Earthquake in Ecuador

The deadliest quake in South America since 1999 recently shook Ecuador. Authorities continue to count the dead, and that number has now surpassed 654. Another 58 people have been confirmed missing. Ecuador’s government stated that 113 people were rescued alive immediately following the earthquake on April 16, and currently more than 25,000 people remain in shelters. A partner of WAR, Int’l informed us there was a second earthquake, a 6.2-magnitude quake, in the same area after the initial blow.

Estimates place the damage caused by the earthquake to be nearly $3 billion for the already economically unstable country. Authorities say the reconstruction effort will take years. This week, survivors of the quake have begun to bury their dead as the world watches in horror. The news broke our hearts at WAR, Int’l as we received word that some of the girls in one of our partner’s programs have family and friends on the coast where the quake took place. Many of these girls still wait to hear whether or not their relatives have found adequate shelter.

In the wake of this disaster, we hope you’ll join us in prayer for the nation of Ecuador. Pray for their reco
very – a long road they will walk in the years to come. Pray for the girls in programs so dear to us, that they would hear from relatives and find courage and strength during this time. Our heart aches for the hurting, and it is our desire to come alongside them in their desperate time of need. Right now, we can do that by getting on our knees in prayer for them, and we hope you’ll join us as we pray for the people of Ecuador.

Refugees at Risk

Refugees. We see them in the news, on magazine covers, in our social media feeds. There are more than 15 million refugees worldwide, coming from such diverse places as Africa, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees). Whether fleeing war, persecution, famine, or natural disaster, all have experienced devastation, and all hope to find safety and a better life at the end of their journey. Yet in every stage of that journey, refugees face danger—not just threats to their physical health and safety, but a very real risk of exploitation.

While any sort of migration is fraught with risk, refugees face an increased danger of being exploited for sexual and labor purposes. For women and children, who comprise eighty percent of the refugee population (UNHCR), the risks multiply exponentially. Particularly vulnerable are unaccompanied females, the elderly and disabled, and children who have been separated from their families. What are some factors that leave this diverse population highly susceptible to trafficking and abuse?


Ripe for Exploitation: Why Refugees Are at Risk

The precariousness of their situation can lead refugees to take risks they would not otherwise take, exposing them to dangers that other migrants would take care to avoid. The trauma inherent in the refugee experience also plays a role, as the resulting emotional damage often robs victims of their self-protective instincts and increases the tendency to engage in risky behavior. These issues render them ideal targets for those who prey on the powerless and defenseless.

Adding to their risk is the disruption of family and community structures that may have protected them in the past. Families are frequently separated during conflict, in flight, or at refugee camps, leaving women and children especially vulnerable. The social structures that may have embraced them in their home communities have often broken down as well. The resulting lack of protection, economic difficulty, and absence of emotional support leaves many refugees defenseless, desperate, and at risk of being exploited.

Finally, refugees often find themselves with little or no legal protection from those who would exploit them. Many are “stateless,” no longer belonging to a country and outside any form of governmental protection. Traditional justice systems no longer exist for them, leaving them without legal aid, support, defense, or representation.

With all of these issues leading to heightened vulnerability, each stage of a refugee’s journey brings exposure to specific risks.


As They Flee: Risks Refugees Face

The risk begins long before a refugee takes flight, with exodus often precipitated by a conflict situation such as war or foreign occupation. Implicit in such conditions are violence, a breakdown of law enforcement and justice systems, and economic disruption—all of which create a ripe environment for traffickers and predators. In addition, the presence of occupying troops brings an increase in sexual violence, while the need for laborers and soldiers results in increased labor trafficking and illegal military conscription.

Once in flight, refugees face a new set of hazards. The forced and desperate nature of their migration often leads them to take drastic measures, including seeking the help of smugglers to get them across international borders. These smugglers may victimize those they are purportedly helping, or they may work in close partnership with drug, sex, and labor traffickers. Refugees are also susceptible to exploitation by corrupt border patrol and labor enforcement agents and even security personnel.

Refugee camps carry their own unique set of risks. Most are not safe or peaceful places. High population density, a shortage of resources, lax security, and a disparity of power render the camps prime spots for exploitation. Refugees often share space with corrupt troops and government officials, traffickers and predators, and arms and drug smugglers. As with conflict situations, the presence of foreign troops and officials creates an increased demand for sexual “services,” leaving unaccompanied females particularly at risk. Children are sought out not only by sexual predators but also by “recruiters” seeking to conscript young soldiers.

Once settled in the country of asylum, a refugee’s susceptibility to risk does not end. The lingering psychological effects of trauma can leave a refugee less likely to tap into social support networks and less able to secure and hold a job. In addition, refugees often face barriers to legal employment, such as lack of authorization, unfamiliarity with local employers and employment practices, and language or dialect issues. The desperation created by such barriers can force women and children into “survival sex” and leave both men and women vulnerable to labor exploitation. All too often, the “new lives” awaiting refugees are not much better than the lives they have fled.


