Helping Victims of Violence Against Women – Like My Mother

Today on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, Kristian Foster of World Vision Canada shares her own story – and describes how World Vision’s work is helping change the stories of women and girls around the world.

I first experienced male violence when I was 12 years old. My mother’s boyfriend grabbed me by my arms and yelled at me for touching his beard. Little did I know it at the time, but he was schizophrenic. I wasn’t really the cause of his anger. Still, my bruises were more than skin deep. I would never touch another man’s face.

In university, my gender relations professor asked us to interview someone about their history with violence. I decided to interview my mom. This was the first time I learned that, before I was even born, she had been kidnapped and raped.

Thankfully, my mom had escaped after four days. She made life as normal as possible for me and my brothers in the years ahead. I don’t know how, but she somehow buried the experience deep down inside, and hid it from the three of us until we were adults. She worked hard to be a wonderful mom, in spite of what she’d been through.

I feel so fortunate now to serve with World Vision, an organization that helps women and girls all over the world. While my mom went through something too brutal to imagine, there was no question that, after her escape, she’d be able to return to our house. I’ve learned that in some countries, many rape victims don’t even have that option.

A weapon of war

Women and girls all over the world are potential targets of violence, whether by family members, boyfriends or strangers. Rape is often used as a weapon of war. The Democratic Republic of Congo has some of the worst rape statistics in the world. In North Kivu during the first half of 2012, it was recorded that 2,517 people, overwhelmingly women, had survived rape.

Safi* is one of those survivors. She was raped by soldiers two years ago while she, her mother-in-law and other women were coming back from the market where they were selling vegetable oil.

“After I was raped, my husband denied me,” she says. “I was rejected. It was so painful to get separated from my children. It was unfair because it was not my fault.”

s130292-1: Bringing Hope of a Brighter Life to Survivors of Rape in Eastern Congo
Safi was raped by soldiers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and blamed by her husband.

Fortunately, Safi met a fellow survivor, Florence, who leads an organization supported by World Vision to provide help to victims of sexual violence.

The journey home

After their recovery, the women are welcomed into a community of other survivors: women and girls who understand what they’re been through. When a woman is ready, the organization reaches out to her family on her behalf, helping them understand that the rape was beyond her control. This begins a reconciliation process with the families, and helps the women start the next chapters of their lives.

In Safi’s case, the process is working. She is back in her community with her family, and now runs her own business. The proceeds have helped the family build a sturdier shelter than they had before. It seems that, as with my mom, rape has not got the better of her.

“I am happy today,” says Safi. “I have all my children with me. My husband also accepted to take me back. I have built a house where (we) can stay. I feel so grateful. Other women like me are still living in huts and under plastic sheets. Others are still being raped or taken hostage in the bush. I can’t forget them, I pray that God’s hands reach and help them just like me.”

A way to help

Many countries have grassroots programs for women and girls who are victims of violence. They offer things like medical care, counselling, and places to live as the victims heal. Like Safi, many rape victims are blamed by their friends and even families. They need advocates as they ease back into normal life. As part of its ongoing work against poverty and injustice, World Vision provides support to many of these grassroots programs.

Safi is living proof that there is hope, even in the darkest conditions. If you are looking for a way to help girls and women, you can choose to sponsor a girl child through World Vision Malaysia.

*name changed for protection

This story was originally shared on Huffington Post Canada.

A day I will never forget

By Mona Daoud
Communications Officer
World Vision Lebanon

Saturday, July 25, 2015 is a day I will never forget. My family decided on a big gathering in a village in Northern Lebanon; a place we visit every summer. I told them that it might be difficult for me to join. They insisted on my presence. It turned out that they were preparing a small surprise to celebrate my birthday. I promised to join them at night as I had to work in the Bekaa Valley that morning.

In my line of work at World Vision, I interview Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Often, they tell me that they have no choice but to send their children to work, because they do not have enough food to eat. When I tried to get more details about the children’s circumstances, the families answered “Come and see for yourself”.

