Conversations

Blessing #3: Compassionate kids

We're counting our blessings each day this week in celebration of Thanksgiving. Blessing #3: The many compassionate and beautiful children who remind us every day what it means to have a child-like faith in a God who loves us.

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The fun and sometimes frustrating thing about being a writer is that you never quite know what kind of story you are going to get. Sometimes, great leads turn out to be disappointing. Other times, what looks like a humdrum story turns out to have a twist that blows your socks off.

So it was with a sense of nervous anticipation that I called Teresa and Carl Camera of Austin, Texas. I’d been asked to write a feature story about them for World Vision Magazine. Teresa had written to the magazine, saying how blessed her family was by the publication and how it was helping their boys -- Kevin, 10, and Christopher, 11 -- develop a more compassionate outlook.

It was very kind of Teresa to say so, of course, but perhaps a stretch to write on for 1,000 words.

But once I got on the phone with the Cameras, I discovered they had a whole range of strategies for helping their boys become more caring people. These conversations became the basis of the “Raising Kids Who Care” feature in the current issue of the magazine.

GIVEAWAY: Win a new t-shirt from GIVEN, inspired by World Vision!

Our Bolivia bloggers team is having a little fun this week. We're giving our readers the chance to win a brand-new t-shirt from GIVEN, the new clothing line inspired by World Vision.

The GIVEN apparel line was founded on this belief: Our capacity to GIVE is directly related to our acceptance of what Jesus has first GIVEN us. When we fully embrace this concept and fully realize that all we have has first been GIVEN to us, our passion for GIVING to others grows. No matter what your job is, no matter what your talent is, there is a place for you to serve and to GIVE to others.

Here's what you need to do to win:

How does what's been GIVEN to you inspire you to GIVE to others?

1. Write out your short answer and leave it in our comments section.

2. Then, "like" this post on Facebook.

3. Tweet it out, too.

4. Ask your friends the same question we've asked you. The more people you get to participate (make sure they include your name in their comment), the greater chance you have to win!

Giveaway ends at 11:59 p.m. PST on Sunday, November 20, 2011. One lucky winner will be chosen at random and will receive a gift code good for one t-shirt of the winner's choice from GIVEN. The winner will be notified by email, so please include your email address when you submit your comment. Good luck!

For more chances to win GIVEN t-shirts from our Bolivia bloggers team, check out blogs from Joy, Matthew, Jana and Deb.

What our nation’s top leaders have to say – My notes from the FWD campaign live stream

Yesterday I tuned in to the official launch of the FWD (Famine. War. Drought.) campaign following the White House live streamed video web chat. As a representative of World Vision but also as a private citizen, I was interested in what some of our nation’s top officials had to say about the U.S. response to some of the greatest crises yet in the 21st century.

I captured some highlights from the discussion to share with you, and have noted the minute mark for many of the questions asked. This is not an exact transcription, but a paraphrased overview.

The state of play in the Horn of Africa: -- Gayle Smith, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director of the National Security Council

The people in the region are experiencing the worst drought in 60 years. That means that farmers have very little to fall back on. People are literally dying as we speak. Without assistance, they will in fact die.

The importance of acting now:, Dr. Rajiv Shah, USAID Administrator

There are 13 million people who are in need of humanitarian assistance in the Horn of Africa. Already more than 30,000 children have lost their lives from starvation or the consequences of severe malnutrition and the disease that accompanies it. The UN estimates that number could grow to 750,000 over the course of the next six months.

Now is the time to act. This is also a moment to acknowledge that when we do these actions, it is an expression of American values. The more Americans that can engage in the response, the better off we will all be in saving lives today and putting in place the systems that can help prevent these tragedies in the future.

Q & A with USAID's Raj Shah on the Horn of Africa and foreign assistance

On Tuesday, Dr. Raj Shah, administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), visited World Vision's U.S. headquarters in Federal Way, Washington, to talk to our staff about faith and global development. After his speech -- which included a call for Americans and the American church community to continue supporting the United States as a leader in bringing relief to those suffering from poverty around the globe -- I had the great privilege of talking to Dr. Shah for a little more in-depth Q & A.

Here is the transcript of our conversation:

JAMES: Did Horn of Africa governments respond quickly enough to early warnings [of the food crisis and famine]?

DR. SHAH: It’s important to put this in context and recognize that the famine early warning system did generate knowledge of this crisis before it happened. The Ethiopian and Kenyan governments -- and the United States and a range of other partners, including the World Bank -- did work together in advance of this to put in place poverty safety-net programs that today are effectively protecting millions and millions of people. This is why we are not seeing large-scale child deaths in Kenya and Ethiopia, despite the fact that this drought is actually worse than previous ones. In Somalia, it’s a very different story, because access for humanitarian partners has been highly impeded by militias and al-Shabaab. The direct consequence of this is a famine that has taken tens of thousands of children who otherwise would not have died. The United States is doing everything it can, working with a broad range of international partners, both to save lives now and to put into place our Feed the Future programs so that future droughts don’t lead to these catastrophes. And we are already seeing some important policy reform measures that the Ethiopian and Kenyan governments are taking to liberalize their agricultural economies and allow for more agricultural development to achieve their own degree of food security.

