Fear and Vigilance: Refugees in the DRC

All photography | Joni Kabana

Tension was extremely high in and around Goma when I traveled to the Democratic Republic of Congo in January. I was in the country with a Mercy Corps writer to document Mercy Corps' efforts.

The organization gave me strict orders regarding in what circumstances I could use my camera. We were able to go to selected camps and see the fuel-efficient stoves, wood donations, water purification systems and gardens that Mercy Corps has provided.


NEED WINS 10 Society of Professional Journalist Page One Awards!

NEED has won 10 MN Society of Professional Journalist Page One Awards!

- Best Overall Magazine
- Best Overall Design
- Best Commissioned Photography
- Best Feature Design
- Best Spread Design
- Best Single Page Design
- Best Cover Using Photography
- Best Department
- Best Single News Story Online
- Best Use of Multimedia

We will find out if they are gold, silver or bronze awards at the ceremony taking place on May 14th.


Gold, the Money Stone

Miners descend down narrow holes nearly 400 feet deep to pull gold-laden quartz rock out.

Small-scale gold mining in Africa is dangerous and illegal. Men, women and children who are poor get caught in this profession in hopes of escaping poverty and building a better life.

“The Money Stone” is a feature-length documentary that sheds light on the realm of small-scale gold mining. The story is told through perspective of three young men surviving in the conflict-ridden world of galamsey—life as a local miner in Ghana. This underground industry affects not only the miners, but millions worldwide.

“The main challenge of this film is to deal with the complexity of different issues that affect small-scale mining communities in a way that will make sense, as well as to balance the viewpoints of the various stakeholders,” says producer Paula Ely.


Rancho Sordo Mudo School For Deaf Children

This post was submitted by photographer Alex Espinosa

In my experience as a photographer, I have worked with NGOs in 16 countries in Latin America. The majority of these organizations do humanitarian projects with children in diverse areas such as human rights, health and migration.

The children they assist have suffered seriously in their lives, for which reason it is crucial to act with great sensitivity around them. Most recently I took photographs for Rancho Sordo Mudo, a free residential school for deaf children in Baja California, Mexico.

Working with the children of Rancho Sordo Mudo gave me personal experience on being unable to communicate with others. In other places I have been, even when working with children who didn’t speak my language, laughter and gestures allowed me to develop a relationship with them.


Seeds to Grow

By Zach Warren, Kabul Field Officer for International Relief and Development

“Give us seed, and we can grow it. Anything - gandum, rumi, bodrang, bomya, kachalu, zardak, pista,” Ramullah said. He smiled at me, showing his three multicolored front teeth. “Wheat, tomato, cucumber, okra, potato, carrot, pistachio tree – give us good seeds and we can make crops.”

I met Ramullah on a snowy day last December at a wheat seed and fertilizer distribution.
Ramullah is the head of the farmer’s cooperative in the remote village of Sayed in Sar-e-Pul province, northern Afghanistan. When there’s a dispute between farmers, they go to him. When there are questions about irrigation techniques, they go to him. Several years ago, he led a poppy eradication movement in his community. Now they are poppy-free, but they need alternative crops.



April 25, 2009, an organization called Invisible Children is asking that you “abduct yourself.” People in more than 100 cities across the world have already signed up and agreed to do just that. The free 30 minute movie “The Rescue of Joseph Kony’s Child Soldiers” tells why this action is being taken.

The movie was put together by three friends: Bobby, Jason and Laren, who went to Africa in search of a story and an adventure. They ended up in Uganda, and while driving one day, witnessed local townspeople escaping to the next town to avoid rebels from the Lords Resistance Army (LRA). Hundreds of children were hiding together in abandoned buildings. The filmmakers talked to these children and could hardly believe what they heard. Children were being abducted while sleeping at night. They were being forced to be soldiers and to resist the rebels meant instant death.


NEED staff visit the UAE

This month I had the opportunity to travel with Stephanie Kinnunen, NEED magazine’s editor in chief, to Dubai in the United Arab of Emirates. NEED had been asked to be a media sponsor for the Dubai International Humanitarian Aid and Development conference (DIHAD).

We gladly agreed to support the cause and packed our bags. Two long flights and many cups of coffee later, we touched down in the Dubai International Airport. After a few days of wandering through souks and enjoying some delicious Middle Eastern food, it was time for the conference.

The DIHAD conference turned out to be great. The three-day event was full of knowledgeable speakers who touched on relevant development and disaster relief issues. DIHAD’s theme this year was “Empowering Communities between disaster and development,” and topics such as the reconstruction plan for Gaza strip, food crisis and global economic downturn were discussed.

Soccer star Clarence Seedorf, who started the organization Champions for Children to empower children through sports activities, gave an interesting speech about the importance of charity work in his life.


