Mercy Corps

05/11/2018 05:08 PM
For a South Sudanese refugee, a place to put down roots

Soon after Grace learned to walk, she learned to flee.

Now 29 years-old, she has fled to Uganda two separate times because of conflict in her home country of South Sudan.

Grace, like so many other South Sudanese people, was forced to leave her home behind to save herself and her four children from violence. Last time she fled with her family — at the age of 2 — was also due to conflict.

She hopes she’ll be able to return home again soon.

Where she’s from, vulnerable, innocent families are being torn apart by a war that threatens their very existence. Villages are being burned to the ground. Children go days without eating. People are dying from cholera because clean water is so scarce. Families spend their days simply trying to stay alive.

Coming to Uganda was Grace’s chance to leave all of that behind — but it also meant leaving most of her possessions. And her parents. “There's no clear communication,” Grace says. “I don't know how they are doing. They also don't know how we are doing here in Uganda. So I'm very uncomfortable.”

After a long and devastating journey, she and her children arrived in Uganda with almost nothing.

Grace fled the conflict with her four children in tow, but she left her parents behind. She doesn’t know how they’re faring.

“We were put on buses and then we were brought here,” she says of the refugee camp where they now live. “We were dropped here.”

Due to the protracted nature of the conflict in South Sudan, many refugees must remain in Uganda for the foreseeable future. That’s why it’s critical to help refugees like Grace and people in their host communities establish livelihoods that can sustain them.

For Grace, that livelihood is farming.

Together with 24 other households, she is part of a Mercy Corps-supported farmers’ group made up of Ugandan and South Sudanese men and women who combine their resources to buy more vegetable seeds, harvest more produce and improve their yields.

Read another story of how farming brought two women together in Uganda ▸

Once the crops are harvested, Grace will work with the rest of her group to sell the produce.

Together, they are empowered to rise above their difficult circumstances and build a stronger community from within.

These peppers and eggplants are the first yields from the farm that are ready to be sold at nearby markets.

Until now, Grace has had to make devastating choices — like selling her family’s basic food rations so she could buy other necessities. When she sells this new produce at a nearby market, she won’t have to.

"Through the sales, I can acquire soap and medicine for my family," she says.

Mercy Corps also helps farmers establish village savings and loan associations so that Grace — and so many others like her — can begin to save the money they earn through the sale of their crops.

As Grace waits for conflict to end in South Sudan, she’s at least able to begin building a future for her family. “We want peace to return in South Sudan so that we can get back to our country. And settle,” she says.

How you can help

As the conflict continues unabated, more of South Sudan’s people flee their country every day. While they hope to return home, they know they’re not likely to be back in their country any time soon. Here’s how you can support women like Grace who are fighting to survive crisis and build better lives:

05/08/2018 12:05 AM
Quick facts: Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis

For several years Venezuela — once the richest country in South America — has been hurtling toward economic, social and institutional collapse, spurring a regional humanitarian crisis and mass migration.

Families are struggling to survive inside Venezuela, while others are making desperate journeys to leave their home country entirely.

The humanitarian crisis is now the worst in the Western Hemisphere, with more than 1.5 million people displaced in the region. More people may flee in the coming months as conditions in the country worsen.


You can help. Learn more about the ongoing crisis in Venezuela and the region and join us in supporting the families who are fleeing.

What is going on in Venezuela?

While the crisis in Venezuela has not been prominently featured in the news, the statistics are startling: 90 percent of the country’s population lives below the poverty line and more than half of families are unable to meet basic food needs. But what happened to cause these issues?

The political situation in Venezuela

After President Hugo Chavez died in 2013, Nicolás Maduro was elected president on a promise to continue Chavez’s policies. He inherited an already declining economy, but it has since collapsed.

Political repression is increasing and many are leaving because of threats or fear of reprisal for expressing their opinions. Hundreds of thousands more Venezuelans may leave the country if President Maduro wins re-election on May 20.

Venezuelans are facing malnutrition

Because of the economic collapse, Venezuelans are struggling to buy enough food to feed themselves and their families.

The average Venezuelan has lost a shocking 24 pounds in the past year. Local organizations have warned that 300,000 children are at risk of dying from malnutrition.

In fact, the situation in Venezuela is so dire that the Secretary General of the Organization of American States recently said that newborns in Syria have a better chance of survival than those born in Venezuela today.

There are few health services left

Medical facilities in Venezuela are breaking down and losing their electricity at the same time that the cost of medications has become astronomical. There is a shortage of around 85 percent of all medicines in the country.

Meanwhile, 13,000 doctors have left Venezuela in the past four years.

Without access to proper medical care, people have become more vulnerable to treatable and communicable diseases like tuberculosis and malaria.

Society in Venezuela is breaking down

Jobs in Venezuela have all but disappeared, and with violence on the rise and reliable access to food, healthcare and medicine deteriorating, more than 1.5 million Venezuelans in the last two years have left.

Venezuela has one of the highest crime rates in the world. The murder rate was 89 deaths per 100,000 people in 2017, more than 10 times the global average. Almost 40 percent of Venezuelans report having been robbed in the last year.

Inflation in Venezuela has skyrocketed

Inflation in Venezuela has quadrupled in the past two months. The high inflation has been devastating for Venezuelans, whose salaries often are not enough to pay for one meal a day. Few people can afford anything else.

Inflation is projected to grow to 13,000 percent this year, up from 112 percent in 2015.

Venezuela holds the world's largest supply of crude oil — but it’s not providing the income that it used to. The price of oil fell from $100 a barrel in 2014 to $26 a barrel in 2016. Now barrels are around $50 each, which means Venezuela’s main source of income has been cut in half.

Where are Venezuelans fleeing to?

The number of Venezuelans arriving in neighboring countries has steadily increased in recent months. Venezuelans are fleeing their home country to neighboring countries including Colombia and Brazil, and to others in the region such as Peru, Panama and Ecuador, as well as islands in the south Caribbean.

Colombia is currently hosting the largest number of Venezuelans — more than 600,000 — through official and unofficial entry points along its 1,300-mile border with Venezuela. On average, upwards of 50,000 people are crossing daily to Colombia to meet their basic needs, and an estimated 3,000 stay.


Others continue their journey to join family in other areas of Colombia or the region, or go back to Venezuela after attempting to restock supplies of medicine, food and other essential items they can no longer get in Venezuela.

“Tens of thousands of people are leaving their families behind out of desperation, just on the hope of a shred of opportunity in Colombia,” says Provash Budden, Americas regional director for Mercy Corps.

Those fleeing Venezuela include Venezuelans, Colombians who have been living in Venezuela as refugees and people of mixed Colombian-Venezuelan heritage.

How have Venezuelans’ lives changed?

Many of the people fleeing once held good jobs in Venezuela. They were lawyers, business owners, doctors and nurses, government staff and university students.

Now they have to resort to selling services (for example, doing manicures or washing windows) or small items like candy, bread and coffee on the street just to feed themselves and their children, or to be able to pay for a safe place to sleep at night.

Earlier this year Colombia suspended temporary visas, so most Venezuelans arriving today can’t get legal work, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation.

In some areas, there are a few temporary housing options, but there aren’t nearly enough beds. Most people sleep on the beach, in parks or in other public areas. If they make enough money through informal jobs or selling goods on the street, they rent hammocks in private yards or spaces on the floor in private homes.

