In the Spotlight

Notes to Women is thrilled to feature In The Spotlight, Julie Marshall, Canadian Spokesperson for the United Nations World Food Programme.

NTW:  Tell us a little bit about yourself.  

Julie:  My job involves briefing the media, raising the profile of the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the issue of global hunger within Canada, creating and promoting educational material for universities and schools,producing fundraising, awareness and advertising campaigns, working with our Canadian Ambassador Against Hunger, George Stroumboulopoulos and creating communications material for our private sector partners within Canada.

NTW:  How long have you been with World Food Programme?

Julie:  I have been working in a communications role with WFP for over 9 years.

NTW:  What made you become a part of the organization? 

Julie:  I knew of WFP’s outstanding reputation as the world’s largest humanitarian agency, and I really like the fact that their administrative costs are one of the lowest in the non-profit sector – 90% of donations go directly to WFP operations. 

NTW:  WFP covers a wide range of areas in its fight to combat hunger, is there an area of particular interest for you?

Julie:  I have to say I enjoy visiting WFP school meals programmes.  WFP supplies nutritious school meals to over 18 million children every year.  A meal at school acts as a magnet to get children into the classroom, especially in regions where girls are not encouraged to attend school. Providing a daily nutritious meal and in some cases a take home ration to children helps to keep them in school giving them hope for a brighter future.  I have also seen how buying food locally, benefits local farmers and the whole community and really enhances the sustainability of our programmes.

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Photo:  Julie at a WFP school meals operation in Honduras.

NTW:  WFP’s vision is a world where every man, woman and child always has access to food in order to have an active and healthy life.  What is your vision?

Julie:  A child’s future should start with zero hunger.  WFP is working to create a world where no one is hungry, freeing children from the effects of undernutrition and helping them achieve their true potential. Every day, thousands of kids die because of hunger. But they don’t have to, because the world produces enough food for everyone. 

NTW:  It is said that empowering women is the first step towards Zero Hunger.  In Ecuador, this seems to be a challenge.  Rural women are illiterate, they earn less than urban women, they work 23 hours more than men, they have suffered some form of gender violence.  The statistics when it comes to abuse among girls in Ecuador are very disturbing.  78 percent suffer from abuse at home, 42% from severe abuse and girls ages between 10 and 15 years have been victims of gender violence, especially sexual abuse. How would WFP help these women and girls who are battling not only hunger but illiteracy, low wages, disproportionate working hours and gender abuse?

Julie:   I visited WFP school meals operations in Ecuador in 2014 and quickly learnt how these meals helped get kids into school, but also helped to support many women in the community. 

I visited a school in the remote community of Pimampiro, where some children walk for hours to school.  When they arrive they are hungry and tired.  The nutritious breakfast of juice and a granola bar and a lunch of rice, vegetables and lentils help them learn and play.  Some of the vegetables are grown, with the help of WFP, in their school vegetable garden and the rest are purchased by WFP from the local small farmers associations, which are run and organized mostly by women.  These associations work closely with WFP and the local government to deliver fresh vegetables to the school every week.  WFP has helped establish farmer’s associations and community gardens  across the region in order to increase the financial and food security of small-holder farmers.

Nancy, a 25 year old, single mom is the president of the local small farmers association in Otavalo, who supply fresh vegetables to the local schools.  Nancy explained to me how WFP and the local government helped to formalize their association, diversified their crops, encouraged women to participate and how working together they now receive a fair market price for their produce.  These women now have a steady income and a standing in the community.

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Photo:  Nancy in vegetable garden

NTW:  Somalia has chronically high malnutrition rates, in fact, one in eight children under five is acutely malnourished.  Please tell us about the nutrition programmes WFP has set up to treat and prevent this problem which is prevalent among young women, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers.

Julie:  WFP supports food assistance operations to the most vulnerable people, and at the same time is working to help build resilience in the country. We have development operations designed to help hungry people help themselves; emergency operations that provide food to prevent hunger and malnutrition and relief and recovery operations that assist in stabilizing food security and the rebuilding after emergencies. 

