On Blog Action Day, thousands of bloggers will write posts about poverty. By posting on the same day, a global discussion can take place about the devastating effects of poverty and how people can help eradicate it. This seems like a good time to share one of my favorite stories.
Karen & the Refugee Camp
I have a friend named Karen. She is, in many ways, a typical wife and mom. She stayed home with her two kids through the grade school years, but when they entered high school, she found herself feeling the desire to do something more with her time - to really make a difference in the world.
In 2000, the opportunity presented itself for her to visit a refugee camp in Namibia, Africa. This camp was a place where people fled to escape the civil war in Angola. As many as 30,000 people lived in tents with little food, no medical care, and no schools.
Karen wasn't sure what to expect when she went over there. If she had known what things would be like, she might not have gone. She stayed in shacks and tents where only mosquito nets kept away the numerous bugs and spiders. She watched children cry because they had no food. She saw suffering beyond what most of us could imagine. Her heart was touched. She decided that she had found her cause, the place where she could put her time and energy.
After her trip, she approached our church staff about creating a new ministry to the people of the Osire Refugee Camp. Everyone agreed that the cause was a worthwhile one, and Karen began organizing drives to collect supplies to send over to Namibia, as well as planning her return trip there.
One day at church she stopped me in the hallway. "Lori," she said, "I would like to find a way to give blankets to the people in the refugee camp. I don't know what the best way is - to buy blankets, or donate fabric and have the people of the camp make them - but could you look into that for me?"
She explained to me that nights in Namibia can be cold, and that many of the people had inadequate clothing for the cooler temperatures. But blankets provided more than just warmth; they meant security, a place to sleep, and a feeling of owning something that belonged only to you. If you died, you were buried in your blanket.
I told her I would help, but privately wondered if I even knew where to begin. It sounded like a huge project, and I didn't know much about how we would deliver an enormous amount of blankets or fabric to people who lived so far away. I sort of regretted telling her that I would help.
Later that week, I sat down to do a little online searching. I searched for "refugee blankets" and did find some organizations that were selling them for $5-6 each. We wouldn't be able to send many blankets for that amount of money. Not to mention that the blankets were in North America or Europe and would need to be shipped across the ocean.
I was almost about to give up searching when I decided to put in a different combination of search terms. New results popped up, and I soon found an organization selling refugee blankets for $2 each - already wrapped in pallets and ready to be shipped. Amazingly, the blankets were located in South Africa, which meant a short trip up to Namibia over land instead of water. The website stated there were 10,000 blankets available.
Karen and I hadn't discussed her budget, but I was pretty sure that she was looking to spend less than $20,000. I decided to go straight to the top and called my dad, the senior pastor of our church. He would have the final say on how much money we could spend.
Dad Comes Through
"Dad?" I said hesitantly. "I've found these refugee blankets online for just $2 each. They are in South Africa so it wouldn't be hard to get them to Namibia. There are 10,000 available. How many do you think we could send?" I took a deep breath and waited for his answer. Could I hope for 1000 of them?
"Lori," he said, "Why don't we just send them all?" Go, dad! I still get choked up when I think about his answer. I wasn't sure how we were going to do it, but I called Karen and we shrieked in delight together.
That next Sunday, I happened to sit in the balcony where I could look down over most of the congregation. Right before the offering, my dad told the people that he had a special opportunity for them. He explained that there were 10,000 refugee blankets that the church could send to the Osire Refugee Camp, and with about 2,000 people in attendance that morning, all we needed was $10 from each person there.
I can't tell you how it felt to watch people reach for their purses and wallets to pull out some money to give. I sat there, looking down at them, with tears running down my cheeks. I marveled at the way God works to bring people together to help others who are less fortunate.
Later that week, my dad called and said that we had received enough for all the blankets, and that the church would be contributing $5000 from the missions budget to cover the cost of shipping. Emails and phone calls flew back and forth between the church and the refugee agency in South Africa until all the arrangements had been made.
Shipping the blankets still took a few months, and Karen arranged to be at the Osire camp when they were delivered. She was there to open the shipping containers and hand out the blankets. She later told me about watching the people literally dance with joy after being handed a blanket. I wish I could have been there too.
Can You Help?
I am not a perfect person (no kidding!). I have regrets and I have missed many opportunities to help people because I wasn't paying attention or I didn't care enough to get involved. But I will always remember the Osire blankets and the feeling I got from helping so many other people.
Most of us feel a twinge of conscience now and then when we think about how much we have and how little most people have. Today of all days, if you feel the twinge, consider donating to one of these organizations. You literally can change someone else's life forever. Here are some of my favorite charities:
Compassion International - sponsor a needy child for only $32 per month. Children all over the world have been given hope in the midst of despair when someone decides to sponsor them. Every year when Compassion is independently audited, they rank as one of the best places to give money because such a large percentage of your money goes to the children and not administrative costs.
Samaritan's Purse - they are consistently out there helping people in need. When there is a disaster like a tsunami or earthquake, they are almost always the first organization to bring in supplies. They bring food and fresh water, set up medical stations, and bring kits containing tents, stoves, and other supplies to help families recover and rebuild.
As Our Own - this organization has schools and orphanages in India for children who would otherwise be homeless or sold into the sex trade. The work they are doing to rescue kids from a horrendous fate - especially girls - is amazing.
Can you help? I think most of us can. My friend Karen is currently planning her 18th trip to Africa. I was happy to donate to her cause. This time, she'll bring a team of American women to teach the African women how to make pottery and quilts and soap and other things they can sell to provide an income for their families. When women are empowered, the whole society benefits. Thank you, Karen, for the work you do. You are my hero.