“There are some very good people who are so kind to us and there are people who yell at us and are mad at us for even being here or talking to them,” says one women who fled Venezuela. “It’s not our fault what is happening to us. We are all humans. We just wanted to be treated with dignity.”

What are Venezuelans doing to survive?

Many people arrive with little more than the clothes on their back after walking for hours on dangerous routes plagued by robberies and violence. By the time they arrive, they have been robbed or extorted of most, if not all, of their money and personal items.

When people arrive in Colombia, they often beg until they have enough money to buy coffee, bread, candies or other small items they can sell on the street. They are lucky if they earn between $2 and $5 a day, which they use to scrape by or to send back to Venezuela. For those who do get informal jobs, they are subject to low pay, long hours and exploitation.

One Venezuelan woman Mercy Corps interviewed in March, who was previously a working college graduate and now is trying to sell enough coffee on the street to feed her three-year-old daughter, says, “We can’t eat there. We can’t eat here. I don’t know what to do anymore.”

Many Venezuelans arriving are young women at high risk of exploitation, harassment and sexual violence, as well as recruitment into drug trafficking and other armed groups. Often they are traveling alone with small children, and some women have resorted to sex work for survival and to feed their children.

What’s been the impact of this migration on Colombia?

Venezuelan migration into Colombia is putting pressure on Colombia’s already-stretched capacity to respond as the country faces its own internal crises.

Economic opportunities for Colombians where migrants settle are already scarce. The growing competition for jobs and resources is exacerbating numerous challenges their communities are already facing.

Tensions are rising as Colombians see Venezuelans taking jobs at a lower wage than legally allowed in Colombia, which is also an exploitative wage for the Venezuelans. They also see Venezuelans undercutting their own businesses by selling items brought from Venezuela at a much lower cost than possible for Colombian businesses.

At the same time, more than 7 million Colombians — second in the world after Syria — remain internally displaced after decades of armed conflict. Many are marginalized, rural, indigenous and Afro-Colombians, unable to meet even their most basic needs.

What is Mercy Corps doing to help?

Mercy Corps is now expanding its operations in Colombia to meet the urgent needs of Venezuelans in the department of La Guajira.

Mercy Corps has worked in Colombia since 2005. In mid-March 2018, our team conducted an assessment in the Cesar and La Guajira departments, along the northern border with Venezuela.

The assessment intended to understand the needs of those who have crossed over and the communities hosting them; the capacity of the Colombian government and other local and international organizations to respond; and how Mercy Corps might be able to add value and fill gaps in the current response.

During Mercy Corps’ assessment people said that they need three things above all else: legal status in Colombia, a job and healthcare and food.


“We did not come here to be parasites,” says one Venezuelan migrant in Riohacha. “All we want is to be given the same rights and protections as Colombians. We want to work, but with dignity.”

We are setting up operations in Riohacha, in the department of La Guajira, and assessing how to best complement the efforts of the Colombian government and other organizations responding to the crisis.

Advocating for the human rights of Venezuelans

We must focus on protecting Venezuelan refugees and migrants, who are incredibly vulnerable, especially women and children.

This protection should include strengthening national asylum systems and supporting access to other legal stay arrangements. It also means providing access to the right to work, healthcare and other basic services.

Without these things, Venezuelan families are at risk of exploitation. They might also resort to negative coping strategies in the face of challenges like lack of legal protection, job opportunities and basic necessities.

Increased engagement and information sharing with Colombian communities and other host communities in the region will also help create awareness of the plight of Venezuelans, foster community acceptance and prevent xenophobia.

What other help is needed

The crisis in Venezuela is not expected to end anytime soon. As it continues, regional and national governments as well as international and local organizations responding to this crisis need funding and coordinated response efforts.

We commend efforts to date to meet the needs of Venezuelans fleeing to Brazil, Colombia and elsewhere, but more remains to be done.

“Regional governments and international and local organizations responding to this crisis need funding and a coordinated response to continue meeting urgent needs and scale up in preparation for a continued exodus from Venezuela,” says Provash Budden, Americas regional director.

The United States government has stepped up and provided over $20 million this last year to respond to the needs of fleeing Venezuelans, including $16 million that Vice President Pence recently announced at the Summit of Americas. Colombia, Brazil and other countries in the region are also using their resources. Unfortunately, the level of needs continues to outpace the available funding.

Recognizing that the United States and other countries in the region cannot meet these needs alone, we support increasing diplomatic engagement with partners in the region and around the world to shore up additional funding and to support a coordinated regional refugee response.

We must do whatever we can to ensure the safety and security of Venezuelan families and prepare for many more families to arrive in the coming months.

How you can help

As the situation worsens, we are committed to helping vulnerable Venezuelan families who are unsure of what the future holds. Our response is only just beginning.

Your help will allow us to do even more to support these families as they cope with the tragedy of losing their homes and livelihoods.

05/04/2018 07:48 PM
How young people in the Middle East are using technology to share their voices

Prior to joining Mercy Corps, my career was in education. I taught in an IDP camp in Haiti, an urban public school in Bangladesh, and in multiple settings with refugee youth who had been resettled in the United States.

In each of these roles, I was consistently moved by the creativity, curiosity, and resilience of young people. These were young people who had overcome unfathomable barriers posed by violence, poverty, or a lack of social capital, all of whom had pursued education knowing it would open doors to a different future.

When I get to visit Mercy Corps’ youth programs, I am able to tap into what motivated me to pursue humanitarian work in the first place: That smart investments in young people, communities, and governance systems has the potential to change the course of history.

Investing in technology for youth education

The No Lost Generation Tech Summit offered me a glimpse into how technology is one example of a smart investment — something that, if leveraged wisely, has the potential to increase educational outcomes, improve gender equity, and break down divisions between people by fostering communication.

At the Summit, I had the opportunity to meet with young people and discuss the powerful role that technology plays in their lives. They understand that being able to use technology such as social media, communications platforms, or software like Excel will impact their employability, their self-expression, and their community networks as the region wrestles with massive displacement, youth unemployment, and ongoing conflict.

The Tech Summit also included the launch of the Adobe 1324 Defined Without Borders Challenge. This partnership between Adobe and The No Lost Generation initiative, which includes Mercy Corps, features submissions from young people around the Middle East on the topic of identity, including the skills, cultural backgrounds, and aspirations of young people displaced by conflict in the region.

Malik: Filmmaking for social change

Malik at an interview with Mercy Corps during No Lost Generation Tech Summit.

Malik, a 15-year-old Palestinian youth from Jordan, spoke to me about drug use, a challenge he experiences in his community. For a video project that sparked his interest in the Adobe Challenge, Malik filmed a community member high on drugs and the associated paraphernalia of drug use.

While film and photography is usually displayed for an external audience, Malik had another viewer in mind: the drug user. When the user was sober, Malik showed the drug user the film so that he could see his behavior as an outside viewer would. In doing so, he shifted the audience from people removed from the situation, viewing the image on computer screens around the world, to a deeply intimate space between two people: a man struggling with addiction and a boy trying to ignite a change. His film had a profound impact on the drug user, who didn’t know the dangers of using or what he acted like when he was high.

Technology helped the two people connect on a deeper level and Malik discovered a profound way to express himself through film and photography.

Sujoud: Capturing the resilience of nature

Sujoud describing how, like the plants emerging through cracks in the rock, she feels resilient.