Answers from a food aid expert (Part 2)

This is the second of a 2-part series of responses to questions you asked us about food aid -- its complexities, and its implications on economic development and child health -- in advance of World Food Day, which was Sunday. Paul Macek, World Vision's senior director of food security and livelihoods team, continues answering your questions below.

Read the post that started this: Ask an expert about food aid. Then, check out the first installment in this series: Answers from a food aid expert (Part 1).

[caption id="attachment_9090" align="alignright" width="288" caption="Paul Macek, World Vision"]Ask an expert about food aid | World Vision blog[/caption]

FROM KARIN: I was wondering what happens after a child is nourished with Plumpy'Nut™ and no longer needs it. What happens next to prevent that child from slipping back into severe malnutrition? 

As you’ve rightly guessed, Karin, the easy part is providing therapeutic food to a child to restore his or her health, in the form of Plumpy'Nut™. The real challenge lies in preventing the recurrence of malnutrition. World Vision uses a comprehensive approach for this. Children who do not require therapeutic food may be given normal foods to supplement their diet -- such as porridges made of rice flour, beans, eggs, vegetables, and other nutritious foods -- until they have a healthy weight. World Vision provides information to families on how much and how often to feed their child, as well as how to prepare foods. Families are also supported by health workers to keep their children healthy through routine immunizations and prompt treatment of illnesses. A comprehensive approach also means that families are supported by agriculture and microfinance workers with assistance to help them generate income.

Answers from a food aid expert (Part 1)

To mark World Food Day, October 16, we asked you earlier this week to share your questions about food aid -- its complexities, and its implications on economic development and child health. This is part 1 of a 2-part series of responses to those questions from Paul Macek, World Vision's senior director of integrated food and nutrition.

Paul leads a team of specialized program officers who focus on food security, livelihoods, economic development, nutrition, agriculture, and environment. Paul has degrees in history and political science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a Master of Arts in international affairs with concentrations in international development and political economy from American University in Washington, D.C.

Part 2 will be posted on Monday, October 17. Read the post that started this: Ask an expert about food aid.

[caption id="attachment_9090" align="alignright" width="288" caption="Paul Macek is World Vision's senior director of integrated food and nutrition."]Ask an expert about food aid | World Vision blog[/caption]

FROM STEPHANIE: I would like to know your approach to the tension between feeding children with no strings attached (religious or political) but still making the most of the feeding connection to ensure children get the tools they need to grow up and break out of the poverty cycle.

World Vision provides assistance regardless of race, religion, or political affiliation. We focus on changing the behavior of parents and guardians of children to ensure that they know how best to feed and nurture their children. Often with new mothers, we focus on basic messages of proper breastfeeding and weaning practices and balanced nutrition for the entire family. In our agricultural programs, we focus on providing farmers with the right information and strategies to improve their crop productivity.

Ask an expert about food aid

When I was a little kid, my sister (who never ate her vegetables) used to wish aloud at the dinner table that she could send her broccoli to Africa, where the kids really need it.

At the time, I liked to think of myself as not quite so naive -- I knew we couldn't literally send our vegetables to Africa. It would taste really bad by the time it got there.

Yes, shipping leftovers probably isn't a best practice in terms of humanitarian food aid. But what about food security? And malnutrition prevention and mitigation? And ready-to-use therapeutic food?

Asking questions like these is absolutely essential in better understanding the complexities of humanitarian work. It's also why we're continuing with our expert interview series -- in which you have the opportunity to ask your questions to aid professionals. Our first post on this topic was "Ask an aid worker about the Horn of Africa" with World Vision's Betsy Baldwin. In this second installment, I'd like to introduce you to Paul Macek.

On prayer... (LINK UP)

I thread the glass beads between my tired fingers in my left hand. My right hand holds the pen to paper.

I scratch out prayers in the quiet morning over coffee.

God and I meet best in the early hours, my mind needing awakening and my bones still heavy from sleep. I suppose He’d meet me anytime, but I’m most sincere in the morning.

I’ve never done well with prayer. It’s always been a hurdle to jump, my brick wall in the marathon of faith. Putting me in a group of people who speak whispered prayers makes me uneasy, and I clam up tight and choose to be quiet.

If I speak my prayers, my language changes. I don’t sound like me, I feel weird in my skin.

So, I take to paper. Journal upon journal upon journal…lines filled with etched-in ink, aching cries, soaring gratitude, questions and more questions. It’s a history of my hemming-in, Him drawing near, yet letting me run. The journals remind me of His own pen and ink, writing out the grand stories of life and lives.