On July 25, at 10 A.M, I went to see the situation first hand. On my way there, I saw open-top trucks going back and forth, packed full of Syrian refugee children and adults standing with limbs hanging out the side of the truck.

Thank God I had another colleague who was able to lead the way and find the agricultural land where the children work, as it was located in a very isolated area. I started to feel scared.There were no road signs, no buildings, no houses. Only landmine warnings.

Our car stopped. My heart stopped.

Stepping out of the car on to the agricultural land where the children and mothers work took me back two years to when I tried to watch the film ‘12 Years a Slave.’ My attempt to watch it failed as I am a very sensitive person when it comes to witnessing extreme violations of human rights, especially when it comes to physical torture. I only managed to watch 15 minutes before I left the cinema, leaving my friends and husband inside.

I did not expect that two years later I would have to watch the same movie again, but in real life. This time, I could not walk away.

I walked robotically towards the land owner who was holding a stick hitting Syrian refugee children in the field.  I said “Good Morning, I am Mona from World Vision”. He replied “Welcome”. He ran to an 8-year old child wearing yellow; hit him with the stick on his back, once, twice, until he fell to the ground. Then, he approached the child and pulled him roughly by his ear until it turned as red as a tomato.  The child in yellow shouted “Mom”. He kneeled on the floor and cried, once, twice, until his mother came to him and said “Ibrahim honey, do not cry”. She spoke quietly. She could not even hug him. She is not allowed to leave work for more than 30 seconds; otherwise her child will be hit on the back.

Ibrahim (in yellow), an 8-year old Syrian refugee, has to work for long hours in
a field in Lebanon, earning $6 (RM25.50) a day.
His family has no other choice to survive.

During those few minutes, while Ibrahim was crying, the land owner shared something with me. “You know, madame, dealing with sheep is much easier than dealing with these Syrian refugee children”. My ears were with this man. My eyes were on Ibrahim. My heart was nowhere. It was broken.

I needed my mind to stay alert so I could record all of the details that will help me tell the world about this violation of children’s rights. “Madame, why are you worried? This stick does not hurt. It only makes the child afraid so they work and produce more.”

Thank God, it was time for the only 15-minute break of the whole day for the children and mothers working in the field. I used the opportunity to run to Ibrahim. Ibrahim was smiling. Like any innocent child I guess, Ibrahim could easily engage in happy moments. But, God only knows how he feels when he lays down to sleep at night.

Ibrahim’s face seemed okay, but his body didn’t. His backbones were visible and his back was hunched. His eyes looked down as though he’d committed a sin. I asked him to raise his head and know that he is a hero. His eyes fluttered. I asked him how he feels. He was too shy to speak. I managed to hold my tears and get my voice out. I told him: “Be sure that God will not leave you”.

I could say no more. I waved goodbye and left. I went to meet my family as I’d promised to do. I decided to keep my feelings on hold until Monday. But, even that failed.

When I arrived and saw my nephews, I experienced a very new and weird feeling. I hugged Mohamad, my 5-yeard old nephew, seeing Ibrahim in front of me. I hugged him for a long time. I turned to see Fouad, my 4-year old nephew running and laughing around the pool. I imagined Ibrahim playing instead of working in the field at the mercy of the stick. I ran to my room, put my face on the pillow, and could not stop crying.

Almost two months have passed since that day. The memory of my 27th birthday celebration has faded but the images of those children working in the field and being beaten by a stick are seared in my memory forever. Now I understand why so many families are risking their lives to flee to Europe.

Today, on 21 September, the International Day of Peace, I am calling on the world to help children like Ibrahim. I see him every time I look at my nephews. I imagine him saying: “My body cannot tolerate the stick anymore”. Peace is not only about ending the war. It is rooted in treating refugee children with dignity and humanity.

There are currently over 4 million Syrian refugees in countries including Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq, around half of those are children. World Vision has reached approximately 2 million refugees, internally displaced people and vulnerable host community members with assistance including food, water, sanitation, health, child-friendly spaces and remedial education. In response to the needs of Syrian refugees in Europe, World Vision has started distributing baby kits and items for Syrian refugee mothers and their families currently living in camps in northern Serbia. Visit to find out more.