Sujoud, a young woman from Jordan, chose to photograph the resilience of nature and the strength it provides her. Her picture, of bright green plants sprouting through cracks in the rock, captures the ability of nature to overcome rough terrain. She described seeing her own determination in this photo. “[Nature] resists anything…It resists the hardness of rocks and despite everything it grows out and prevails. I made it to express myself.”

Omar and Nadeem: Using photography to challenge beliefs

Omar presenting his photograph "Difference."

For other participants in the 1324 Challenge, publishing their photography on the internet felt like a way to gain a voice with an international audience. Young people from the Middle East, and especially young men, are often portrayed in a single narrative — hopeless, lost, maybe tending toward violence.

For Omar, a 23-year-old Syrian refugee in Jordan, being trained on photography gave voice to something he had not previously explored. “I use technology to reach something inside of me, in order to talk about who I am, or to express myself and my community,” he says.

In doing so, Omar tells a different narrative about young men from the Middle East. His black and white photograph of scattered clothes pins centers on one, illuminated in the center. He adds a new voice — perhaps muted right now — but amplified by technology. “[Photography] conveys a specific message,” he says. “For example, to shed light on people who are marginalized in society. It gives you peace.” In his photograph, the illuminated clothes pin represents a source of peace, glowing within all of us.

Nadeem presenting his photograph “Society’s Taboo.”

Nadeem, another participant of the Adobe 1324 Challenge used his photography to comment on Middle Eastern society. His photograph, entitled “Society’s Taboo,” depicts a neighborhood with a circle, almost like a camera lens or magnifying glass in the foreground. “In Arab culture, we must live inside the circle,” he says. “The circle represents what is accepted by society. Why must we live inside?”

Through their cameras, both Omar and Nadeem were able to explore new ways of expressing who they are. With the online challenge, they are able to share these narratives with an international audience, communicating their stories and experiences with other artists around the world.

Lavan: Improving computer literacy for women

The author talking with Lavan about how to improve technology access for young women in Iraq.

For Lavan, a youth coach at a center in Sulaymaniyah, Iraq, the summit made her think more about access to technology for women. Lavan has experienced firsthand the barriers young, educated and working women face in Iraqi society and could relate to what the participants in her program might be experiencing.

“I think women, they have difficulties in participating because in our culture, they are more busy with their families and children,” she says. Being at the summit gave her additional ideas about ways that program design can be more inclusive, including having designated women-only hours at the center and making sure that women have access to technology, so that they don’t have to rely on men for access to phones.

She also highlighted that the staff at the center need to do outreach with families to address any concerns they might have about sending their girls to the center. Lavan will return to the youth center with new ways to help young people improve their lives by building computer literacy and employability.

Looking forward

At the end of the conference, the room was abuzz. These young people had faced their fears of flying, staying in hotels away from their families, and speaking onstage to overcome a much bigger fear: Not being heard or represented.

Over the course of two days, they had forged new friendships, gained new ideas, and contributed to a vibrant discussion about the future for youth in conflict and post-conflict settings.

Equipped with technology, ambition, and their fierce optimism, these young people will be crucial to strengthening their families, communities, and societies in the years to come.

04/22/2018 11:35 PM
The long road to recovery: Three years after quake, Nepalis push ahead

Climbing the quiet, winding dirt roads of the remote mountainside communities outside Kathmandu, Nepal, it’s difficult to imagine the chaos once felt here. Today, in these small villages, farmers quietly tend the vast, green terraces that wrap the hillsides. Children in blue uniforms and backpacks giggle as they walk home from school. Billowy clouds quell the heat as families gather for tea and birds sing a melody in the background. Every now and then, a rooster crows.

Life seems peaceful here, uncomplicated. But with that simplicity comes an innate vulnerability — in a country that was already one of the poorest in the world, recovering from the severe earthquake that struck three years ago has been a difficult process.

The earthquake, a 7.8 magnitude quake, destroyed over 800,000 homes and affected around 8 million people. Nearly 9,000 were killed and 23,000 injured. In a matter of minutes, entire livelihoods and communities were wiped out and 2.8 million people were left in need. vi

Even now as laughter comes easy and people move calmly through their days, communities still bear the quiet scars of that disaster: temporary shelters, half-constructed buildings, small piles of rubble and a sincere uncertainty as to when things will be back to where they were before.

Mercy Corps responded in the days after the earthquake, helping 135,000 people with emergency aid, and has since been working to help the hardest-hit communities recover and build back stronger than they were before. Three years after the initial devastation, learn what recovery has been like for some of the people we’ve been working with:


From the doorstep of her home, a modest structure at the top of a narrow, crooked staircase carved into the steep hillside, Sunmaya reflects on the past three years. Her house still shows signs of the earthquake — deep cracks, crooked flooring, a crumbling facade — and she doesn’t know when they’ll come up with the money to repair it.

The damage worries her, but in the wake of the disaster it wasn’t her own home she was concerned about — it was the devastation to her elderly mother-in-law’s house, a short distance below. “It had huge cracks,” Sunmaya says. So she took action.

Sunmaya trained with Mercy Corps for 50 days to learn how to build homes using earthquake-resistant materials and design. “Before the earthquake, I didn’t really think much about building a house,” she says. “But after the earthquake there were a lot of people rebuilding houses, so I did think that I wanted to build a house. I wanted to go everywhere and build everybody’s houses.”

Learn more about the rebuilding effort ▸

After the training, she constructed a new house for her mother-in-law and was hired to help build three others in her community. Eventually, she wants to rebuild her family’s home, too. “I can build my own house,” she says, acknowledging what she can accomplish with her new set of skills. “I don’t have to hire somebody else. Now I can do my own work.”


Press play above to hear more of Sushma's story.

With a wide, shy smile, Sushma points to the expanse of farmland she now owns and cultivates in her village: great stretches of terraced plots dotted with neat rows of wheat, barley, mushrooms, carrots and many other vegetables.

"At the beginning, the vegetables we grew were just enough for the family," she explains. "Now, I take vegetables to the market to sell every week. We are using the income ... to cover all our household expenses."

When the earthquake toppled her community three years ago, Sushma was faced with the agonizing question of how to rebuild her family’s life from rubble. “We didn’t have a house anymore. … We did not have money at that time to rebuild,” she says. “There were a lot of unknowns: what to do, where to live. We didn’t even have food to eat.”

With a new baby to care for, she and her husband had no choice but to push forward. They began clearing the wreckage, salvaging what they could, and working in neighboring fields to earn a small amount of money. Essential supplies and emergency cash from Mercy Corps helped them begin the slow process of recovery.

“We used that money to buy seeds and planted our [own] fields,” Sushma explains. The couple took a loan to begin rebuilding their home, and Sushma participated in Mercy Corps’ vegetable farming training to learn how to grow stronger, more diverse crops and secure a more reliable long-term income. Slowly, they put their life back together.

Today, with a roof over their heads and money coming in, she is able to think about the future for the first time in a long time: she wants to expand her farming income to send her children to school. “I didn’t start out with that kind of courage,” she says. “Now, I have been trained. After the training, I realized that I should do something myself to earn money. I realized that if we work hard, we can make things happen.”