The Mother and Child Health and Nutrition (MCHN) Programme in Somalia helps to prevent malnutrition in children under the age of 2 years. We focus on the first 1,000 days of life (from conception to age 2) because this is the window of opportunity for preventing irreversible damages to a child’s growth and mental development due to poor nutrition. Pregnant and nursing women are therefore also targeted to ensure a good start in life for their children. The women, irrespective of their nutritional status, receive daily supplements of fortified blended food to complement a generally poor diet. In Somalia, the programme is implemented through functional Maternal & Child Health clinics to ensure that women and children receive nutritional support as well as health interventions necessary for healthy growth: immunization, de-worming, treatment of diarrhea and other common illnesses, ante-natal and post-natal medical check-ups, etc. Pregnant or nursing women stay in the programme until delivery and/or when the child reaches 6 months, while children can remain in the programme until they reach 24 months of age.

NTW:  As we all know, education is one way to empower girls in countries where girls don’t have access to it for any number of reasons.  In Somalia, the enrollment rates for primary school-aged children are among the lowest where out of 42% of those who are in school, only 36% are girls..  Share with us what WFP is doing to boost the enrolment rates.

Julie:  WFP school meals encourage children, especially girls, to attend classes, enrollment goes up, attendance is consistently high and with a full tummy both girls and boys can concentrate on their work.  In Somaliland, Puntland and the Central regions, we encourage the attendance of older girls by providing them with a take-home family ration of vegetable oil when the girls attend school regularly.  Keeping them in school longer gives them a better and healthier start to life.

NTW:  In Somalia, unemployment among young people aged 14 to 29 years is one of the highest at 67%.  Tell us about WFP’s Food for Training programmes.

Julie:  Poverty-stricken communities hit by floods or droughts are too busy looking for food to rebuild infrastructure vital for redevelopment.  WFP finds out why a community is hungry and works with the community to rebuild their infrastructure – so they no longer need outside help.  WFP provides food or in some cases cash, in exchange for work making it possible for the poor and hungry to take the first steps out of the hunger trap. 

In Somalia, WFP implemented Food-for-Assets activities for over 12,000 people in Luuq, Dolow and Belethawa.  Through this programme WFP provides food rations to support self-help initiatives, such as building water harvesting structures and canal irrigation. The programme helps meet the immediate food needs of hungry people, as well as preventing communities from resorting to harmful coping strategies, such as selling assets and livestock during an emergency.

NTW:  What changes do you hope to see by the end of this year?

Julie:  A number of our major operations are in conflict areas.  In these areas I hope to see open access to besieged and hard to reach areas in conflict situations, allowing WFP and the whole humanitarian community continued access to all people in need of humanitarian assistance.  Also, Sustainable and predictable funding is needed to ensure that WFP assistance continues, not just in major crisis like Syria, but in seemingly forgotten emergencies were people are still in need but not in the media.

NTW:  What has been your biggest challenge working at WFP?  What has been your biggest achievement?

Julie:  One of the most satisfying parts of my job has been to see the Canadian public becoming more and more engaged in the issue of global hunger and the work of WFP over the years.  It can be challenging to raise funds for a humanitarian crisis that’s been going on for a number of years, like the Syrian conflict, but Canadians and the Canadian Government (who are consistently among our top 3 donors) continue to come through and support our work.

NTW:  Julie, it has been a pleasure talking to you.  Thank you for sharing the work that you are doing through the World Food Programme, the world’s largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide.  I hope this interview will encourage people to get more involved in the fight against hunger.
Julie:  It was a pleasure talking with you.  Anyone can help WFP, just go to wfp.org to find out more about our work or download the#ShareTheMeal app on your smartphone, and .50 cents will provide Syrian children, their mothers and mums-to-be with vital nutrition with a simple tap on their phones.