Literacy: As simple as ABC?

By Edmond Lee
World Vision Malaysia

Today is International Literacy Day. In more developed countries, the ability to read and write is usually taken for granted. Most of us know our ABCs and every letter that comes afterwards.

Take me for instance: My mother tells me that I knew the alphabet when I was just slightly over a year old. Apparently, I could point to cats and proudly say “C”. When I was in school, the only subject I ever got ‘A’s in was English. My entire career up to this point has revolved around using the written word to connect with people. When people need a word, I usually have just the right one. I think I would use the word ‘bragging’ for everything you just read. Sorry about that.

So when UNESCO says that over 250 million children – including many of the most vulnerable – are not learning basic literacy and numeracy skills even though half of them have attended school for at least four years… it’s a reality check. Without a rudimentary grasp of reading and writing, these children may not make it to college or get a job. Their futures are essentially crippled before they even reach working age. It makes me realise how blessed I am to be in an environment that allowed me to cultivate my command of English.

And how blessed I am to be in an organisation that can do something about illiteracy.

A literacy success story in Cambodia

In November 2014, I had the opportunity to join a group of my colleagues on a visit to World Vision’s Stong 2 Area Development Programme in Cambodia. On one sweltering day, a group of children gathered under a canopy to learn English, led by the local Youth Group.

“Tuesday, 18 November 2014. A, B, C, D…”

Student after student walked forward and led their peers in reciting the words on the whiteboard. They are quick learners, and the constant repetition didn’t faze them at all. Later on, I had a chance to dig through a box of activities, books and games designed to improve children’s literacy in the Khmer language. Story books, word wheels, Velcro-backed Khmer characters and pictures give these children a leg up in learning their native tongue. Even as our guide was showing the materials to me, there were children picking up the books for a quick read.

International Literacy Day_Cambodia
Earlier, we had the opportunity to visit a local school backed by World Vision. The classrooms are fairly basic, but the library is clean, cool and filled to the brim with books of every kind. And of course, no school library would be complete without the sight of children reading happily, the older students reading to the younger ones.

There’s always been a perception that the poor are ‘lazy’.  But watching these Cambodian children would quickly dispel that notion. They WANT to learn.  Grasping and understanding a new language is exciting to them. And again, they’re quick studies. When we taught them a song in English, they were able to sing it fluently within minutes. The question should never be: “Can these children really learn to read and write?” It should be: “Can we give these children more opportunities to learn?”

Through our community development work in Cambodia, more children are being given that opportunity. And much to their credit, they are seizing it with both hands. If anyone can lift themselves out of poverty, it’s them.

So this International Literacy Day, consider how you can give children the opportunity to learn basic literacy skills that will help them later in life. Consider sponsoring a child, which will help support education initiatives like children’s clubs and literacy programmes. And why not curl up with a good book. Literacy is a gift. Make the most of it.

A place at the table

by Rachelle Gan
World Vision Malaysia

You could say food means a lot to me. In fact, food is a part of most of my best memories. Never food at fancy dinners or feasts, but home cooked fare and street food gems. Warm meals shared amongst loved ones at down to earth places which allow for easy conversation and laughter. Knowing all is good as it is, that there are people who will care for you long after the table is cleared.

The significance of what food represents and what we associate it with makes it so much more than just a necessity, although that in itself is significant enough. There is a bond that comes from willingly sharing a meal in good time and talking over your thoughts and experiences. Over time you build your own culture and rhythm, an inner stability you carry with you even as times change and dinner companions are no longer the same.

On a base level these kinds of interactions encourages one to think for oneself, to care for the importance of nourishing oneself, and by extension caring for others. Truly, the joy and appreciation for food is just the beginning, a basic first step leading to a joy and appreciation of the other little things in life.