Behind a wide counter piled with dishes and large plastic bins of wrapped candy, Saraswoti gently stirs a pot of noodles, the boiling water releasing tufts of steam into the air. Three skinny men drink tea at a wooden table along the opposite wall while other customers linger at the store’s entrance, considering their purchases.

Three years ago the earthquake brought business at Saraswoti’s snack shop, then at a smaller location, to a halt. “There was a lot of glass and things that got broken. Food got destroyed,” she says. “The business was our only source of income, so we were sure we needed to recover.”

Her community, like many others badly affected by the quake, lacked access to financial services like loans, savings accounts and financial education, so Mercy Corps provided financial literacy training and helped local institutions supply the financial resources people would need to move forward.

“When I took the financial literacy class, I thought about going more professional with my shop,” Saraswoti says. “So we rented the new space and wanted to grow it.” She was able to get a loan to expand — and start two other businesses, growing potatoes and raising chickens.

Today, even while her home still requires repairs, she’s using her new financial know-how to build stability for the future: she invests, sends her children to private school, has an emergency fund and savings for each of her kids.

I have always been enterprising, she says with a laugh. “Wherever there is work to be done. As long as I am alive, I want to work.”


After three years living in a temporary shelter, battling the heat and rain from inside a tent, Krishna is relieved to soon be moving his wife and children into their new, earthquake-resistant house. He has only to clear the last of the construction materials and complete the exterior finishes before they can call it home.

It has been a long journey to get here. The damage done by the earthquake was overwhelming for Krishna: his house had collapsed and he had nowhere safe to take his children. “I could not even sleep because I don’t have money,” he remembers, “and I didn’t know where to start. There was no way for me to start rebuilding.”

More survivor stories from the days after the quake ▸

Mercy Corps’ mason training was welcome support. Because Krishna also has a disability that makes it difficult for him to do intense manual labor , his lot was used for the training’s demonstration house. Over the course of the training, he and the group learned how to build an earthquake-resistant house by actually building one — by building Krishna’s.

The other participants, now skilled masons, have since moved on to build other homes in the community, earning income they can use to support their own recovery. And with the hurdle of safe shelter behind him, Krishna can now focus on other things, including his farming and sending his children to school.

“At that time [of the earthquake], the house was the ground and we didn’t know where to take the kids,” he says. “There was a lot of difficulty we had to go through. Now the house is here and we can move in any time, so we feel secure.”

Shyam and Sabitri

“The day of the earthquake was a day I could never have imagined,” says Shyam (right). “Huge rocks started rolling down the hill and I felt that I might not live.” The earthquake had triggered a landslide that sent massive boulders barreling through their hillside village, razing everything in their path.

Shyam and Sabitri’s home, near the top of the hill, was spared, but the fields and greenhouses they relied on for food and income were destroyed. “We couldn’t stay here,” Shyam explains. “The vegetable farming was all gone. We had to pack up and leave this place.”

Terrified that more rocks would fall, the couple stayed in a temporary shelter with several other families for nearly a year, unable to farm their land and unsure of how to move forward. “We couldn’t imagine a future at all back then,” Shyam says.

They had given up on ever returning home until Mercy Corps secured the hillside with a gabion wall to protect it from future landslides, allowing them to move back into their house and begin recovering their livelihood.

“Mercy Corps came and gave us assurance,” Shyam says, “and slowly, after we felt more and more secure, we started vegetable farming again.”

The couple also received supplies to build new greenhouses and participated in Mercy Corps’ vegetable farming training to learn how to make their land more productive. Today they live peacefully in their home, raising livestock and growing fields full of cauliflower and tomatoes to support themselves.

“I used to think that our home base was destroyed forever," Sabitri says. "Now, I feel that everything is almost back to the way it was before.”

How you can help

04/10/2018 07:40 PM
Quick facts: How climate change affects people living in poverty

Around the world, people are experiencing both the subtle and stark effects of climate change. Gradually shifting weather patterns, rising sea levels and more extreme weather events are all clear and devastating evidence of a rapidly changing climate.

The impacts of climate change affect every country on every continent. The increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events like hurricanes, wildfires and droughts threaten food supplies, drive people from their homes, separate families and jeopardize livelihoods. And all of these effects increase the risk of conflict, hunger and poverty.

Visible evidence and climbing numbers demonstrate that climate change is not a distant or imaginary threat, but rather a growing and undeniable reality.

Read on to learn more about how climate change triggers conflict, exacerbates hunger and poverty, and what Mercy Corps is doing to help communities become more resilient in the face of change.

What are the biggest effects of climate change?

Climate change places compounded stress on our environment, as well as our economic, social and political systems. Whether it comes in the form of unbearable heat waves, harsh winters, or extreme weather events like Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, climate change undermines development gains and leads to shortages in basic necessities.

A young mother and her children make their way through a river in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria washed away a nearby bridge. Because of climate change, Puerto Rico is at an increased risk for devastating storms like Maria, putting people and their livelihoods at risk. Photo: Jonathan Drake for Mercy Corps

Climate change threatens the cleanliness of our air, depletes our water sources and limits food supply. It disrupts livelihoods, forces families from their homes and pushes people into poverty.

One-third of the planet’s land is no longer fertile enough to grow food. More than 1.3 billion people live on this deteriorating agricultural land, putting them at risk of climate-driven water shortages and depleted harvests. These circumstances lead to worsening hunger and poverty.

And they’re facing more disasters than ever. The number of people affected by natural disasters doubled from approximately 102 million in 2015 to 204 million in 2016, although there were fewer natural disasters.

They must also learn to adapt to more gradual changes, such as climbing temperatures and declining rainfall. Droughts alone have affected more than 1 billion people in the last decade. Since 2001, droughts have wiped out enough produce to feed 81 million people every day for a year — equivalent to the population of Germany.

Climate change is also one of many root causes of conflict around the world: it leads to food shortages, threatens people’s livelihoods, and displaces entire populations. Where institutions and governments are unable to manage the stress or absorb the shocks of a changing climate, threats to the stability of states and societies will only increase.

Who is most affected by climate change?

While everyone around the world feels the effects of climate change, people living in the world’s poorest countries — like Haiti and Timor-Leste — are the most vulnerable.

Increasingly unpredictable weather patterns, shifting seasons, and natural disasters disproportionately threaten these populations, increasing their risk and their dependency on humanitarian aid.

Three out of four people living in poverty rely on agriculture and natural resources to survive. For these people, the effects of climate change — limited water and food sources and increased competition for them — are a real matter of life and death. Climate change has turned their lives into a desperate guessing game.

Every year, farmers in Niger must cope with the hunger gap — a period of time when the year’s food stores have been depleted but the next harvest is not ready. Climate change has lengthened the dry season, and, with it, the time when families must go without food. Mercy Corps is working with farmers like these to grow hardier crops and help strengthen their families. Photo: Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps

How does climate change increase conflict?

Conflict is the primary cause of poverty and suffering in the world today. And it’s exacerbated by climate change.

By amplifying existing environmental, social, political and economic challenges, climate change increases the likelihood of competition and conflict over resources. It can also intensify existing conflicts and tensions.

In Democratic Republic of Congo, thousands of children like Theo, 3, are displaced by violent conflict caused in part by the effects climate change. Mercy Corps is helping with emergency water and sanitation programming to help keep them healthy and safe. Photo: Corinna Robbins for Mercy Corps

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, shifts in the timing and magnitude of rainfall undermine food production and increase competition for remaining arable land, contributing to ethnic tensions and conflict.