Starvation in Madaya

Many people in the world today are not starving because there is an inherent inability to produce food, they are starving because they are caught in the middle of political fights and blockades that have been used as weapons – Ralph Merkle

I was appalled when I heard about the mother who was giving her 7 month old baby water and salt because there is no food in Madaya, Syria.  Tears came to my eyes when I saw the sunken face of a baby, his large eyes staring at the camera.  This precious, innocent child and many others are starving in Madaya.  Some have died.  This atrocity begs the question:  How could a leader of a country do this to his people?

It’s hard to watch this video but it is something everyone needs to be aware of.

People were forced to live on tree leaves and plants but now that winter has set in there are no more plants and leaves.  Majed Ali, a 28 year old opposition activist, was 114 kilos before the siege and is now 80.  Abu Hassan Mousa, head of Madaya opposition council sees no point in negotiating when children are going without milk.   “What are we going to negotiate over?” he demands.  “Our dead?”  The Syrian people went for months without aid.  In fact, the October was the last time aid was delivered to Madaya.

Seeing the crisis in Syria motivated me to get in touch with Julie Marshall, Canadian Spokesperson of the United Nations World Food Programme.  I wanted to know what people in Canada can do to help and this is what she had to say:

The good news is the first UN convoy will move to Madaya carrying food for 40,000 people for one month will set off as early as Sunday. On Monday, other convoys carrying food should move into the besieged towns of Foah and Kefraya in rural Idlib with WFP food for 20,000 people.  Non-food items, including medicine, specialist nutrition products, kitchen sets, blankets, winter clothing and other supplies will hopefully follow in the next few days.

The last humanitarian supplies reached Madaya on October 17 on an interagency convey – this was enough food to feed more than 19,000 people for one month. The convoy was a result of a locally negotiated agreement reached between the opposition and government to allow access to four besieged communities in Idlib and rural Damascus (Foah, Kefraya, Zabadani and Madaya). Since then, no food assistance or humanitarian supplies have reached these areas.
WFP provides food assistance to over 4 million people displaced inside Syria in both government and opposition-controlled areas every month.  And around 1.3 million refugees in neighbouring countries.

Canada has been one of WFP’s largest donors to our response in the region and we hope the extension of the matching funds, until the end of February will encourage Canadians to donate to organizations like WFP working in Syria.

Canadians can support WFP by donating here: https://give.wfp.org/en/629/?step=country
Also, we launched an app a few months ago called ShareTheMeal which makes it extremely easy to support our school meals for Syrian refugee school children living in Jordan.

It is extremely difficult to see babies starving.  And it upsets me when I see food go to waste when there are people starving everyday.  Let us do what we can to help the people in Syria.  Hunger is a terrible thing and something that we need to fight against.  The starvation in Syria is likened to warfare.  It’s like when Hitler starved the Russian people during the battle of Stalingrad.  Hunger is being used as a weapon to oppress the people and this cannot and should not be allowed to happen.  Let us help WFP and other humanitarian agencies to save the lives of the men, women and children in Syria.

Source:  CBC News; World Food Programme

Faith that Works

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James 2:14-17

If a church member were to come to you for help, what would you do?  Would you say to him or her, “Don’t worry, God will provide”?  What if God sent that person to you?

James is telling us that when people come to us for help, we ought to do what we can.  Words of faith will not do them any good.  But faith accompanied by works would benefit them greatly.  James mentions two needs that a person may have–clothes and food.  You simply can’t see a person naked and hungry and send them away hoping and praying that things will work out.  What good is your faith if you didn’t use it to help that person?  When you see a need, don’t miss an opportunity to exercise the faith you say you have.  Perhaps you can provide only one of those needs but that’s fine.  What you cannot provide, someone else could.  Perhaps a friend or another church member could help.  You pick up the phone and call.  Let the person who came to you see your faith in action.  Words will bring that person little comfort if they are not followed by actions.  It’s a matter of don’t tell me you care, show me.

