community Development theory 101). But, let’s be realistic – development practitioners make a promise of commitment and relationship when we walk into a community. We pride ourselves (as we should) on a development model that demands we build relationships of trust with our community partners, we work hard to ensure that they own the process, that their voices are heard and that they make the decisions of priority – we make a promise to be an along-sider.

Let me be clear, my colleague is a smart man, he appreciates the political and economic landscape in which we are operating, and he recognises the complexity of our decisions. He gets the theory, he knows that governments make political decisions, he understands the fiscal realities. But, in the end, it’s he and his team that have to make the tough decisions about who and what they will focus on, and communicate those decisions to the people with whom they work – a people who (for the most part) do not care about the politics and financial positions or forecasts.

“Right now, our government is investing the least we ever have in Australian #AustralianAid

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

The Most High God

Ethiopia is a religiously diverse country, but a majority Christian country - with about 45% Ethiopian Orthodox, 20% Protestant and 30% Muslim.

The Orthodox majority is obvious with temples of all sizes spaced regularly throughout the country side. But, apparently the church likes to build it's temples on high ground, in places difficult to access. On top of inhospitable rocks. In places that require huge effort to reach.

Even if, with great effort and dedication, you managed to reach the temple, it is only accessible when a Priest is available. And then, when the Priest is present to allow you access to God's house, the worship, prayer and teaching are conducted in an archaic language, Ge'ez, (the root of Amharic and Tigrinya, the major Ethiopian languages) reserved for the Church, and one which the vast majority of people do not understand.

I wonder what that says about how God is perceived and approached? These are just my thoughts, but it seems to suggest a God that is omnipresent, but distant, unapproachable, inhospitable and protected. A God that can only be accessed by an elite class of educated men, who interpret and represent the mind of God to the masses. A God who can only be approached through an elect intermediary.

Even when there was an (ornate) church in the middle of a town the doors were closed, the surrounding fence high and outer gates closed. People stood outside the gates facing the closed church and prayed through the iron barriers. It seems that the church has gone to great lengths (it must have been a nightmare to build churches in those locations) to keep itself, and by extension God, at a safe distance from God's people.

I often wonder where God is in my line of work. When I hear people's stories of unfair circumstance and see the conditions they live in and their lack of resources I wonder how God can allow such inequity - or at times in fact whether in fact God's attention has been diverted elsewhere.

It is usually in these same times and places and when I stop looking for explanation and rationalisation, that I see God most clearly. I see God in the generous hospitality of the family that has little or nothing and yet shares everything; I see God in the smiling eyes of the 10 year old girl that carries 25kg of water 3km twice a day; I see God in the eyes of mischief of the 6 year old boy learning to care for the sheep and goats. I see God in places and people that are far from sanitised and elite; I see God in the muck and the commonplace of life.

Today I saw God as I shared bread and (organic white) honey with a community of Tigrinya people from a common plate, sitting awkwardly under a cloth shelter beside a rock and mud wall in the middle of nowhere Ethiopia.

God is very real, an ever present help in times of drought and scarcity; God is not distant, aloof and unapproachable - God is all there is!

The church (that's you and me) needs to come down from the high places, break down the fences, open the doors and come out of the safe sterility of our comfort and sit in the dirt alongside others to share bread and honey.

[By contrast; the local Mosque is in town, the gates and doors are always open and people are welcome. The common water point is accessible to all and the grounds around the place of worship are a community meeting place. Just saying!] 

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

El Nino, Rain & Hope

Negash Water Tank
We climbed the steep road out of Mekelle, (the Capital of Tigray, the most Northern region of Ethiopia) passing camel trains, horse drawn carts and donkeys carrying heavy loads. The mountains are steep and harsh here, the ground is rocky and barren – although areas of green ground cover breakup the barren landscape.

Farmers follow behind their oxen, ploughing the land they rent from the government, and stop regularly to dislodge the rocks caught in the wooden plough. It is hard to believe that this land, as much rock as dirt, is fertile enough to grow anything, and yet – if there is rain – the crops will grow. And therein lies the problem for this, and many other regions of Ethiopia and the African continent.

For two years now there has been no rain, no crops and plenty of misery. El Nino, while as a scientific-seasonal event, is technically over, the impact of the lack of rain carries on. There was no harvest in the 2015-16 year, and whilst it is now the rainy season, and farmers are ploughing in hope - there has not been much rain here yet.