And in Karamoja, an area of land that straddles the border of Kenya and Uganda, where resource scarcity has been a long-standing challenge, climate change has further reduced pasture and water resources, increasing competition and resulting in violence, such as cattle raiding.

But while climate change can lead to conflict, it can also provide an opportunity for collaboration. These challenges present a unique opportunity for collective action and cooperation in order to mitigate the impacts. For some communities, food, health and lives will depend on cooperation over conflict.

In Uganda, Mercy Corps is helping one South Sudanese refugee form a friendship without borders ▸

What’s the relationship between hunger and climate change?

Floods and droughts brought on by climate change threaten food production and supply. As a result, the price of food increases, and access becomes more and more limited, putting many at higher risk of hunger.

Goats are a critical part of life in rural Niger, where the lean season often makes it difficult for families to find food and earn money. Two years ago, Mercy Corps provided Balki and her husband with two goats—now she has five, which produce enough milk for her six children and help them meet their critical needs. Photo: Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps

Undernutrition is the largest health impact of climate change in the 21st century. The number of undernourished people in the world has been on the rise since 2014, reaching an estimated 815 million in 2016. And the vast majority live in developing countries. Much of the increase is linked to the growing number of conflicts, which are often exacerbated by climate-related shocks.

In 2017, conflicts and climate disasters put 124 million people in 51 countries up against crisis levels of hunger. According to the Global Report on Food Crises, climate disasters triggered food crises across 23 countries — mostly in Africa — with shocks such as drought leaving more than 39 million people in need of urgent assistance.

How does climate change create refugees?

Rising sea levels, extreme weather events and prolonged drought force millions of people to move away from home every year in search of food, water and jobs.

Since 2008, climate change-induced disasters like Hurricane Maria have displaced an average of 21.7 million people each year — 59,600 people every day, 41 people every minute. Millions more have been forced to leave their homes behind to escape severe drought.

More than 250,000 families have left Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria struck in September 2017. Thousands more who lost their homes are still displaced across the island, living at local shelters or with friends and relatives. Photo: Jonathan Drake for Mercy Corps

In 2016, there were 24.2 million new internal displacements due to disasters, which accounted for nearly 80 percent of all new displacements for the year.

Meanwhile, gradual changes brought on by deforestation, overgrazing and drought slowly transform pastures to dust, destroy crops and kill livestock, effectively challenging the livelihoods of millions of farmers. These families are forced to leave their homes behind in search of basic necessities and new work.

And as sea levels continue to rise, those living near the ocean — about 40 percent of the world’s population — will be left with no choice but to move inland.

Almost all of these displacements are occurring in developing countries, where people have fewer resources on hand to cope with progressive shifts or sudden disasters.

What’s the forecast for the future?

The impacts of climate change continue to exceed previous scientific forecasts, worsening and multiplying at dramatic rates that will only be amplified in the years to come.

In Ethiopia, Mercy Corps rehabilitated several water ponds like this one to help nomadic farmers access clean water during one of the worst droughts in a generation. Photo: Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps

Access to clean water is likely to become even more limited, and the risk of hunger and famine will become even greater than it is today. By 2050, climate change has the potential to increase the number of people at risk of hunger by as much as 20 percent. The majority of those at risk live in Africa.

Tens of millions of people are expected to be forced from their homes in the next decade as a result of climate change. This would be the biggest refugee crisis the world has ever seen.

Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to kill an additional 250,000 people each year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress, while continuing to jeopardize clean air, safe drinking water and sufficient food supply.

How is Mercy Corps helping?

In Mongolia, dry summers lead to harsh winters called the “dzud,” where temperatures can plunge below zero degrees and kill vital grasslands. Mercy Corps is helping farmers like Enkh Erdene improve the productivity of their cattle and farming operations. Photo by Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps

Around the world, in places as diverse as Puerto Rico, Ethiopia, Mongolia and Indonesia, Mercy Corps is helping people adapt to climate change.

We do this work by considering the challenges each community is facing, and then developing localized solutions that will make the biggest impact. In order to create real and lasting change, the social, economic and political realities underpinning climate change must be addressed, in addition to mitigating the effects on the ground.

Read more about our approach to climate-resilient development ▸

We focus on increasing the use of climate information in decision-making — improving individual, household and community capacity to cope with change. In some cases this means working with government and private sector technology companies to increase the ability to access the information they need to reduce their risks.

Farmer Mya Nwel, 57, waters her chili plants in Myanmar. Mercy Corps is providing technology to help her save water and fertilizer, as well as higher quality seeds. "Now our income has increased, and our harvests and crop quality has improved," she says. Photo: Mercy Corps/Ezra Millstein

We help farmers diversify their crops, learn new technologies, and redesign their farmland to maximizeits productivity and protect the soil in the face of increasingly severe and frequent droughts. To support their work, we also help increase their access to banking services such as loans and savings, as well as insurance products to help protect their hard work.

REPORT: How investing in resilience helps fight drought ▸

In 2014, Huka Jilo Kilo, 70, had trouble keeping his animals strong during Ethiopia’s drought and was forced to choose whether to feed his cattle or his family. Thanks to Mercy Corps, Huka learned to keep his herd healthier, and now his animals are producing more nutritious milk and meat, his children are eating better, and he has surplus milk to sell at market. Photo: Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps

We train herders on how to keep their animals healthy in drier conditions, and boost market systems that can thrive in a changing climate.

How we're helping herders build resilience in rural Ethiopia ▸

We teach communities how to better manage their natural resources, and help them build stronger homes and reinforce river embankments to make them less vulnerable to natural disasters.

Nirmala Shrestha, 43, works together with other villagers in Nepal to mitigate the impact of a landslide following a 2016 monsoon. Mercy Corps is helping communities like hers recover from disaster and better prepare for the next time an emergency hits. Photo: Tom van Cakenberghe for Mercy Corps

We also collaborate with local and national governments to improve their ability to manage and prepare for weather-related risks. We work with government to improve the way water and land is managed, build and manage plans for improving disaster response, and support the development of policies and plans that reduce vulnerability to climate change.

CASE STUDY: A governance approach to building climate resilience in Indonesia ▸

We see the shared experience of climate change as an opportunity for cooperation and collaboration, reducing the risk of conflict. For example, in Karamoja, we are facilitating resource-sharing agreements and promoting cooperation between communities to reduce conflict, providing a space for people living there to pursue new types of work such as cooking, cleaning or construction.

How you can help

Our work to help communities adapt and adjust to climate change challenges is only possible because of people like you. With your support, we are able to reach more families with assistance and help more people build stronger, more resilient and peaceful communities for tomorrow. Here’s how you can help:

04/04/2018 08:07 PM
How we work: Emergency response

The rate of weather-related natural disasters — hurricanes, floods, drought — has more than tripled since the 1960s. And they’re hitting with greater intensity than ever before.

Emergencies like these can have particularly disastrous consequences for the families who have the least ability to endure them. That’s why, as disasters increasingly strike families and children in vulnerable places around the world, Mercy Corps is there to provide lifesaving relief and help communities build back stronger.

Thanks to our global community of supporters and partners, we are able to help millions of families during their time of greatest need:

Mercy Corps has responded with lifesaving assistance to nearly every major natural disaster in the last 20 years. And when more prolonged emergencies take hold, our seasoned responders are there, too, to distribute essential supplies, protect families and help communities cope and rebuild.