If someone came to you for food and a place to stay but you can’t provide either, don’t send him or her away.  Invite the person in.  Have faith that God will show you what to do.  Perhaps, He will bring to your mind two people.  One will prepare a meal for the person.  You take the person over to that friend’s house and while he or she is being fed, you call another friend who has a spare room.   Faith is no good to you or anyone else if it is not a faith that works.  Faith that is all talk and no action is worthless.  As James rightly said, “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

 

Compassion in time of Devastation

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble – Psalm 46:1

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Imagine what it would be like to have your home and livelihood destroyed by a natural disaster. This is what happened to the people in the Indian states of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh when their homes were destroyed by Cyclone Phailin, one of the biggest natural disasters of 2013.

Jyotiranjan and his family were evacuated to a nearby school building where they waited for Cyclone Phailin to sweep through their village in Odisha.  Jyotiranjan recalls, “That night we did not sleep. The whole night we watched and wondered when the cyclone would be over.  When it stopped at 3 a.m., we went back to our house and found that it was destroyed and everything was lost.”

Officials estimated that the cyclone would cause extensive damage to the homes.  More than 800,000 homes were destroyed.  Jibu and his family lost their home and all of their belongings. How devastating it is to lose your home and all of your possessions.  When I watched news on natural disasters, it is heartbreaking to see the people crying because their homes which held so many precious memories were reduced to rubble.  They had lost a big chunk of their lives and they feel helpless and hopeless.

We can only imagine how Jihu must have felt when he lost his home and how thankful he was when he and his family received a home as part of Gospel for Asia’s Phailin Housing Project. He was moved to tears.  “We are a very poor family.  No one was there to help us when we lost everything during Phailin,” he said.  Even our own relatives did not help us.  But I am so happy that GFA helped me.  I am so grateful to the church.”

Gospel for Asia had provided homes for Jyotiranjan and 140 other people.  “We never expected a house to be rebuilt for us,” he said.  “Really, I am very glad, and I want to express my gratitude to God.”

Kalei lost her small cottage after Cyclone Phailin ravaged her village.  Thanks to the help of Compassion Service teams and those who provide relief, she was able to receive food.  She has since been able to rebuild her life in a new home.  “We were not able to rebuild a house (for ourselves, especially one) made of bricks and cement,” she said.  God, through GFA Compassion Services, blessed her with a new home.

Kalei stands in front of her new home with her daughter and grandson.

In addition to rebuilding homes, Gospel for Asia provided some of the survivors with sewing machines, carpentry tools and tin roof sheets so that they could earn a livelihood since their belongings were washed away.   Having new homes and earning a living has helped many of these families to experience firsthand, God’s love and mercy.  They survived Cyclone Phailin and now they were rebuilding their lives with His help.

I will praise You, O LORD, with my whole heart; I will tell of all Your marvelous works – Psalm 9:1

It is encouraging to see how God’s people shine like lights in the darkest hours.  Through acts of love and compassion, they bring hope and comfort to many.  Through their actions, they reflect the love of Jesus.

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If you would like to help Gospel for Asia in their work to reconstruct homes for those still in need, click here.  Together we can help to rebuild lives.  Together we can make a difference.

 

Sources:  Gospel for Asia; BBC News

Prisha’s Calling

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven – Matthew 5:16

I read Prisha’s story and was touched by the love and compassion she and the other women missionaries showed the people of Punya Basti.  The village was ready for harvest but there were no labourers until God sent Prisha.  She had heard about Punya Basti.

The residents lived in squalor, with no electricity, running water or toilets.  Can you imagine living in such conditions? Although most of the villagers left for months at a time to find low-paying work and beg in other areas, they were still unable to feed their children three meals a day.  They couldn’t afford to sent them to school.  Amidst the squalor, alcohol and drug abuse were major concerns.  Fights frequently broke out.  Animal carcasses and burning waste littered the place, creating a stench so horrific that made outsiders drive recklessly through the village just to get away from it.  Outsiders looked down on the villagers because of their low caste and lack of hygiene and education.

The outsiders remind me of the scribes and Pharisees in Jesus’ time.  No doubt they would have avoided this village like it were a plague.  They would never set foot in it.  They would put as much distance between themselves and it and condemn the people instead of having compassion on them.  What about us?  We might feel sorry for the people but are we willing to do something to help to change their circumstances?  If God were to call us to go to such a place and minister to the people and share the Gospel, would we be willing to go?  Would we find excuses like Moses? Or would we run in the opposite direction like Jonah?

