Monthly Archives: December 2009

2009: The year that was

By Jane Sutton-Redner

As a new year—and decade—dawns around the globe, there’s just barely time for a quick look back at 2009. Here are some of the highs, lows, and notable events of our year.


January: World Vision provided emergency aid for children and families in Gaza after weeks of intense fighting between Hamas and Israeli forces. 

February: World Vision U.S. President Rich Stearns was invited to join the 25-member advisory council for the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships

March: Rich Stearns’ first book, The Hole in Our Gospel, hit bookstores. 

April: World Vision provided food and other aid for civilians displaced by Sri Lanka’s civil war. Here in the U.S., World Vision generated “buzz” about a global killer on World Malaria Day (Apr. 25). Also, Ryan Smith got married. 


May: Max Lucado traveled with Rich Stearns, Kari Costanza, Jon Warren, and others to Ethiopia. Meanwhile, World Vision provided relief to families displaced by fighting in Pakistan’s Swat Valley. 

June: Emergency relief efforts targeted families affected by Cyclone Aila in Bangladesh and India. Plus, a great birthday present for James Addis—a newborn son. 

July: Former U.S. first lady Laura Bush and MLB great Rick Sutcliffe joined Congressman Don Payne, U.N. Envoy Ray Chambers, and Malaria No More CEO Scott case on World Vision’s Malaria Advisory Council. And more than 100 teens converged on Washington, D.C., for World Vision’s Youth Empowerment Summit

August: This blog launched with Kari Costanza’s and Jon Warren’s reports and photos from Burundi and Rwanda


September: The Furniture Row racecar emblazoned with World Vision’s logo whizzed around the track at the NASCAR Chevy Rock & Roll 400 event. And in a terrible month for natural disasters, earthquakes struck Indonesia, typhoons lashed the Philippines and Vietnam, parts of India flooded, and a major tsunami devastated American Samoa

October: World Vision responded to the unprecedented number of Asia disasters. Also, some 1,200 Team World Vision runners completed the Chicago Marathon, raising more than $800,000 for Africa water projects. 

November: World Vision’s global Child Health Now campaign launched. Mike Ryan’s new baby boy arrived in time for Thanksgiving. And tragically, two World Vision staff members, Dr. Azami and Fairaidoon Rasooly, died in a vehicle accident in Ghor Province, Afghanistan. 

Child health

December: On World AIDS Day (Dec. 1), World Vision raised awareness about mother-to-child HIV transmission. A team (including Kari Costanza’s husband, Tom) circled the globe to capture the Spirit of Christmas. And World Vision’s ACT:S College Activism Network co-hosted a learning track at Urbana09 in St. Louis.

Looking ahead to 2010, we’re working on stories about a new sponsorship opportunity in Burundi, microfinance in Mexico, and projects in North Korea. Also, this year World Vision turns 60! (But isn’t 60 the new 40?)

Blessings and thanks to all of you who assist children through World Vision. Happy New Year!

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Christmas in … a refugee camp

A series about how families in other countries celebrate Christmas.

Anna Ridout, a senior emergency communications officer for World Vision UK working in the DR Congo. (World Vision Staff)

I love Christmas. I love thinking up creative and surprising gifts for loved ones. The best bit is spending time with my family, eating way too much and curling up in the front of the fire, overfed, safe and warm.

Working in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where hundreds of thousands of people are planning a Christmas in temporary shelters far from home, makes the upcoming celebration hard to get my head around as I go back to the United Kingdom to be with my family for the holidays.

I’ve spent a lot of time in camps speaking to people who have fled fighting and who are now struggling to live without the very basics.

For them, Christmas will be spent much like any other day. Sixty-two-year-old Sengoko will celebrate with peas and maize provided by aid agencies like World Vision. “We don’t have money to buy food for a celebration,” he said. “We don’t have farms. We don’t have livestock. Where can we get money to celebrate?”

As we speak, he is industriously making a small table out of branches to sell for less than a dollar. When I ask him what he wants as the New Year approaches, he hopes for something intangible yet simple.