Rethinking America's place in the world: How 9/11 changed me

Christianity Today asked me, as an evangelical leader, to reflect on how I've changed since 9/11. It was an appropriate question and one worth considering, as we approach the 10-year anniversary of that fateful day in which many lives were lost and many more were changed forever.

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The September 11 attacks jolted Americans into realizing that our nation was no longer, and never again would be, an "island" protected from the senseless brutality of terrorism. The world became smaller that day, and the person who could not find Afghanistan and Pakistan on a map suddenly wanted to learn more about those and other Muslim countries.

From the standpoint of international development, the attacks were a catalyst for renewed interest in and commitment to helping address the underlying problems that prompted 19 men to hijack and crash four jetliners, killing themselves and nearly 3,000 others.

An aid worker's answers about the Horn of Africa

On Tuesday, we asked you what questions you have about disaster aid and assistance, in an effort to help you better understand the current humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa and its implications for aid recipients and aid donors. Betsy Baldwin, whom we introduced you to, answered some of your most pressing questions. Read the post that started this: Ask an aid worker about the Horn of Africa.

[caption id="attachment_8112" align="alignright" width="196" caption="Betsy Baldwin, World Vision Humanitarian and Emergency Affairs"]An aid worker's answers about the Horn of Africa | World Vision blog[/caption]

Betsy is a program officer for World Vision Humanitarian and Emergency Affairs, currently focusing on relief efforts in the Horn of Africa, where 12.4 million people are affected by drought and famine. She has degrees in civil engineering from Iowa State University and Virginia Tech, and has worked in relief development in Darfur, Sudan, Northern Afghanistan, Haiti (following the January 2010 earthquake), conflict regions of the Congo, and South Sudan. She is currently in Nairobi, Kenya, on her second visit to the Horn of Africa to assess needs and determine programmatic response.

From T: How do you ensure that what is written on paper is what happens on the ground?

Great question, and possibly the subject of future posts here on the World Vision Blog -- how do we actually do emergency relief? A short, sweet answer for now is simply that we make sure we have experienced, professional disaster-responders on the ground, running the relief response. This means that with almost every disaster response in which we are involved, we have a mix of both local and also international staff -- all experienced and capable.

Ask an aid worker about the Horn of Africa

Ask an aid worker | World Vision blogUpdate: read the follow-up post: An aid worker’s answers about the Horn of Africa

Want to know more about managing household finance? Talk to Suze Ormann. Health advice? Watch Dr. Oz. General wisdom? Google, of course.

But what about those disasters all over the news? It looks like a lot is going on.... or not? Who should you ask to find out about the issues in a big disaster response, like the current drought and famine in the Horn of Africa?

You ask an aid worker. Why? Because they're out in the disaster zone talking to survivors and assessing needs, determining the scale and involvement of response, identifying funding sources for assistance plans, writing proposals communicating with donors about needs and planned projects, and getting the projects started.

In an effort for all of us to better understand the humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa, we're gleaning from the inspiration of Rachel Held Evans interview series, "Ask a ____" and starting our own "ask" series. In this post, I'd like to introduce you to Betsy Baldwin -- disaster response expert.

Bringing death in Africa to life in America [LINK UP]

“Can I have a snack?”

“I’m so hungry mom. Is it dinnertime yet?”

“I’m starving – what can I eat? No, I don’t want that. Do you have ____?”

So much of my day revolves around my children ruled by their bellies. They eat three meals and a snack. The youngest, with his medical condition that requires additional calories, eats two snacks and, if given the chance, would graze all day long.

They fill the air with misery if I dare suggest not eating right that instant. And the days I’m caught empty-handed when they decide they’re hungry? The wailing and gnashing of teeth makes me want to rip my hair out, don sackcloth and ashes, and carry a banner touting “Meanest mom alive.”

When I returned from visiting Bolivia, I could no longer smile indulgently at our obsession with food. After seeing true poverty, and meeting people so poor they could only eat two meals a day (no snacks!), I realized that none of us have any idea what being hungry really means.

Dreaming with Martin Luther King Jr.

It was 48 years ago this week that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered one of his most famous speeches on the Mall in Washington D.C. His declaration, “I have a dream” remains one of the most stirring addresses in American history as well as a prophetic discourse opposing injustice and the continued oppression of grandchildren and great grandchildren of slaves.

If Dr. King were to deliver his address again this year, I’m sure he would continue to see the need to speak out against the injustices that continue to oppress many black and other minority communities in the U.S. But I believe that Dr. King might also speak out against the injustices, oppression, and poverty that cause suffering in communities around the world, including the suffering caused by the drought and famine now occurring in East Africa.