What would Jesus do?  I think it’s fair to say that He would go into that village and stay with the people.  And I also think the apostle Paul would do the same.  Sometimes God calls us out of our comfort zone and sends us to places we would never dream of going but there are people there who just need someone to show that they care.

Prisha was called to go to Punya Basti.  She knew that no one else wanted to go.  Even as she might have had misgivings about being able to stick it out, she agreed to go.  Her leader suggested that she commute to the village from a safer nearby village where she would have more comfortable accommodations but Prisha refused.  She wanted to live among the villagers.

I don’t want to stay in a different place.  I want to stay in the midst of them, in the village, so I can understand their feelings . . . and they can understand the love that we want to show them.

How many of us would have been tempted to stay in the safer village and be more comfortable? Prisha wanted to be able to relate to the people so living apart from them was out of the question. Jesus went to those who were downtrodden, outcast, rejected and lost.  He was criticized for being with them.

No one said that it would be easy.   Thing were pretty bad.  The people rarely had baths or washed their clothes.  Just last night my son asked me if he had to take a bath.  If he had his way, he would skip bathing altogether.

Once Prisha’s landlord offered her and her fellow Sister of Compassion a glass of water.  Prisha was shocked when she looked at it.  It smelled so bad that they couldn’t drink from it.  This was not surprising because Gospel for Asia Pastor Hoob Kumar who served the village, mentioned that the women cooked and ate food out of dirty vessels.

Realizing the magnitude of what lay in front of them, Prisha and her co-worker spent their first week in prayer and fasting.  Then they found ways to help the villagers.  They started by sweeping out the village’s filthy drains.  At times, Prisha was overwhelmed by the filthiness of Punya Basti but she and the seven Sisters of Compassion who joined her resolved to embrace the villagers and share in their lives.   There are times when we feel overwhelmed and this is the time when the enemy will attack us but God gives us the strength to carry on.  He who calls us will equip us and will be with us.

Slowly we understood that if we don’t get to know them closely, we won’t be able to have relationships with them – Prisha.

The Sisters of Compassion helped the local women with their chores, took care of their babies and ate the food offered to them.  Can you imagine eating tortoise and mongoose?  Most of us would refuse to eat that but Prisha and her fellow workers didn’t.   Eventually, they earned the people’s trust. The villagers began to listen to and follow their advice.  The drinking and fighting stopped. Women once barely clothed, embarrassing Prisha were now dressing modestly.  They began to cook in healthier and cleaner ways.  The children started going to school and the Sisters of Compassion taught them how to bathe, brush their teeth, comb their hair and dress neatly–things that we and out children do everyday.  Great changes were happening in Punya Basti!

The Sisters were embraced by the villagers who began to see them as family because of the love these women had shown them.  Others had scorned them but these Sisters had shown them that there is a God who loved them and wanted to transform their lives.  It was not long before the people decided to follow the God who had sent the Sisters to them.  The love of Jesus permeates the village that had once been steeped in squalor, violence and discord.  They had received physical and spiritual cleansing.  The once filthy ground was now fertile.

Today, the vast majority of Punya Basti’s residents, numbering more than 1,000, proclaim faith in Jesus. Even when half of the village is away traveling for work, more than 200 people gather to worship Jesus each week, ready to learn more about the God who cared enough to send His daughters to live among them.

This story really inspired me.  A village that seemed beyond hope and redemption was transformed by a young woman who obeyed God’s call.  Through her and her fellow Sisters of Compassion, God reached out to the villagers, showing them that there is a better way.   She reflected God’s love and they responded.   I pray that when God calls us to serve Him in areas that others don’t want to go to, we will be like Prisha and simply obey.

Whom shall I send, And who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me” – Isaiah 6:8.

If you are interested in learning more about the work of Sisters of Compassion, watch this http://c.brightcove.com/services/viewer/federated_f9?isVid=1” target=”_blank”>video.

