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Stories of resilience and hope from 2021

Tearfund’s International Director, Veena O’Sullivan, reflects on events of 2021 and looks ahead to 2022.

Written by Veena O'Sullivan | 17 Dec 2021

Early in the year I got a phone call from our team in Myanmar. The military had taken power and detained the leaders of the government. Phone connections and the internet were down. No one knew what would happen next.

This felt like a crisis upon a crisis – Tearfund and our local partners in Myanmar were already stretched to the limit with our response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Police crack down on a crowd of protesters with tear gas in Yangon, Myanmar. Credit: Maung Nyan/Shutterstock

For the first few days of the coup in Myanmar, it was quiet. Then, demonstrations started to spring up across the country. The crackdown was violent, with over 1,300 civilians killed and many more arrested and detained. Armed conflict in some areas resulted in thousands of people fleeing their homes.

But our small team in the country were willing to step up their response once again; to encourage one another, to pray bold prayers, and to continue to support those in greatest need.

This is just one of the crises that Tearfund has been responding to in 2021. As I look back on the year, I am amazed by the resilience of our teams, local partners, churches and the communities we work with. There were multiple ‘crises upon crises’ this year, but with God’s help we have been able to overcome challenges and continue to reach the people in greatest need.

Supporting people affected by conflict

Unfortunately, 2021 has been a year marred by conflict and loss for millions of people. In August, the world watched as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan seized control of Kabul. Now, Afghanistan is in the grip of a catastrophic food shortage – half of the population don’t have enough to eat. Tearfund’s local partners are on the ground providing emergency food packages and essential supplies such as winter kits.

Meanwhile, in Ethiopia, conflict between government forces and armed groups in the Tigray region has worsened throughout the year, forcing people from their homes. After months of relentless violence and instability, millions have been pushed to the brink of starvation as they struggle to survive in famine-like conditions.

Our local partner launched an emergency response when the crisis began, delivering food and other essential items. They have also been providing families with cash grants so that they can buy what they need to survive.

A distribution of essential items in Tigray, Ethiopia. Credit: Friendship Support Association

Responding quickly to disasters

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, hundreds of thousands of people had to be evacuated as lava coursed through the city of Goma after a volcano erupted this May. 

Tearfund and our local partners were able to act quickly to reach those in need. The eruption had damaged water supplies in the city but we were able to organise water trucks so that thousands of vulnerable people could access safe water. 

In many disaster-prone areas, we have been training young people to become first-responders. And when a deadly earthquake shook Haiti in August, we saw the impact of this training in practice.

Within a few hours the Tearfund-trained youth network were some of the first on the scene and had conducted needs assessments in the most-affected areas. Tearfund and our local partners were then able to go in and quickly reach those most in need with essential supplies, and begin to help the community rebuild. 

Tearfund staff and volunteers distribute emergency response kits for those affected by the deadly earthquake that struck Haiti on 14 August 2021. Credit: Richard Pierrin/Tearfund

Stepping up our climate campaigns

Once again this year, we’ve seen an increase in extreme weather events and disasters made worse by the climate crisis. From ongoing floods in South Sudan, to extended periods of drought in Bangladesh, to cyclones in Mozambique, we’ve seen the most vulnerable communities suffer, over and over again. 

While we are committed to helping these communities recover and adapt, we also want to address the root causes of the problem – one of which is CO2 emissions from some of the world’s richest countries.

With the UK hosting both the G7 summit and the UN climate conference, 2021 was a key year for us to put pressure on world leaders to tackle the climate crisis. 

We have been so encouraged to see more people than ever before speak up for climate justice, with Christians all over the world rising up and playing their part. 

Tearfund supporters took to the streets of Glasgow, London and other cities across the UK as part of the COP26 Day of Action, and hundreds of churches joined our online church service to pray for the UN climate talks. 

Tearfund also helped a group of passionate young Christians develop their own campaign, Take a Stand, to raise awareness of the impact of the climate crisis and share their concerns with their churches, local MPs and world leaders. 

We give thanks for the progress we have seen so far, but we know that there’s so much more to be achieved to protect our planet and ensure a better future for people living in poverty. We will continue to pray, to act, to hold leaders to account, and to call for justice. 

Tearfund supporters march on the streets of Belfast for the COP26 Day of Action. Credit: Suzanne Simpson/Tearfund

The power of the local church 

In the midst of tragedy and suffering this year, we have also witnessed many stories of hope, of overcoming, and of people coming together to rise up out of desperate situations. 

We’ve seen how Pastor Astin from Indonesia learned new skills so that she could feed her entire community during lockdown, and how Pastor Martin and his church in Bangladesh are helping their community cope with frequent storms.

We’ve seen the power of the local church to both respond to crises and bring real and lasting change to communities.

Members of a local church enjoy fellowship in Kigezi, Uganda. Credit: Will Chamberlin/Tearfund

Hope for the future

The coronavirus pandemic, the climate emergency, and many other crises are still ongoing. Going forward, we know that we will all face more challenges in 2022, but we believe that the church is a crucial part of God’s plan to bring restoration and justice. 
That’s why we can have confidence and hope as we step into the unknown. We will continue to walk by faith and keep our eyes fixed on our God who can do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine. 
Please continue to pray for Tearfund’s work and the communities we serve around the world, and ask that we will be able to reach even more people in 2022.

Written by

Written by  Veena O'Sullivan

International Director, Tearfund

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