Admittedly I never had to worry about my next meal, or having enough to eat. There would always be food and all that came with it. Many of us never had to deal with the insecurity of not knowing if one of the most basic survival necessities of humanity was going to be simply, cruelly out of reach. There was always a place at the table for us.

Although I will never fully understand the depths of actual real hunger, it pains me nonetheless to think of the child who does. A lack of food security goes beyond the terrible clutch of hunger, the effects reach far into a child’s life.

A hungry child’s brain and body will not mature as they should without the proper nutrients, and many of these children can be emotionally stressed from the strained home life of a family who cannot afford to buy food. Additionally, their futures are affected should they have to neglect school and work to earn money to avoid starvation.

The few memories these kids treasure will be haunted, maybe even eclipsed by the daily grind of hunger, of uncertainty, of hopes dashed and unfulfilled longing to see past the shadows of poverty. And I believe everyone deserves a chance to be free of such circumstances.

After all, everyone deserves a place at the table.

Click here to help children and families who face hunger and the lack of food security by contributing to the 30-Hour Famine Fund >>

A little girl in Myanmar is fed nutritious food after her mother received training in nutrition and hygiene from World Vision

A little girl in Myanmar is fed nutritious food after her mother received training in nutrition and hygiene from World Vision


by Yuen Shalyn
World Vision Malaysia

The word “Famine” took on a whole new meaning since I started working at World Vision Malaysia. 2014 is my third year participating in this annual event. It never fails to bring about a new perspective each time. This year, I learnt about GRATITUDE.

All staff are encouraged to fast together for 30 hours and this included a time of reflection. It was July 7 when all of us went through our usual day of work without food. It was initially liberating to go hungry for such a cause as we stepped into the shoes of those who struggle with hunger on a daily basis.

But as the day progressed, lethargy kicked in. With the stomach rumbling away, I found it difficult to concentrate. At that moment, the story of children struggling to stay attentive in class cause of hunger became real to me.

Did you know that 66 million primary school-age children attend classes hungry across the developing world? (WFP, 2012)

Well, it was more than a number for me. The truth is that each hungry child is not able to concentrate, learn and perform specific tasks because hunger is very real. Education is one of the basic elements needed to create a safe place for children to thrive, while school meals will provide children at least one full meal a day. This helps children to learn better.

One of themes of this year’s 30-Hour Famine is on Child Safety. Every child should be safe, secure, protected and cherished. When it comes to children, the first thought that comes to mind is my 4-year-old daughter. How we, as parents will always try our best to provide an environment where our little ones can grow and flourish. Some of our concerns may be to provide our children the best education, a comfortable home, and to help cultivate their talents. But for many who are struggling with poverty, their main concern is to SURVIVE with basic provisions such as food, water and healthcare. I feel for the children but more too for the parents who by default are their pillars of strength and refuge.

My personal reflection on gratitude does not stop here. Yes, we should be grateful with how blessed we are while many are striving for mere survival. But more importantly, we should be more conscious on the needs of those struggling and start acting on how we can make a difference in their lives.

We were indeed grateful that our ‘next meal’ was served at 4pm, July 8 (after fasting for a total of 30 hours).

The entire office breaking fast on July 8, 2014

For many, their hunger continues on. Leading up to the Famine Countdown, all of us at World Vision are reminded of how we together with the thousands of campers can do our part in creating a safe place for every child and for them to have hope of a better future!

To learn more about the 30-Hour Famine movement, check it out here:

Mighty oaks from little acorns grow

by Michelle Chun
World Vision Malaysia

My little bit is making a difference somewhere in the world; that’s what I’m conscious of everyday,” said child sponsor, Joyce Lai who is CEO of Educ8 Group Sdn Bhd as well as a merchandising company. Joyce currently sponsors two children through World Vision Malaysia.

Her first sponsored child was Shalini (age 14) from Kangayam, India, whom she sponsored from 2008 until early 2014 when World Vision successfully phased out of the area as the community is now self-sustainable.