As I walked amongst the rock and mud houses of the town of Negash and talked with female headed householders who have been supported to establish small dairy herds, the sky is ominously grey and heavy, the thunder echoes across the valley and bounces off the mountains, but the rain does not come.

Negash is a community literally built on and of rock. It is one of the harshest environments I have visited, and yet amongst this inhospitable environment the children laugh, play and wave. One of the most urgent needs here is safe, drinkable water. There is a bore hole and a 10,000 litre tank, but nowhere near enough.

World Vision, with UNOCHA support, has built a 50,000 litre concrete tank and rehabilitated the pipes, pump and bore – and for AU $26,000.000 – soon there will be safe, drinkable water to communal water points – enough for 1,100 households and two schools (of about 1,700 students) in the community. The community leaders have formed a water committee, (7-8 people, including 50% women) and have decided to institute a water levy; all households will pay 10.00 Birr (about 60 cents) a month for the maintenance and operation of the water supply.

Negash is by no means alone in this crisis: in all of Ethiopia, 10.2 million people require emergency food assistance to meet their basic food needs, and some 458,000 children are projected to suffer from severe acute malnutrition (SAM) and 2.5 million children from moderate acute malnutrition (MAM) during the year. (UNOCHA)

Ethiopia and many other countries need help.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016


“Mr. Daryl Crowden, please make yourself known to the Emirates service desk at departure gate 11”. I was just about to board Emirates flight EK407, that 13.5 hour non-stop flight from Melbourne to Dubai. And this, this was the announcement that births a glimmer of hope deep in the soul – albeit unfounded and highly unlikely – but nevertheless a pleading hope that this was the day, this was the flight. I approached the desk telling myself, don’t get your hopes up, it never happens, but still a small candle of hope had been lit.

“Mr. Crowden? We forgot to give you a meal voucher when you checked in!” Not only was it not the hoped for upgrade, but it was just rubbing salt in the wounds – not only do you not get an upgrade, but by the way you have such a long layover in Dubai that we will give you a free meal at McDonalds (just one of the choices).

The insignificance and obscenity of my hope ashamed me as I sat listening to my colleagues in Nairobi. They were providing me with an update on the unfolding crisis in South Sudan where over 200 people have been killed; the drought affecting 10.2 Million people in Ethiopia; the increasing capacity of Al Shabaab to terrorise Somalia and neighbours; the increasing displacement of people from Burundi. And armed with that knowledge what was my response?

The idea of hope haunted my thinking. As I sat listening to one catastrophe, created by humanity, after another, I wondered where, if, there is hope in these contexts? Do the people of Juba (South Sudan) hope anymore, or have they given in to despair? Can the people in Ethiopia hope for food, can they imagine a day when the kids are not hungry?

Hope is fragile, it can be dashed in a second by powers outside our control - and yet it is the one thing that, where it can be found, has the power to sustain life and overcome reality. I have seen this illogical hope in so many faces and places.

As I begin my work this week in Kenya, and next week in Ethiopia – I can imagine what I will see and hear – but I hope that I will see a flicker of the candle of hope burning in the eyes of the people, and I pray that in some small way I can tend that flame of hope.

Monday, 20 June 2016

'I am relieved. My baby is alive and well.'

(Written by Melany Markham (Wednesday, 08 June 2016 08:07) By Guy Vital-Herne)

“I was so desperate. I didn’t know what to do. I tried to feed her some milk we bought for her, but she kept on crying, and crying, all the time. I couldn’t sleep. I was so weak from being sleepless for so long. My mind was racing in so many different directions. I didn’t know what to think and what not to think. I thought she wasn’t going to make it.” This is the testimony of Ellen, a 52-year-old grandmother, as she recollects the painful moments she experienced with 9-months-old Bethniflore.

Ellen lives in the community of Colladère, where World Vision has been working with children and their families to alleviate the effects of poverty. But for the past two years, the people of Haiti have been facing a drought like never before. Many areas of the country, including those of World Vision’s Area Programs, have not received rain for four to six months. This drought, the second in two years, has had a severe impact on people’s food security, nutrition and livelihoods. Crops have been lost, work has stopped and children have become even more vulnerable.