Now Entering Filth and Fertile Ground

Source:  Gospel for Asia

Before Tying the Knot…

If you are dating and you’re thinking, “He could be the one”, there are a few things you ought to seriously consider before you think about tying the knot.

Are you compatible? If he is a hardworking man and you are lazy, it won’t work.  Right now you are living apart but when you get married and he ends up doing all of the cleaning up and you are not carrying your weight, your marital bliss will soon fizzle.

Can you cook?  If he is a man who loves good food you have to know how to cook.  A pastor I know married a woman who couldn’t cook.  He taught her how to and she does all the cooking now.  She must have had other qualities that he couldn’t live without.

Are you frugal?  If he is a man who likes to save money, a wife who is a spendthrift will not work for him.  When things get tight, he would like to know that you can also be frugal and understanding.

Are you hiding anything?  Is there something about you or your family that he needs to know about?  Do not enter into marriage without being totally honest.

Marriage is a very big step.  Make sure you are ready to take it.

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Sin or Die

I lost my husband but God is here to take care of me.

Geeta was married to an abusive man who was also a drunkard.  He earned 200 rupies per day from a manual labor job but gave her only 20 rupies per day to buy and cook food.  He spent most of his earnings on his drinking. The money he gave her from his earnings was not enough for her to cook the kinds of meals he expected.  He beat her horribly every night with a cricket bat and Geeta asked herself why she was married to this man.  One day he disappeared and never came back.  She was left to raise two children.  She got a job but most of the money went towards paying for the rent so that most times she and her children went with hungry.  She managed to get a new job in a hotel which paid better but she still had to struggle.

As I listened to her story, I couldn’t believe the horrors this poor mother had to go through.  She lived in the slums, on a hill near the forest and the hut was made of sticks and plastic tarps.  She was terrified because tigers came out of the jungle at night and there was nothing to keep them from attacking her and her children.

One of her friends gave her a Gospel tract and told her about Jesus, the Saviour who could protect her from danger.  Geeta didn’t waste any time reaching out to Him.  She prayed and asked Him to protect her and her children from the roaming tigers and He did.  After this Geeta went to her friend’s church and soon gave her life to Jesus.  He began to work in her, transforming her and people noticed.

Geeta’s story shows us that becoming a Christian doesn’t mean that our problems will go away.  In fact, Geeta reached a point where she had to make a terrible decision. Her boss owned the room she and her children were staying in.  He wanted sexual favours from her.  How could she do what he wanted?  She was once married. She was a mother.  She was a Christian.  If she didn’t do what he wanted, she and her children would be thrown out of the room.  With nowhere to go, she and her children would be out on the streets begging in order to survive.

During one of her darkest moments, Geeta thought it would be better to face death than face these horrible choices, but when she learned of a neighbour whose suicide left his wife and children begging in the streets, she realized that she could not do that to her children.  And the prospect of her precious daughter becoming a sexual prey to evil men when she grew up filled her with horror.  She had to protect her daughter.

When faced with these choices–become a prostitute, live on the streets or die, Geeta chose to pray.  She trusted Jesus to rescue her from this hopeless situation and He did.  The day before she was supposed to move out of the room, Gospel for Asia came to her rescue and helped her to stay another month while providing food for her and her children.

Thanks to God, Geeta and her children don’t have to beg in the streets in order to survive.   She could stay in the room for a while longer until she could find something better.  What a happy ending to this story.  Geeta did the right thing.  She obeyed God’s Word by choosing not to sin and God came through for her.  She reached out to Him in prayer, trusting Him to deliver her and He did. Now she doesn’t have to choose between sin and death.

If you want to learn more about what Gospel for Asia is doing for women like Geeta who face extremely difficult situations, visit their website.  Find out how you can help to improved the conditions for women who are shunned by their families and abandoned children who are forced to beg in the streets.

Geeta mentioned Bridge of Hope where her children received an education.  Find out more about this program and what you can do to help break the cycle of poverty and illiteracy.  You can make a difference in the lives of women like Geeta and provide a future for abandoned children.