You can help us continue to respond quickly and effectively to emergencies when they strike — and work with communities to build resilience to natural disasters. Give now to help families facing crisis around the world.

03/21/2018 05:06 PM
Mercy Corps presents the first Global Envision Award to Vega Coffee

Global Envision is Mercy Corps’ online forum for exploring innovative, market-driven solutions to poverty. It is dedicated to increasing awareness of two of the positive trends of our time — the spread of more open markets and the global fight against poverty.

As part of Global Envision, Mercy Corps is proud to give its first ever Global Envision Award to celebrate a company that exemplifies the private sector as a force for good in the world. This award celebrates a small to medium-sized enterprise to show that companies of all sizes can think globally and have a positive social impact.

We are proud to give the first ever Global Envision Award to Vega Coffee.

Vega Coffee is Mercy Corps’ Social Venture Fund's newest investment in Latin America. Vega Coffee pushes all value-add coffee processing down to the farm level, allowing farmers to increase their incomes by 2 to 5 times. Vega then manages the sales, marketing and logistics to ship the roasted coffee from the farm directly to consumers, guaranteeing delivery within 5 days of roasting.

"Mercy Corps' Social Venture Fund is proud and excited to serve as a Lead Investor in Vega Coffee,” said Social Ventures Fund Partner Timothy Rann. “We've been impressed by the strides they have made over the past year in ramping up sales and, in collaboration with Mercy Corps Colombia, successfully establishing farmer networks in Cauca, Colombia. With the support of the Mercy Corps' platform, we hope to see Vega catalyze the Fourth Wave of coffee: a more equitable and empowering coffee market for smallholder farmers."

Vega Coffee has been working with Mercy Corps programs in Colombia to bring their innovative model to the 80,000+ coffee farmers that Mercy Corps works with or has worked with in critical post-conflict areas of the country. Since May 2017, Vega and Mercy Corps have worked together to help marginalized women coffee farmers in Cauca to roast and package their own coffee locally for export direct to consumers in the USA.

Through a grant facilitated by the Linked Foundation, Mercy Corps is now providing farmers in the Vega Coffee program with supplementary financial literacy training and other support. This collaboration is groundbreaking for farmers that Mercy Corps has worked with for years, as the prices coffee farmers receive for beans (in real terms) have been the same since the 1970s. Farmers are trapped in a cycle of poverty and unable to capture much additional income from their crops, despite increases in quality, yield and the variety of new specialty coffee buyers (which still pay only a few cents above the low commodity grade coffee price).

"We are so grateful to be the inaugural recipient of the Global Envision Award and for our continuing collaboration with Mercy Corps,” said Robert Terenzi, founder of Vega Coffee. “We sincerely appreciate the recognition of our efforts to deliver sustainable economic empowerment to coffee growing communities around the world. This transformative partnership between an organization as immensely respected as Mercy Corps and Vega Coffee represents a real opportunity to change the future of coffee and the millions of livelihoods that depend on coffee cultivation in Colombia and beyond."

03/15/2018 04:07 AM
The dream Bashar carries

This story is part of our special series, 7 for 7: Seven voices for seven years of the Syria crisis. View the complete series here ▸

* * *

Bashar Anwar Abu Khoshref, a 21-year-old Syrian refugee, spends half his life toiling in a textile factory, counting down the days until the war ends.

After fleeing his hometown of Daraa, Bashar gave up his studies in his final year of high school to support his widowed mother and three younger brothers and sisters. Together, they are among the millions of Syrian children and adolescents whose youth has been cut short by the Syrian war, which is grinding into its seventh year this month.

Mercy Corps first met Bashar two years ago, when he was a teenager marking out his passage to adulthood within the walls of a small factory in northern Jordan. He was filled with energy and possibility, waiting for the chance to return home to Daraa.

“If I returned to Syria now, I would be delightful and overjoyed,” he said in 2016. “I would rebuild my country, help people, resume my studies, rebuild our destroyed house, and live my old life again.”

But now, as he spools thread through an industrial embroidery machine, that enthusiasm has been replaced by a tired frustration.

“I am losing my youth at the factory while I dream,” he says. “It is a really hard feeling when you have been out of your country for the last four years, and you have done nothing. You are just working—and for yourself, you have done nothing at all.

“But I never lose that hope. Even after 10 years, I will go ahead and complete my studies,” he says.


Photos 1 and 2, Bashar in 2015, working at a small textile factory in northern Jordan. Photos 3 and 4, Bashar in 2018, still working 70-hour weeks at the factory. PHOTOS: Peter Biro and Annie Sakkab for Mercy Corps

The last two years have been a drudgery for Bashar. He still works 12-hour shifts at the factory, which is staffed by Syrians, still earns $430 a month, about 40 percent less than he says a Jordanian would doing the same job. Without a work permit, Syrians cannot seek equal pay for their work.

“Usually no one will accept working 12-hour days, but the Syrians will, because they have to,” he says.

Most of Bashar’s earnings go to rent and utilities at his crowded house, and the small amount left over offsets his 14-year-old sister’s school expenses; she was able to resume her education after missing two years when the family first reached Jordan. His younger brother left school three years ago to begin working at a restaurant at 15. Another brother is studying in Canada.

Bashar runs heavy machinery at the factory six days a week, which has taken a toll on his back. The embroidery machine’s 24 needles, which produce traditional stitchwork for women’s clothing, have punctured his hands more times than he can remember.

“It’s a tiring job. It’s not what I want to do,” he says. “It’s also a bit dangerous.”

Yet Bashar is grateful for the work and a sympathetic boss, aware that other refugees in Jordan are forced to hold more grueling jobs in construction or car maintenance. One in 10 Syrian refugee children is working, according to UNICEF, some of them as young as 5. They labor in factories and farms, missing out on school and carrying the emotional wounds of war without the right support to help them heal.

Bashar's long hours at the factory help support his widowed mother, siblings, nieces and nephews.

Bashar in his kitchen at home. "It is a really hard feeling when you have been out of your country for the last four years, and you have done nothing," he says.

Bashar’s dream is to become a computer programmer, and on his day off he rests and works on his old laptop, which he has used to teach himself Photoshop and filmmaking software. Once a month, he goes to a cafe with friends, most of them Syrians from his hometown.

Bashar also has a handful of Jordanian friends he met through Mercy Corps’ wilderness therapy program, which brings young Syrians and Jordanians together through activities like hiking and rock climbing and pairs them with mentors who teach them relaxation techniques that help them focus on their future.

“I was 100 percent desperate,” Bashar says. “I went from desperation to hope. It changed me a lot.”

The program inspired Bashar to begin volunteering at a Mercy Corps community center, where children in grades four to six learn Arabic grammar and basic English. “I still do that whenever I get the chance, because I like to engage with the community,” he says.

Bashar gave up his education to support his family in Jordan. Though he is driven to finish his degree and become a computer programmer, he never expects to return to Syria. “I don't have a future there. It is destroyed now,” he says.

Today, Bashar ignores news about the war. He’s too heartbroken to look at video and pictures of the neighborhood where he grew up, which has been levelled.

“I don’t have a future there. It is destroyed now. I just can’t think about living back there,” he says. “We never thought the war was going to last for this long. We always had hope that we would go back to our country, and we would continue our normal life, but we do not have that hope anymore.”

