Thursday, August 25, 2011

Relief, Recovery and Renewal

A few weekends ago, in the northwestern corner of Michigan’s lower peninsula, I stood atop the 450 ft drop of the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes gazing down at the shores of Lake Michigan. I had just finished the grueling climb. Breathing deep to catch my breath, I watched the sun’s reflections dance across the breaking waves of a vast supply of fresh water.
Excited by adrenaline and a sense of physical triumph, I felt a thrill that masked my exhaustion. My heart pulsed proudly. The rest of my weekend would be filled with long bike rides and trail runs, one physically strenuous activity after another.
I relish physical challenge. I push my body through sweat and pain for pleasure. The accomplishment of the finish feels almost like the success of survival.
I paused as I panted for a moment of gratitude. I felt a sense of thankfulness that I was able choose to exhaust my body to it bones. I reflected on the current conditions in East Africa that are wearing on individuals in ways I could never imagine, ways I would never desire for myself. I don’t have to walk across Michigan to survive, but I walk for those who are doing so to outlive drought.
Benti and her family walked for more than 30 days to reach the displacement camp in Mogadishu, Somalia's capital, where they now live in this makeshift shelter alongside thousands of others. Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps
The concerns that I have are far from desperate. My worries are meager, and seem less and less substantial held up against those of pastoralists, herders, husbands, mothers, children, business owners, and the like, all confronting drought with every last bit of their body’s energy and emotional stamina.
In just a few short weeks, we’ll walk. We’ll exert our energy—challenging ourselves emotionally, mentally, and physically. But drought won’t make us do it, and drought won’t be working against us. We will be making a small sacrifice for a region and its people enduring grave conditions and walking to survive. Our walk is symbolic, yet minimally so.
The situation in East Africa has been termed a humanitarian and human rights crisis. A vulnerable people are confronting hunger and displacement with a staying spirit. Somalis face merciless militants which confiscate their crop, their herds, and even their children. The humanitarian and human rights crisis is now burgeoning into a health crisis as crowded camps and medical sites are prime conditions for the spread of disease.
Disease spreads through tightly packed camps. Benti's  five-year-old son, Mohammad Duk has the measles. His sister, Crokina, coughs beside him, a tell-tale sign that infection is spreading.
As Mercy Corps (the recipient of our fundraising efforts) responds to the crisis, they do so in a way that preserves the dignity of these people, reinforces their capacity to provide for themselves and their families even in a time of difficulty. To salvage their self-worth and restore confidence in their own ability to survive, Mercy Corps is implementing programs and strategies to empower individuals and families with opportunities for self-generated recovery.

Among other things, cash-for-work programs are employed to provide vital income that not only keeps families fed, but helps sustain the pride in providing for one’s kin. Further, Mercy Corps is implementing strategies to support the hard hit herding economy. Traders are given credit to purchase animals that cannot survive, and the meat is subsequently used to feed the hungry. As education and development efforts accompany relief and aid, pressing needs are addressed while long term challenges are attended to at their root. Aid is transient, education and empowerment is lasting.
Though many challenges exist, the story of pain and relentless drought can turn to relief, recovery and renewal. We walk for a just and sustainable recovery.

Help Mercy Corps continue their work for justice, stability, and resilience in East African communities. The time is critical, and the opportunity is ours to respond.

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About Hand Up 4 E. Africa

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We're a group of friends who need your help. Moved by the devastating conditions East Africans are facing, we decided to walk in solidarity with those walking in search of relief. We have a big goal of raising $10k for those facing the perils of drought. Funds raised will go to the relief and development work of Mercy Corps, an international agency working to build secure, productive, and just communities. As we walk 168 mile across Michigan, your support is vital to our success. Share our story, like us on Facebook, spread the word, donate a dollar, do what you can! The need is great, and we are thankful for your participation.