In The Hole in Our Gospel, I pieced together a letter that God might write to the church today. In remembrance of Dr. King’s magnificent speech, I’ve taken the liberty to imagine how Dr. King might dream again today and challenge the church to “preach good news to the poor.”

'We may be poor, but we’re not stupid' -- the reality of life in Africa

Stories are powerful. They can bring hope, or despair. Laughter, or sorrow. And, as we who work for World Vision and other humanitarian agencies know very, very well, stories can educate and enlighten people. They can help achieve a lot of good.

One woman whose story last week received a lot of accolades and criticism is Zimbabwean writer NoViolet Bulawayo. Her book, “Hitting Budapest,” has won what many consider to be Africa’s top award for literature, the Caine Prize.

“The language of ‘Hitting Budapest’ crackles," the prize’s leading judge commented to CNN. "Here we encounter…a gang reminiscent of ‘Clockwork Orange.’ But these are children, poor and violated and hungry. This is a story with moral power and weight [that] has the artistry to refrain from moral commentary."

However, not everyone has praised Ms. Bulawayo’s story. One blogger, Aaron Bady, who writes under the name “zunguzungu,” contends that the book “traffics in the familiar genre of Africa-poverty-pornography.”

Rich Stearns on Independence, God, and South Sudan

God wasn't the first thing on my mind on Monday, the Fourth of July. Truthfully, the only credit I can give myself is that I was thanking God for the three-day weekend.

It's not far-fetched to say that most Americans likely think of Independence Day as more of an outdoor show than an obvious reason to thank and honor God.

That's why articles like Rich Stearns' in the Huffington Post are kind of a divine challenge for me -- a reminder that peace and freedom are reasons to thank God, and that with Independence there is struggle, but also hope.

May South Sudan's first Independence Day be that of the latter. And may Rich's article challenge you as it has me.


The following is an excerpt from Rich Stearns' "Celebrating Independence and Honoring God -- Half a World Away" in the Huffington Post:

Last Monday, July 4, I was holding David, my 5-month-old grandson, and savoring his facial expressions as we watched his father grilling hamburgers, celebrating his first Independence Day.

In a few years, he will begin learning about courageous individuals who fought an oppressive government whose armies incited unspeakable violence for more than a decade. But the death and destruction that resulted could not suppress the freedom fighters' undying faith in democracy over tyranny, freedom over injustice. Their perseverance and faith demonstrated why ballots are stronger than bullets.

South Sudan: Countdown to independence [video]

You can almost feel the excitement in Juba from half a world way here in our office in the United States.  As I talk to our staff from South Sudan's capital city nearly every day, I hear it in their voice and the stories they tell me.  The city is on edge, eager for tomorrow's independence ceremony, colorful banners hang in the streets and people wear t-shirts emblazoned with the new country's flag. As the world watches and waits, I'll be watching and waiting too, praying for a safe transition and peace for the children of South Sudan.


South Sudan will become the world's newest country tomorrow, July 9. As the South Sudanese prepare for their grand celebration, children are voicing their hopes for the future -- that problems of the past can be put behind them.

“I would like to see a good education system in South Sudan after the independence to enable me and other children on the streets to continue with education,” said James, a young boy who lives on the streets in Warrap.

A new hope through independence

It’s a long journey from the backyard barbecues and fireworks of our own Fourth of July festivities to the Republic of South Sudan, a new country that will be born in just days from today on July 9. I’m willing to bet, though, that our traditional summer celebration will seem downright routine compared to the life-changing nature of South Sudan’s first birthday.

At first glance, it may seem as though future citizens of South Sudan don't have much to be grateful for or much to celebrate. They will be receiving the poorest corner of one of the poorest countries on earth -- a place beset by hunger, disease, and war. According to a 2007 government study (pdf), mothers in Southern Sudan are more likely to die in childbirth than anywhere else on earth. Another report indicated that more than half of the population lives below the poverty line.

So why do the Sudanese celebrate? Maybe they’re celebrating a fresh start. Maybe it’s that most South Sudanese long to write a new, unbloodied page in their history, to cultivate a renewed community and land for themselves and their children. Maybe it's the hope that, on this day, all the problems facing South Sudan will be put aside so that everyone can celebrate this moment to start a new future together. Frankly, that kind of hope leaves most of our Fourth of July celebrations in the shade.

12 challenges for your summer bucket list

When I was in college, I spent my summers visiting family and friends, journeying on cross-country road trips, catching up on extracurricular reading, or traveling internationally (if I could afford it). I always started off my summer vacation with a desire to make my summer really count -- to do something purposeful and intentional to help other people. But after a few weeks in the sun, I often resorted to all my summer norms.

College students aren't getting away with that mentality so easily anymore -- not with resources like our World Vision ACT:S Summer Adventure Bucket List. It's 12 challenges meant to get you out of the house and experience the world around you.