Struggle Continues in Burma

This post was submitted by photographer Jason Elias

Burma has long been the fabled land of Southeast Asia where Rudyard Kipling and George Orwell sailed the Ayerwaddy from Rangoon to Mandalay.



Play is international, only the games and faces are different.

Wherever there are children, there are children’s games. Play is natural for children— it is fun, it develops muscle, and it also builds community. By playing, kids learn about themselves, about their friends, about their society, and sometimes about the wider world.

You might see the world as a vast network of neighborhoods, each one a country or culture. Over every backyard fence there are children playing games, all inspired by a love of running, a love of throwing, a love of being together, being in action. In this network of backyards and neighborhoods, some of the fences are too high to see over. There are oceans in the way, barriers of language, forests of misunderstanding. Children from one neighborhood may not know how much they resemble the kids in another. Children growing in the United States may not see their kinship with children in South Africa or China. They may never know unless someone shows them that children everywhere else are children “just like you.”

Just Like You is a Los Angeles-based nonprofit whose after-school programs forge global understanding through play. Its mission is to promote international awareness among children by using sport, so the children may grow to be better global citizens.

Once a week, Just Like You presents an after-school program focused on a selected country. During the first half hour the children are taught about the country’s history, language and culture, including memorable facts and songs. After that they are treated to an hour of games from that country. First they learn, then they play. And they play and play. According to Jerry Darko of Just Like You, the students never want to go home, “we don't end up leaving for another hour or so.” It’s a genuine chance for children in Los Angeles to learn the games that children in other global neighborhoods play, and to discover that those different games make children around the world so alike. When we know we are alike we can see each other as neighbors, not strangers.


Park Square Theatre Area Premiere | “Friends of NEED magazine” Discount

I recently learned about a play coming to Minneapolis for the first time called “I Have Before Me a Remarkable Document Given to Me by a Young Lady From Rwanda” by Sonja Linden. The play depicts the life of Juliette, a survivor of the genocide in Rwanda, who moves to London and befriends a local poet. Together they are able to tell the powerful and inspiring tale of Juliette’s experiences amidst the horrors of the Rwandan genocide.

The Park Square Theatre is generously offering $10 off the ticket price to “friends of NEED magazine”. To get the discount use the NEED code “document” when ordering (info below). You will find NEED photographer Paul Corbit Brown's images on exhibit in the lobby.

Take advantage of this discount and then write in and tell us about your experience.

Here are the details:

$10 off* tickets to friends of NEED magazine for:

I Have Before Me a Remarkable Document Given to Me by a Young Lady From Rwanda

By Sonja Linden
Directed by Warren C. Bowles, Featuring Sonja Parks and Patrick Bailey
April 24 – May 17, 2009

"a stirring tale of human bravery in the face of adversity.” Los Angeles Review

Juliette is a survivor of the genocide in Rwanda, now trying to survive a hostile and unfamiliar life in London. She has written a book about the genocide and hopes Simon, a struggling poet and author can help her get it published. Through awkward language barriers and cultural gaps, they don't know quite what to do with their blossoming friendship or with Juliette's writing, until they unlock the poetry of her personal experience. Winner of the Time Out London Critic Choice Award™, this play reminds us of the incredible power of the written word and how from time to time, we need a nudge to see the horrific and the glorious in the world.

*Use code DOCUMENT
Phone: 651.291.7005
Online: www.parksquaretheatre.org

Transaction fees apply. Not valid on previously purchased tickets.


A glimpse inside a refugee camp

photo | UNHCR / J. Wreford

Al Tanf is a refugee camp located in no-man’s land between Iraq and Syria. It is a thin strip of ground bordered on one side by a highway and on the other by a 20 foot concrete wall. Several hundred Palestinians have been stranded for more than two years, having fled Iraq to escape violence and death threats, only to be denied entry in Syria and Jordon. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) delivers basic supplies, but is prohibited from constructing permanent structures. All the refugees live in tents despite flooding and temperatures that range from 100 degrees F to near zero.

photo | UNHCR / B. Auger

photo | UNHCR


living in pollution

This post was submitted by photographer Toby Binder

Blacksmith Institute and Greencross Switzerland named La Oroya, Peru among the ten worst polluted places worldwide. Many residents suffer from fatal lead poisoning because of the smelting operation at the river. The facility is at the center of a bitter environmental dispute among townsfolk, activists and the smelter's owner.



Individual American Airlines flight attendants who feel passionately about giving back to the children of the world through UNICEF started a group called Champions For Children. On international and transcontinental domestic flights, the AA Champions show an in-flight video on how money collected by AA’s Change for Good giving campaign and disbursed by UNICEF makes the difference between life and death for many children.

I recently returned from a trip to Honduras visiting several programs funded by UNICEF in collaboration with Change for Good. (UNICEF is a client of JS2 Communications, the public relations firm that I co-founded.) This trip was life-altering for me. As a business owner and a mother of two, I have been desperately trying to put the current economic downturn into perspective. It is easy to let the economy and overall national depression color and control my life. In Honduras, where 30 percent of the children are malnourished and many have no running water, I remembered how fortunate I am. It is up to people like me to advocate for children who deserve so much and receive so little.