Though his generation of Syrians is a generation in exile, Bashar hasn’t let go of the dream he originally carried with him across the border into Jordan: that those who do find a way to finish their education, whether in Jordan, in Europe, or beyond, will be the ones who stitch Syria back together when the violence finally subsides.

“My generation lost the most in the war. We lost our future, our studies, everything. But I still believe there is hope in the youth,” he says. “We have been living as Syrians forever, and one day we will be back and live in peace.”

How you can help

This story is part of our special series, 7 for 7: Seven voices for seven years of the Syria crisis. View the complete series here ▸

03/14/2018 10:26 PM
Q&A: How is the Syria crisis reshaping the Middle East?

This story is part of our special series, 7 for 7: Seven voices for seven years of the Syria crisis. View the complete series here ▸

* * *

Seven years after the Syrian war unleashed one of history’s worst humanitarian crises, about 5 million refugees are still sheltering in neighboring countries. Jordan hosts 700,000 Syrians, while Lebanon provides refuge to nearly 1 million—enough to total one-quarter of its population. The conflict has transformed these two countries, creating new political, demographic and economic challenges.

Below, Mercy Corps’ country directors in Lebanon and Jordan, George Antoun and Hunter Keith, explain how this crisis is reshaping the region, the difficulty of anticipating what may happen next, and how Mercy Corps is working to reach Syrian, Jordanian and Lebanese families in a crisis that has grinded on far longer than most imagined.

In Jordan and Lebanon, Mercy Corps provides emergency assistance, helps strengthen the fabric of Syrian and host communities, and provides tools to boost livelihoods and help develop local economies. Read on to learn more.

Would you both describe some of the ways your programs help people?

GEORGE ANTOUN: Our work empowering communities in Lebanon includes a focus on women and girls, which leads to better governance and community participation. We also have projects to end gender-based violence that help women, children and men. We provide skills training and social support for kids and youth who are troubled, whether they are out of school or have problems in their families.

We also do vocational training to boost people’s skills to improve their chances in the job market, as well as support small and medium-sized enterprises by providing software, equipment or consultants to work with them on strategy. Among the urgent needs that we address are providing water, building latrines and working with communities on larger projects, such as fixing the water network.

HUNTER KEITH: In Jordan, we have projects devoted to child welfare in the Azraq and Zaatari refugee camps to provide spaces where children can play and learn. We also work with people with disabilities to integrate them into formal education, both in schools in the camps and host communities. Most of those beneficiaries are Syrian, but there are Jordanians as well.

We also help Syrian beneficiaries in host communities with cash assistance for things like winterization or civil documentation. There is a huge number of Syrians who never went through an official registration process with either the UN or another agency or who left camps without formal permission. Others need help providing educational documents or proof of marriage to gain work permits. Documentation is really important for folks who never quite got their papers in order when they fled their homes in a war zone.

For refugees in Zaatari, a back-to-school to remember ▸

How has the response from host communities evolved over seven years?

GEORGE ANTOUN: When Syrian refugees started pouring in to Lebanon, the political situation in the country was so complex that none of the political parties wanted to touch it, which is why we have informal settlements. It was really chaotic at the beginning, but with time, and with the help of the United Nations and nonprofits like Mercy Corps, it improved. Nonprofits created a forum about four years ago that now includes 42 international humanitarian agencies coordinating with each other.

Now we see the government trying to apply more centralization than before. The government is engaged. Last year, the government waived the annual fee of $200 for residence permits that many Syrians had struggled to pay. This includes all Syrians aged 15 and above, however, refugees tell us the fee waiver is not implemented coherently and refugee men of working age are sometimes excluded from obtaining legal stay. This is pushing them to find a Lebanese sponsor, a process that may cost as much as $1,000, expose them to exploitation, and affect their refugee status as they are often labeled migrant workers.

Iman, 26, sits inside her family's shelter in an informal settlement in Lebanon. A cash-for-work program through Mercy Corps is helping her meet her urgent needs. "Mercy Corps came when I was desperate," she says. Ezra Millstein/Mercy Corps

How does integrating Syrians in their host communities impact community relations? Are they being accepted, or not?

HUNTER KEITH: Once you resolve the humanitarian needs, then you can start working at the community level to integrate people, and then you have some opportunities to help make communities more prosperous.

Our programs drive real collaboration between Syrians and Jordanians in areas that have taken in large numbers of refugees. We reach out to both groups and say, "Look, we have some resources that we can use to improve infrastructure and services. We need your cooperation as a group to help us understand what your priorities are." This gets the two groups talking with one another, and they usually come out with a much better understanding of each other’s issues and how they can solve them jointly.

There’s a lot of economic pain in Jordan, even if you were to take away the refugee issue. The loss of trade with Iraq and Syria over the last two decades has made this a place of desperate challenges. Jordan has been very generous with refugees, but there is some fatigue and very real pressures on people and the economy.

GEORGE ANTOUN: In Lebanon, all but two of our programs are a mixture of Lebanese, Syrians and sometimes Palestinian refugees. Before the war, Lebanon was used to hosting 300,000 or more Syrians who worked in agriculture and construction because you couldn’t find Lebanese to do these jobs. The difference now is that instead of having unskilled laborers, you have plumbers, electricians and doctors, and this has increased tension and competition between local communities and Syrian refugees.

Employment always comes out as the number one driver for tension, including some demonstrations over Syrians taking jobs. Fortunately, it never became a bigger conflict and remains at a local level.

In Lebanon, one Syrian mother is helping other refugee moms learn to cope ▸

Can you give an example of how Syrians and Lebanese working together benefited both communities?

GEORGE ANTOUN: Research shows if you simply improve infrastructure or services without interaction, tensions remain high. Some of our programs help people create committees of Syrians and Lebanese to promote more interaction. We engage Syrian and Lebanese workers together to complete a public project that benefits the whole community, and this diffuses the tension.

Last year, we met Maram, a mother of four who was heavily pregnant when the family fled Homs. They walked for days to cross the mountainous border into Lebanon and found safety in an informal camp. She was struggling to feed her children when she learned about a Mercy Corps program to earn cash working short-term jobs that also benefit the wider community. Maram started a temporary job with 21 Lebanese and Syrians working together at a sorting facility that reduces household waste. The manager wound up hiring Maram on a more permanent basis, and the Mercy Corps team helped find schooling and healthcare for her and her children.

Mercy Corps works with refugees like Maram to find work that helps them meet their families’ immediate needs. "This opportunity from Mercy Corps was great because I was able to pay some of my debts, buy medicine, and bring food to my family," Maram says.

What about in Jordan? Are there stories of how Mercy Corps programs are changing refugees’ lives?

HUNTER KEITH: Our programs recognize people’s talents and give them a solid piece of ground to stand on while they are in this situation. Otherwise, the chances of falling through the cracks are so high. Older people experience some of the greatest benefits, especially those we have hired to work with children.

We have a huge staff of Syrians, and every one of them has a really interesting story. One is Sami, who worked with kids in the gym at Zaatari. When his family left the camp to resettle in Algeria, he chose to stay because he loved working with young people. The camps are interesting places because whole communities of people wind up together who would otherwise have segregated themselves, the elites from the non-elites, people from different professions, even men and women.