“When I first decided to become a child sponsor in 2008, it was because I wanted to help children and was looking for ways to do so.”

A few months after becoming Shalini’s sponsor, Joyce went on a Sponsors’ Visit to Kangayam, where she saw firsthand how her contributions were being utilised to help Shalini and her community.

Joyce surrounded by children during her visit to Kangayam, India

Joyce surrounded by children during her visit to Kangayam, India

“The entire visit was overwhelming and emotional for me, mainly because I was really quite amazed at how my contribution was making such a big difference.

“If you look at the value of money today, RM65 is not much. What I like about World Vision’s model is that it’s all about sustainability: developing skills and investing in permanent solutions.

“It’s not about handouts or about giving for eternity; it’s about pulling them up to their feet and then giving them a little boost so they can carry on themselves,” she said.

During the visit, Joyce was also deeply affected by the work of World Vision’s field officers.

“I felt like my heart was expanding like a big balloon and would burst.

“They sacrifice and give up so much of their own lives, living with the communities to gain the trust so necessary to transformation; their faith must be very strong,” she said, tears welling in her eyes.

When Joyce returned home, she began corresponding with Shalini, who wrote back with tales of everyday life in school and at home. Once, Shalini sent her an entire scrapbook describing her family, community and interests.

In return, Joyce sent storyboards filled with images and short descriptions, introducing Shalini to her family and friends, her work and her travels. She would also send practical gifts.

Looking back on the six years in which she was able to journey with Shalini, Joyce hopes her letters and personal stories have inspired the teenager to hold on to hope.

“I believe we as child sponsors can be the ‘satellite’ that opens up their world to the possibilities beyond their circumstances. We plant hope and dreams in them so they can be inspired to do well in life,” she said.

Joyce finds it rewarding and liberating that Kangayam and the people there are now able to stand on their own feet and believes that their lives will continue to improve from there.

What was the best thing about being a child sponsor?, Joyce replied, “It is learning how every little bit counts in the path to sustainable change.

“Many of us tend to say, ‘Ah, someone else can do it lah.’ But when you’re conscious of what’s going on, you’d take the five minutes or spare what you can to be more caring and giving

“It’s my little bit that is making a difference somewhere in this world; that’s what I’m conscious of everyday,” she said.

Joyce beams as she proudly holds up the scrapbook her sponsored child, Shalini made for her.

Joyce beams as she proudly holds up the scrapbook her sponsored child, Shalini made for her.

Indeed, every bit counts. When you sponsor a child, at least six more children in the community benefit. To find out more about child sponsorship, please call +603 7880 6414 or email [email protected]


Hands up!

by Michelle Chun
World Vision Malaysia

This week (May 1-8) is World Vision’s Global Week of Action – millions of people raising their hands to help children live to see their 5th birthday. While many of us remember our fifth birthdays as a colourful blur of cake, presents and balloons, more than six million children all over the world will simply not live long enough to celebrate five birthdays.

Although the number of children dying under the age of five has decreased by nearly 42% and maternal mortality by 47% over the past two decades, many countries will still not meet the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) targets for improving child and maternal health by 2015.

Child Health Now is World Vision’s five-year advocacy campaign that spans 50 countries and is seeking to end child and maternal deaths. We need to mobilise governments, donors, supporters and organisations toward accelerating the progress made and reducing the number of children and mothers who lose their lives each year.

As Malaysians, let’s stand up this week and raise our hands in support of ending the more than six million deaths of children under five each year. Take a photo, (hands up please) and post it on our Facebook page so children can #survive5!

 Pledge for #survive5 in five easy steps!

1. Whip out your camera or phone

2. Get your family and friends together, explain the Global Week of Action and why we need to remind leaders that all children should ‘Survive 5’.

3. Take a picture of the group members with their hands in the air. Even a photo of one or two persons work!

4. Hashtag #survive5 for your pictures.

5. Upload your photo to:, where you’ll join thousands of people around the globe campaigning for change. Share your photo via your Social Media channels and inspire as many as possible!

We want every child to #survive5!