Circles of Protection: Addressing the Risk

Recognizing the unique risks refugees face, WAR, Int’l has extended a circle of protection to various refugee groups around the world. An Eastern European partner recently hosted a retreat for a large group of women from a refugee camp, teaching and nurturing them for several days. Several partners in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe have worked extensively with refugees, caring for orphaned children and providing shelter and job training for adults. Many of the women in partnering African programs are refugees from war-torn countries.

As various groups of refugees flash across your television or your social media feeds this week, remember the extraordinary risks they face, and pray for their safety and strength. Pray also for the partners of WAR, Int’l who reach out to them. Pray that as they nurture and empower the refugees in their care, they will also be able to share the Gospel with them, and that these precious ones who have suffered so much will come to know the One who is the ultimate Refuge.

[A great deal of the information in this article was taken from the web document, “Trafficking Risks for Refugees,” by Anne P. Wilson]

Hope and Healing for Acid Attack Survivors

In the United States, we don’t normally think of acid as a weapon. Yet, thanks to its easy and cheap availability and devastating effects, acid has long been used as a means of attack in some cultures. Dousing the face and hands with this caustic liquid has traditionally been used as a method of revenge or punishment against a woman who has spurned a sexual advance, rejected a marriage proposal, or somehow angered her husband or other male relatives. In addition to the trauma, pain, and disability caused by the acid, the resulting disfigurement often leaves her stigmatized within her community.

WAR, Int’l and its partners recognize the risks faced by survivors of acid attacks and seek to provide hope and healing in culturally relevant ways. We are encouraged to see other organizations doing the same. Although the organizations featured in the following video and article are not associated with WAR, Int’l, we work toward the same goal of empowering wounded women to lead lives of dignity and purpose.

The video above is part of an inventive awareness campaign by an Indian non-profit which supports survivors of acid attacks. Along with makeup tutorials, the organization is sponsoring an initiative asking for a ban on over-the-counter acid sales in India. Meanwhile, other creative enterprises exist to bring hope and empowerment to survivors. Below is a heartwarming story of how a small café with a big goal is making a compelling difference in the lives of survivors.

Acid attacks have always been an issue near and dear to the heart of Women At Risk, International. It was an acid attack on a childhood friend in Bangladesh that ignited a passion for at-risk women within founder and President Becky McDonald. This set the stage for the eventual formation of WAR, Int’l, which continues to be involved in both preventative measures against acid attacks and holistic medical care for victims. We take heart at the growing awareness of this issue, the increasing number of organizations springing up to combat it, the care being offered to survivors, and the resiliency shown by those survivors. We invite you to rejoice with us in these stories of empowerment, opportunity, and hope.


Keep Kids in Vietnam Warm This Winter

Winter in the Highlands of Vietnam can be brutal. Weather conditions are harsh. Many of the children do not have adequate shoes, warm coats or blankets for their beds – basic necessities we often take for granted.

WAR Int’l partners with a program in Vietnam which provides for the needs of children who are living in state institutions, have special needs, or are at risk of being sex or labor trafficked in their communities. The organization currently reaches out to more than 4,500 children who live in orphanages and boarding schools in Vietnam.

school_assembly_Sep '12Over the last few years, our partner has handed out hundreds of blankets and coats to needy children and this year the goal is no different.

This is where you come in. The organization is asking for $5 for a blanket and $10 for a coat, hoping to collect 3,000 of each item. If you can budget to give a $5 or $10 gift, you will help keep a child safe – not only from the winter cold, but from the dangers of trafficking and mistreatment as well.

If you would like to donate any amount to this organization, you can follow the link here.

We are extremely thankful for those of you who will respond to this call to action – providing safety and comfort to children across borders. We encourage you to continue to pray for this organization, that they would be able to not only reach their goal during this fundraiser, but they would impact many more children in Vietnam, sharing the Gospel with them in powerful ways.

As always, if you have any questions about us or how we partner with international organizations to bring a voice to the voiceless, you can email us at

For Kids Only!

Nobody likes to do chores. Working is just no fun when you could be playing with your friends. But lots of kids have to do chores all day without ever playing. Some even have to get jobs so they can take care of their families. Other kids are forced to work all day for no money at all! It’s not fun. A lot of these kids don’t have moms or dads, don’t go to school, don’t have enough food, and don’t feel very safe. WAR, Int’l wants to change all that! We make sure they have a safe place to live, people to love them, and lots of time to play and have fun. You can help too! The money you use to buy stuffed animals, sling shots, bracelets, crayons, and other toys at WAR, Int’l goes right to the places that keep kids healthy and happy! You can also come to WAR, Int’l and do all kinds of jobs that help us keep doing this awesome work. Tell your mom, dad, or babysitter—grab a friend and come on over! We need your help!