“Next year, I would like to see peace being established here, because we are tired of seeing our children without education and huts without plastic sheeting. We want to return home and rest. We want peace,” he says. “We can’t continue living by distributions. We want to go back. We used to sleep on beds but now we are sleeping on volcanic rocks.

“We want peace so we will return back to our homes, so we can farm and live a better life.”

Anna counsels a woman at the refugee camp. (Horeb Bulambo/WV)

A year of peace
Everyone I speak to says the same thing.

“I would like 2009 to be a year of peace, a peace that would allow us to return home,” said sixteen-year-old Michelle.

A woman who was raped while she was collecting firewood for her small stove would also like to go home. “I hope we will go back to our farms next year,” she said. “Then we shall get food and be happy and thank God.”

People in eastern Congo want the same as me as the year draws to an end – to be safe, to be with their family and to eat good food. They want clothes and to be warm and dry, without the heavy rain that seeps through their banana-leaf huts.

While conflict continues to separate families as they flee fighting and armed groups continue to rape girls and women, while people are too scared to return to their farms, families will be forced to celebrate Christmas with the very little they have.

As I speak to another man who asks, “the Government and you people to join your efforts, so we can go back home in 2009,” I make a new year’s resolution. Instead of eating less chocolate next year, I think I will make every effort to join the amazing people I meet in Congo and call for peace.

—Reported by Anna Ridout, a senior emergency communications officer for World Vision UK working in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

[editor’s note: This article was written in December 2008.]

Related posts:  Christmas in … Ethiopia (Dec 21, 2009); Christmas in … Cambodia (Dec. 17, 2009); Christmas in … Romania (Dec. 20, 2009)

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Christmas in … Ethiopia

A series about how children in other countries celebrate Christmas.

Ethiopian children in traditional Christmas dress. (Aklilu Kassaye/WV)

Ethiopia, following the ancient Julian calendar, celebrates Christ’s birth on January 7.  It is known as Gena. Preparation for the holiday begins as early as a week before, with families buying food and ingredients for meals. If people can afford it, they buy a goat or sheep to eat. Those who can’t pool their money with a dozen or more others and buy an animal for the Gena feast.

On the eve of Gena, many families go to church. Some people spend the whole night praying and praising God for sending Jesus to this world. Others stay home preparing various meals such as dorowat (a spicy chicken sauce), injera (flat bread), and sigawot (spicy sheep, goat, cow, or ox stews) to be served on Christmas day.

Families share food with friends and neighbors on Gena. (Aklilu Kassaye/WV)

On Christmas Day, people in rural areas put on traditional white clothes and go to church. Priests preside over services wearing turbans and red-and-white robes and carrying beautifully embroidered fringed umbrellas. They preach the about the birth of Jesus Christ and His redeeming power to all humans. They also remind the congregation to give alms to the poor and take beggars into their homes—which some families do as they encounter poor neighbors on their way home.

Christmas afternoon is a time of fun. Men and boys gather for a popular Ethiopian game called Gena Chewata in one region, Kile in another. It’s somewhat like hockey, played with curved sticks and a round wooden ball. Teams use their sticks to drive the ball into the opposing team’s goal, with fans cheering them on. It is believed that the shepherds were playing this while tending their flocks on the night that Jesus was born.

A popular Gena game in Ethiopia. (Aklilu Kassaye/WV)

The winners receive bread made especially for the occasion and blessed by elders in the name of God. “On receiving the bread,” says Jambo Damte, 19, “the winner team members [are] highly excited, as if they received the World Cup Trophy. They will dance, jubilate, and shout.”

—Reported by Aklilu Kassaye

Related posts: Christmas in … Cambodia (Dec. 17, 2009); Christmas in … Romania (Dec. 20, 2009)

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Christmas in … Romania

A series about how children in other countries celebrate Christmas.

Angelic kindergarteners in Craiova. (Corina Suta/WV)

In Romania, the winter holiday season—including Christmas, New Year, and Epiphany—is in full swing from 24 December to 7 January. Each of these celebrations is unique in its display of colorful customs, traditions, and artistic and musical events, making the winter holidays spectacular for Romanians.