Meet Eman, a mother of eight who is helping kids in Zaatari stay on track while they live in the camp ▸

About one-third of the Syrians in Jordan are under the age of 25. What role will they play in the future peace of the region? Could you describe Mercy Corps’ research on how to end the cycle of violence?

HUNTER KEITH: The likelihood of someone committing violence is much higher if they have been exposed to violence before. More than ideology, more than the economic context, the indicator that tells you that somebody is going to become violent is whether they have been violent before or they’ve had violence meted out on them.

Development and relief programs often focus on things like essential services and employment, but violent groups recruit by offering vulnerable people something much different.

If you survey people about what they expect from the government, you will get a laundry list of material desires, such as goods and services, without any real critical thought about what government actually is. But if you instead ask them what they expect from the people around them—their neighbors, their family, their friends—you force them to think much more critically about what it takes, for example, to build a road. Do I expect my neighbor to contribute to a community path that is then going to deliver a service to me?

What are some of the responses you have heard from people?

HUNTER KEITH: People take a step back and say, “I expect my neighbors to be nice to me, I expect them to be fair, I expect that when I have a problem, they may help me solve it.” That’s what extremist groups offered to these people. It has to do with much more than material desires; it has to do with how people relate to one another.

If we want to be smart about how we work against that, we need to understand it better. Then we need to work through the structures of government. That’s what an organization like Mercy Corps can do—provide small examples of those alternatives in communities at the grassroots level.

As they mark the grim anniversary of another year of war, what do Syrians expect from the next 12 months?

GEORGE ANTOUN: Honestly, no one is sure. If you look at the landscape in Syria, a lot has changed in the past year. You see the government taking territory and consolidating power. If this continues, we are moving to a new situation where there could be large areas in Syria where there is no fighting. However, if there is no peace settlement and peace treaty in Syria, it is still unsafe for refugees to start returning.

But you cannot stop them. If you have wide areas in Syria that are relatively safe, where there is no more fighting, that are under the control of one party, then people may start thinking of going back, especially if humanitarian assistance in Lebanon or Jordan keeps decreasing.

Most of the Syrians you speak with say they would definitely go back. But their towns are destroyed, there is nothing for them to go back to right now.

HUNTER KEITH: Our concern, as Mercy Corps, is for the protection of people who might be forced to go back to Syria. If there were a clear future with a clear outcome, that would be one thing. You would have people here carefully considering their options. But, seven years on, I don’t know that people have the information they need to start piecing through that for themselves. The saddest aspect is it won’t be resolved for many years.

I suspect that the image of Syria in the minds of most Syrians is just horribly complicated. People still think of Syria as home, but that is very different from practical expectations of return. So a lot of people assume they will be here a very long time, if not forever.

Does that view change based on how old they are?

HUNTER KEITH: A middle-aged person may not expect to return to normal life, but they want it for their children. The future that’s easiest to imagine for them is the one in Jordan. The closeness of Jordan to Syria, culturally and socially, allows people to imagine their future here, and I think that many people are just trying to get on with it.

Jordan has probably come to terms with that to some extent. It may not be something that Jordanians want to think about, but there is a feeling that a very large number of Syrians will remain even after Syria stabilizes.

How you can help

This story is part of our special series, 7 for 7: Seven voices for seven years of the Syria crisis. View the complete series here ▸

03/14/2018 08:23 PM
No way out: A Q&A on the violence overtaking Eastern Ghouta, Syria

Some of the worst violence we’ve seen in more than seven years of war is happening right now in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta region, several miles northeast of the capital of Damascus. Some 400,000 people have been trapped here since 2013, with little to no access to food, medicine or sanitary supplies. Escalating violence over the past several weeks has left more than 1,500 people dead and even more injured.

Despite a resolution from the United Nations Security Council demanding a cease-fire and the declaration of daily humanitarian pauses, there has barely been a lull in the violence.

Mercy Corps is one of only a few organizations working in this area through local Syrian partners. Our partners are taking advantage of any reductions in explosions to get clean water and other supplies to people hiding in crowded basements and underground shelters.

Read on to learn more in this interview with our Senior Global Communications Officer, Christy Delafield. For more information on the seven-year crisis, visit our Syria quick facts page.

What is your first priority when there are temporary halts to the bombings?

Our partners' first priority is to get clean water and food to people. Many of the basements and underground shelters in which people are sheltering do not have proper ventilation, water or sanitation systems. The pauses have not resulted in as much reduction in violence as we had hoped, and our partners are doing their best to reach people despite very dangerous conditions.

Are we able to get any supplies in, and deliver aid to people during lulls in violence?

Our partners are seeing some lulls in violence, no new routes to deliver aid into the region have been opened, and only one new humanitarian convoy has been approved.

What is the greatest civilian need you are seeing? Who needs the most help in the community right now?

People need food, water, shelter, hygiene kits, wood and fuel for cooking. Even the basics are scarce. Everyone in the community is in need, including the aid workers who are trying to help people.

We read that families are seeking shelter underground—how long are they staying there without coming out? What are the living conditions like in underground shelters and basements?

Families have been hiding in basements and underground shelters without proper ventilation, water or sanitation systems for more than a week. A lot of families are digging their own underground shelters. Most of them are only partially constructed and weren’t designed for people to live in — they don’t have toilets or mattresses.

Now each basement might be housing dozens of people. People have tried to bring blankets and mattresses from their homes when they can, but many report that their homes and possessions have been destroyed.

People sleep when the sounds of the explosions are less loud. They stay underground all day and all night, with nothing to do but wait.

Are people able to access urgent necessities like food and water while in hiding?

Mercy Corps is working through partners to get clean water and food to people living in these shelters. Not much is available for purchase and there are only a few hours a day in which partners can work — when the explosions are less frequent.

What was life like in Eastern Ghouta before these most recent attacks?

This area was a breadbasket in Syria before the crisis. Damascus is one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world, growing from original settlement by an oasis formed by the Barada River. Eastern Ghouta, in the Damascus suburbs, was rich in agricultural resources thanks to irrigation and land development surrounding that oasis.

Since 2013, Eastern Ghouta’s communities have been under siege, and in just the past year, communities in South-Central Syria, on average, suffered the deaths of 65 members, and the destruction of 25 homes and five community structures each.

Syrians also had a hard, cold winter. Every year people have fewer resources and fewer options. Bread prices in Eastern Ghouta have skyrocketed to almost 22 times the national average. The UN reports that Eastern Ghouta is suffering from some of the highest levels of child malnutrition of any time in the Syria crisis.

What about the humanitarian corridors recently established? Will you be able to use those to get aid in, and people out?

We fully support a safe way for people to leave if they choose. While at first the fighting hadn't abated enough for people to get from their houses to the location announced for the proposed corridor, at least 20,000 people have now left via the corridor. Our partners tell us that people aren't using it unless they know it is safe and they will be taken care of when they leave.

Is this as bad as Aleppo?

How do you quantify pain and suffering? We can’t measure this kind of thing, but there are more people trapped in Eastern Ghouta than were in Aleppo, and the siege has lasted far longer. It certainly feels as bad, or worse.

HEAR THEIR STORIES: Syria's war has rocked the lives of millions of people. Read their stories in this special series commemorating seven years of crisis ▸

What can we do to help the people of Syria?

As violence and suffering continues and the number of those in need increases, your help is urgently needed. Here’s how you can make a difference for Syrian refugees: