HORN OF AFRICA — Driven by the wind, the flames leaped swiftly from one grass roof to another. Cries rang out: “Fire! Fire!”
By the time the fire’s rage had played out, 21 homes had been destroyed, displacing more than 300 people.
“We saved our lives only,” one villager said. “Everything else burned — our grain storage and our animals.”
The homes in this African community are made of mud and straw, fixed to a circle of wooden poles anchored in the ground. The roof, made of dried grass, provides perfect kindling for a fire.
Two hours away, a fire swept through another community, burning more than 50 homes.
The loss of the grain stores hurt everyone in both communities. Neighbors divided their supplies to help families in need, but, the villager said, “There wasn’t nearly enough grain to feed the whole community for the year.”
With all the livestock gone as well, they knew starvation was a real possibility — but assistance was on its way, thanks to Southern Baptists and their World Hunger Fund.
“We provided $35,000 worth of grain and tin to both communities,” said a Southern Baptist field partner who directed the relief effort in cooperation with Baptist Global Response, a Southern Baptist relief and development organization. “The tin for roofing and three months of grain should hold them until their harvest.”
The field partner and his wife had created a humanitarian organization to focus on community improvement. They partnered with local governments to find families in dire need and provide short-term help, lasting from two months to two years, and to teach the villagers how to use the resources they have available to improve their lives.
A few months earlier, the field partner went to the local government office, hoping to find a way they could help that would not require a lot of personnel, since their organization already was managing a comprehensive project.
He was surprised at the response he received: “We have been waiting for you to come in,” the official told him.
The official informed him about the fires and the seemingly hopeless situation the villages were in, with families forced to live in black tarp tents for several weeks. With no homes and their belongings reduced to piles of ash, the people came to the office every day seeking help.
The government did not have the resources to help so many people but had heard of the new humanitarian organization and hoped they would be willing to help.
When the field partner heard the story, he knew he could help the two communities but he did not have the funds on hand. That prompted him to contact Baptist Global Response. BGR can respond immediately to natural disasters and long-term community development needs through hunger and relief donations provided by Southern Baptist churches. Because administrative costs already are covered by Southern Baptists’ giving through the Cooperative Program, contributions to the World Hunger Fund are directed to the field to assist people in need in the United States and overseas.
“Baptist Global Response provided enough funding for us to give 52 sheets of tin to each family,” the field partner said. “We also were able to give foodstuff — five liters of oil and 150 kilos of grain every month for three months.”
The families who received assistance used the materials to do more than build a home. They combined resources and built homes large enough to house their entire extended families — 10 to 20 people. They also fed their families and started planting.
“We’ve been privileged to see one-on-one grass-roots help that really works,” the field partner’s wife said. “I see that it does make a difference in their lives.”
The Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund is a crucial ministry that connects people who care with people in need, said Abraham Shepherd, who directs Baptist Global Response work in North Africa.
“The Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund is crucial for sustaining people in a desperate situation, in order for them not only to survive, but to have a glimpse of hope,” Shepherd said.
It will take several years for these communities to rebuild, but they are optimistic and thankful for what they have.
“They saved our lives,” one resident said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Lynn is a Southern Baptist field partner of Baptist Global Response. Contributions to the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund make projects like this possible.)