“Christmas has always been a special moment for all children. I love every aspect of it—the traditions, carols, and mostly the sweets,” says 10-year-old George from Vladeni commune.

A drawing by Madalina, 15, in Iasi County, shows Romanian children caroling at Christmas.

Red, black, and white are the traditional colors of the Christian Romanian folk costume. Red represents the finery of the children who go caroling through the streets; black symbolizes the winter night that falls early in December; and white signifies the snow that blankets the country, sparkling under the stars as far as the eye can see.

To prepare for Christmas, families cook food and clean their homes to entertain guests and carolers. “My mother is so busy before Christmas day, so I always try to help her with the cooking,” says 9-year-old Andrea from Vladeni commune. “I love Christmas because it brings the whole family together. I also love going to church, especially the feeling I have while listening to the priest and seeing how quiet and peaceful everyone is,” adds the little girl.

One of the most anticipated customs of the holiday season is Christmas caroling. Children go caroling when the clock strikes midnight and it becomes Christmas Eve. As they go from one house to another, the children receive sweets, fruit, and even money. “All the children love to go caroling. It is a time when we can have fun together practicing our songs and playing in the snow. We sing to make people happy on Christmas and to remind people that, on this special day, Jesus was born,” says 8-year-old Catalin.

Ileana, 4, meets Santa Claus. (Corina Suta/WV)

On Christmas day, children walk in the streets of snow-covered towns and villages, holding stars made of cardboard and paper that are decorated with watercolor paintings of biblical scenes or an icon of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus. While they walk, the children sing:

Do you receive the pretty star,
Pretty and so bright?
It has appeared on the earth
Just like God through it would be right
And it could be seen on high,
Just like we did, in the sky.

Romanian children also write letters to Santa Claus. At an event arranged by World Vision for children to meet Santa at a bookstore in Cluj, the boys and girls shared their letters. Reads one: “Dear Santa, I want you to have a gift from me: I wish you all the happiness in the world! –Grete.”

—Reporting by Mirela Slusaru and Laura Runcanu

Related post: Christmas in … Cambodia (Dec. 17, 2009)


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Christmas in … Cambodia

The first of a series about how children in other countries celebrate Christmas.

Santa suits, all the rage for kids in Cambodia. (Haidy Ear-Dupuy/WV)

Celebrating Christmas is a new tradition in Cambodia. As the young people learn more about the outside world, they quickly adapt the Christmas traditions among themselves.

In December, the streets of the capital, Phnom Penh, and other provincial cities are adorned with lights. Christmas is a season of giving, and stores and vendors capitalize on that. At the local outdoor markets, perhaps the hottest-selling item is the miniature Santa Claus outfit parents buy for their children.

That’s rapidly becoming the most popular thing to do in Cambodia—dress up the children in Santa Claus clothes. Young boys wear red-felt trousers and shirts and girls wear red-felt dresses with white trimming. They all wear red-and-white hats marked “Merry Christmas.”

World Vision staff and street children celebrate Christmas together. (Haidy Ear-Dupuy/WV)

For Christians, Christmas is a time to gather presents and toys to distribute to homeless children or orphanages. For years now, World Vision has partnered with churches and children’s homes to distribute toys and packages of food at Christmas. Singing and dancing of traditional songs as well as a replay of the nativity scenes are also important for the Christian community.

—Reported by Haidy Ear-Dupuy in Cambodia

Next: Christmas in Romania

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Staff killed in Afghanistan

This is the kind of story we hate to report.

On Thursday, November 26th, two World Vision staff in Afghanistan were killed in a car accident. Four other staff members were injured in the crash. They were traveling home to Herat to be with family members for a holiday celebration when the car slid off a bridge and into the river below.

(Juan Miguel Lago/World Vision)

Please join us in praying for the family members of those who were killed, for a quick recovery for those who were injured, and continued safety of all our 40,000 staff  around the world.

Learn more about World Vision’s work educating girls in Afghanistan.

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