I learned so much from Fabiola, Julia and Hector, our Honduran UNICEF leaders. We spent a great deal of time discussing the rights of children and how essential it is to engage and encourage them to be involved in their own destiny. The respect with which they approach each child made me understand how nuanced and deep UNICEF’s work truly is.


Why I am a humanitarian aid worker

This article was cross-posted from The Road to the Horizon.

They ask "So what do you do for a living?", cocktail drink in hand. When I answer "I am an aid worker", there are two kinds of people: Those that roll their eyes and those that say "Really?".

For the first, I don't do an effort to go any further. Either they are not interested or it goes beyond their level of imagination. For those that look me in the eye, I know I will have a hard time to explain what exactly I do. And why.

Over the years, luckily many people has asked me why I do the work I do, far fewer have rolled their eyes.. So what do I answer?

Well, let me tell you a story. Quite a time-appropriate story actually, as it is related to events that happened exactly ten years ago, in the Balkans.

It is a slightly reworked version of the shortstory "Scene of War", published in my eBook.


Overcoming obstacles, helping others do the same

There’s a neighborhood in Antigua, Guatemala where a pick-up basketball game starts every Friday evening. A handful of locals usually come out to watch. It’s an intense, rough game—sweat, blood, tumbling, no mercy. Part of the intensity comes from this group of co-workers’ blowing off steam after a hard workweek. It’s all the more riveting because all the players are in wheelchairs.

The men, all paraplegics, work for Transitions Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides vocational and health education to Guatemalans with disabilities. Transitions provides employment opportunities through two main enterprises: a print shop and a wheelchair shop. That’s right, a wheelchair shop. The primary business of Transitions is making wheelchairs from scratch. It manufactures off-road wheelchairs, refurbishes other types of chairs, and fits and builds prosthetic devices.

Jennifer Smith, an occupational therapist from Minnesota, recently visited the Transitions headquarters in Antigua. Coming from the state-of-the-art facility of Sister Kenny at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis, she was amazed by “how they do so much with so little.” The supplies in their shop were very basic: steel tubing, scraps of vinyl, an industrial sewing machine, and a solitary sketch of a wheelchair design. “I watched as one employee started to sew scraps of material together to make a cover for a foam seat cushion,” says Jennifer. “No measuring, he’d just start sewing.” From these rough outlines, the employees craft sturdy, agile chairs that can navigate the cobblestone streets of Antigua and the steep hillsides of surrounding villages.


Kurdish Refugee Camps in Iraq

This post was submitted by photographer Jon Vidar

I have photographed the Kurdish people of Southeast Turkey for four consecutive summers, and in 2008 crossed the border into Northern Iraq for the first time. Almost immediately I met a young Kurdish man from Syria working at a local rest stop. He told us about the mass riots which resulted in the deaths of dozen of Kurds in Syria. These riots had caused his family to flee their home to the refugee camp where they had spent the last four years.

My fixer and I decided to visit these people in the Moqoble refugee camp outside of Dohuk. What we found was a forgotten people encamped in tents provided by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) that were meant to be only temporary. Women were waiting anxiously for a truck to deliver fresh food. Yet the Kurdish colors still hung high and the people were quick to invite us into their humble homes to offer us water—which we were afraid to drink.


Minnesotans Celebrate Social Entrepreneurs

Social Venture Partners is hosting its Second Annual Engaged Philanthropy Conference Thursday, June 18, 2009. This is a celebration of Minnesota's social entrepreneurs and the engaged philanthropists who support them.

The event includes the Social Entrepreneurs' Cup awards. The first place Social Entrepreneurs' Cup winner will be awarded $20,000 this year and will go on to compete with other divisional winners for an additional $10,000 going to the Grand Prize winner of the Minnesota Cup.

2008 Winners

• Winner: Students Today Leaders Forever
• First runner up: International Breast Milk Project
• Honorable mentions: Marnita's Table, MicroGrants, and the Minnesota Shubert Performing Arts and Education Center

The Engaged Philanthropy Conference promises to be an exciting day for anyone who wants to effect social change in Minnesota.

Social Venture Partners
Second Annual Engaged Philanthropy Conference
Minnesota Cup


The wait is over!

photo | Andy Richter
A few months ago NEED spoke with Eric Howell, the director of Ana’s Playground, and wrote a blog regarding Howell’s short film. Here’s an update from the crew:

Click to view the trailer“We're thrilled to announce that the trailer of Ana's Playground is available for viewing and downloading. We really wanted to create an exciting glimpse of the scope and caliber of the project while not giving away too much of the story. We truly hope you're as happy with the results as we are.”

Watch the trailer
Learn more about Ana’s Playground