According to a national food security assessment released by the Haitian National Agency for Food Security (CNSA) and World Food Program (WFP) approximately 1.5 million people (300,000 households) are severely food insecure. Most troubling in this report is that 76,000 children are acute malnourished and 37,500 children are severely malnourished. 

Following this daunting situation, World Vision Haiti issued a declaration of emergency and launched a response providing needed help to families and their children that have lost so much due to this climate phenomenon.

Several mobile clinics have been organized in order to identify and support malnourished children. When Ellen came with Bethniflore, nurse Jeanine, measured the circumference of Bethniflore’s arm – a common way to identify malnutrition - and weighed her. The little girl was diagnosed with the worst form of it. “I only saw that she was losing weight, her skin was dry and scaly and she was crying all the time. I didn’t know what was wrong with her,” explains Ellen, clearly upset.

Bethniflore was immediately placed in a outpatient therapy program and administered Plumpy’nut, a peanut-based nutritional supplement designed to quickly counteract the effects of malnutrition. “The nurse gave me the Plumpy’nut and instructed me on how to use it. She also taught me how to properly feed Bethniflore using the various food groups that a child needs to eat to grow healthy.” Nurse Jeanine works with the women in this community and shares different recipes through the weekly feeding session that the mothers organize. Each person brings something to prepare the food and the children are fed together while she instructs the mothers on healthy habits for their children and family. “Now I know how to feed and care for my child,” she adds.

As part of the overall response to the food security crisis, World Vision Haiti distributed seeds peanuts, corn, yucca, sweet potatoes, green beans to more than 4,000 farmers; restocked public health centers with additional supplies of Plumpy’Nut and continues to promote its school-feeding program for more than 64,000 children throughout the Central Plateau. Ellen also received seeds of peanuts and green beans that her husband has planted, hoping that this year they will be able to make some money out of their hard work.

“Today, I am relieved. My baby is alive and well. She’s happy and active. It’s all thanks to World Vision,” shares thankfully Ellen

Monday, 8 February 2016

Zika: Fast & Furious

I have to admit, as insensitive as it will sound, that when I heard last week that the Brazilian military were set loose on the favelas of Rio and Recife, searching out and destroying potential breeding spots for mosquitos that my mind went immediately to the movie “Fast & Furious 5”. I can see Vin Diesel and The Rock stomping through the narrow alleyways, chasing each other over the roofs and dodging flying cars all in the hunt for the elusive Zika Mosquitio.

Sorry for the insensitivity of the detour of my mind - it is so much more frightening and serious than that. When WHO director general, Margaret Chan called Zika an "extraordinary event" that needed a coordinated response she was acting on the knowledge that this virus, with its genesis in the mosquito, is already impacting millions of people and has the potential to spread and affect millions more. This is a public health emergency of international concern." (Announcement)

One clinic in Recife, a run down, underfunded medical facility was treating maybe 5 cases of microcephaly a month, until last month when they treated 300. While the medical evidence, (hard data) is still not available to say that the virus causes microcephaly the anecdotal evidence and the belief of most, especially the mothers of the affected babies, is that the link is undeniable.

We operate in 14 countries in Latin America but we are prioritizing interventions in the most affected countries of Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Brazil is the most affected, with over 4,000 suspected and 400 confirmed cases of microcephaly caused by the Zika virus among newborn babies, according to the country's health minister. In the next six months the estimated budget for our response is US $3 million to reach 300,000 direct beneficiaries and 1.5 million indirect beneficiaries in the five countries targeted.

The frustration for Brazilian’s must be that this virus has been around for years, microcephaly and the link has been investigated for at least the last 18 months, but when the world begins to focus on the Olympics and athletes (especially young women of child bearing years) from all over the world, when the virus looks like it could perhaps jump Dutton’s border security, avoid off-shore incarceration and take residence among us – then we take notice.

There is information available, and you can follow our progress (and contribute to the effort to assist the people of Latin America if you’re able). 

Monday, 1 February 2016

#NoLostGeneration : Syria

There are a number of memory and association triggers – the smell that reminds you of Granny, the taste that reminds you of that horrible meal, the song that makes you laugh, or cry. For me, some of those associations now come with the names of countries or cities: Earthquake - Haiti and Christchurch; Typhoon & floods – Philippines and Taiwan; Refugees – Rwanda… One of the other associations has now become Geneva – location of some of the most important talks and opportunity for some of the worlds most oppressed people.

This weekend talks commenced to try and stop the fighting in Syria. Numerous actors from around the globe are sitting in a meeting facilitated by the UN. At this stage one of the opposition parties is refusing to even enter the room unless some of the preconditions are met – including allowing access to Syria for humanitarian workers and stopping the bombing of civilians – seems reasonable. There is a very long way to go, but these talks are the newest and currently best opportunity there is to stop the unimaginable destruction of people and country.

On March 15 this year the crisis will enter its 6th year and among the inconceivable statistics of internally displaced, refugees, starving and dead – there are a total of 5.4 million Syrian children and youth inside Syria (2.1 million out of school) and 1.4 million Syrian refugee children and youth in the five host countries (50 per cent of whom are out of school) – that need educational assistance.

The conflict has taken a tremendous toll on children’s access to educational services and protection.

Children in Syria suffer protracted and multiple displacement, continuous exposure to violence, family separation, chronic psychosocial distress, recruitment into armed groups and economic exploitation. Grave child-rights violations continue to be widely documented, including the killing and maiming of children and attacks on education facilities. In most host countries, refugee parents’ lack of access to legal, safe and decent employment impacts their ability to meet the children’s needs, with negative coping mechanisms such as child labour and early marriage on the rise.

On Thursday, in London, another conference will get underway; “Supporting Syria and the Region” will bring together international donors, including Australia. Hopefully these donors will commit to supporting the crisis.

Among the agenda items, is the hope to create a long-term commitment on education for Syria and the region to avoid a lost generation of children and youth through a total ask of US$1.4 billion. Around 4 million Syrian and affected host-community children and youth (aged 5-17 years) need to have access to, and learn in, safe, inclusive and quality formal and non-formal certified learning opportunities. In particular, the objective is to reach 1.7 million Syrian refugee and affected host-community children and youth in the five host countries with a total cost of US$0.9 billion, and 2.1 million out-of-school children inside Syria with a total cost of US$0.5 billion. Specific attention will be given to post-basic education opportunities that increase life skills for employability and social cohesion.

A whole generation of children and youth is at risk of losing hope. Education is key for their survival and preparation to rebuild a peaceful Syria. Failing to provide adequate funding would have an immensely negative impact on their future, that of the region and beyond.

Looking for something to pray for this week? Pray for these conferences and for the people that are hoping this time will make a difference.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Inconceivable and Ignorable Syria...

March 15 will mark the end of the 5th year of the conflict in Syria; the situation for civilians remains catastrophic and - for most of us here in safe, comfortable, predictable Australia - completely unimaginable. Such is the intensity of the violence in Syria that, on average, 50 families an hour are uprooted, and have been every hour of every day since 2011: the number of internally displaced Syrians now stands at 6.6 million. But 13.5 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, of those, more than 5.6 million are children.

I find it hard to imagine what that looks like, but for an equivalent in Australia that is the population of NSW: every single person in NSW (not just Sydney, the whole state) not just homeless, but running from homes in fear of bombs and bullets. (If the same rate of displacement occurred in Melbourne the city would be empty in just over 3 years.)

Most days I receive word from colleagues in Turkey, Jordan or Lebanon of the inconceivable lengths to which people have gone to seek safety. Most days I am informed of the cessation of programming, or the need to move again, because another bomb has landed on, or near our programming site. It is happening every day, but most days it doesn’t make the news – it doesn’t even make it to my desk.

5 years on and for most – it is something happening ‘over there somewhere’ and because it doesn’t impact me, it is easy to ignore, or at least quarantine. That is until we see heart wrenching photos of starving children on our widescreen televisions then, for a while at least we will feel bad.

I don’t pretend to have the answers to how this is stopped, but as the international decision makers come together again, (February 4 in London) for yet another conference on Syria – the Supporting Syria and the Region Donor conference - perhaps we start by praying that they put aside their own political and economic agenda and focus on the people of Syria who just want the same as you and I – a safe place, a home. (Could it be that the European/Syrian refugee crisis is void if people can go home and be safe.)

(In the meantime if you have the resources to help me help the children of Syria, you can make a donation here.)