What kind of Silent Night do people have this Christmas?

The carol says “All is calm, all is well “ but to many life is neither calm or well. By the end of August 2014, the UN estimated 6.5 million people had been displaced within Syria, while more than 3 million refugees had fled to countries such as Lebanon (1.14 million), Jordan (608,000) and Turkey (815,000). At least 113 dead, more than 100 missing in Myanmar landslide. Jade miners were killed when 60-metre-high mountain of earth and waste collapses, burying makeshift huts where they slept.

But over a billion are struggling to survive even when there is no natural or man-made disaster. In sub‐Saharan Africa and South Asia, there are approximately 400 million and 500 million extreme poor people who earn less than US$1.25 per day. We need to do more to address the root causes: hunger and malnutrition, access to health care, water, sanitation, energy, trade barriers, gender equality, access to education and so forth.

Tackling poverty is made more difficult by the presence of corruption. Channel News Asia 1 Dec 2015 reports:

Rising mistrust of international charities and a public push for greater transparency on spending in corruption-prone crisis zones are compelling some non-government organizations (NGOs) to hire a new recruit – the criminal investigator. In a bid to prevent as well as report fraudulent activity, Plan International, Oxfam GB, Americares and International Medical Corps are among those to have appointed trained counter-fraud directors at their head offices. Others, such as Medicins Sans Frontieres, Handicap International and Action Against Hunger use auditors and finance officers to handle cases of fraud. The growing trend to hire criminal investigators comes after the NGO sector has doubled in size in the past decade with a Thomson Reuters Foundation survey finding 50 of the world’s biggest humanitarian NGOs spent US$18 billion in 2013-14. This rapid growth has fuelled concerns over a lack of accountability with the annual Edelman Trust Barometer finding NGOs were the most trusted of four institutions but trust slipped in the past year with a perception they had become too money focused.

OHF has from the very beginning focussed on fraud prevention and wastage and as reported by the Straits Times, runs its charities like an SME. To survive against their bigger competitors, SMES are very cost conscious and focussed on delivering their services at the lowest possible cost. For OHF, we look at the benefit-to-cost ratio where benefit is what the poor gets and cost is the dollar spent to deliver than benefit.

OHF’s founder Robert Kee has written a book “Changing Lives: the Hard Truths about helping the poor”. The hard truth is that it takes a lot of personal dedication, commitment and perseverance to make real and substantial difference to those living in extreme poverty. While bringing bags of used clothings and toys may make us feel good, it does little to alleviate poverty. What is needed are long term programs with substantial investment in infrastructure, staff and a sizable budget to support the project. We want to escalate our house building program in Cambodia from 50 houses a year to 500 houses and the number of toilets from 400 to 1,200. The number of children in our three homes in Cambodia, Nepal and Thailand will double from over 200 to nearly 400.

There are many opportunities to do more from starting skills training schools to building earthquake resistant houses in Nepal. With over 15 years of hands-on experience, we are at the tipping point to do more, better and faster. There are many where Silent Night means a night of quiet desperation, sleeping in run down shacks and worrying where the next meal is going to come from. There is a silence that speaks of hopelessness, of struggling to survive off small rice fields and coping with sicknesses and malnutrition. But we can make this a joyful Silent Night where truly all is calm and well. Our skill training courses give hope to rural youths who feared their ten years of education would be wasted if they go back to be rice farmers. The training provides them with the skill set to work with their brains rather than work as a labourer or sex worker. Our child sponsorship provides orphans and abandoned children with a home where they can learn and develop self-confidence. We are happy to see so many of our alumni, the children who have graduated from our homes, posting their life activities on Facebook!

It is wonderful to see happy grandmothers who because of the house we build for them now have neighbours coming over to chit chat! One 80 year old grandmother was so grateful that she insists in giving Robert a massage. What is irreplaceable are the tears of joy that are shed by volunteers and family members when the house is completed. A guiding principle is to love our neighbours as ourselves. Jesus gave us two simple commandments: Love God and Love our neighbours. Robert has written a book “Love your neighbour” that details what the Bible says about helping the poor. We can and we should make this a joyful Silent Night for others as in the eyes of God, we are ONE family.

Robert Kee

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