Read Below to see how the virtual race COVID funds are being used. Even though the race is over… you can still give to help relief those in South Asia effected by COVID-19.
Islamabad is the capital of Pakistan, the fifth most populated country on earth; It has about 220 million citizens. As with all of Harvest Bridge’s locations, for security, we cannot share exactly where we work. However, we do work primarily in small cities and villages in Pakistan.
For over ten years we have come alongside local Christian leaders on dozens of disaster relief projects throughout the country, helping tens of thousands of families. Under lockdowns, small-scale food distribution continues, with ~$50 supplying a family with food for a month.
Our greatest focus, along with food, is supporting a school in Eastern Pakistan. This school has been giving free education to poor, orphaned, abandoned, and exploited children in Pakistan since May 2012. It is a Christian school employing Muslim and Christian teachers and teaching ~90% Muslim and ~10% Christian students.
The school director says, “The school has been sharing the love of Christ among Christians and Muslims and has made a great impact in the lives of those who had hatred-filled hearts and hostile behavior towards Christianity. It has always created a great gospel bridge for us. This mercy ministry has been more successful than any other ministry we have ever done!”
Although small, the school has set an example for the town of what it can look like for Muslims and Christians to work together and it has created more respect from the Muslim community towards the Christian community.
In the economic fallout of COVID-19, helping children with school supplies and equipping the school with cleaning supplies will make it possible for dozens of children to continue their education despite this crisis. It costs about $50 for one child to return to school.
Srinagar is the capital of Jammu and Kashmir, India. With a population of 13.5 million, this region is located in the northern part of the Indian subcontinent. Harvest Bridge works throughout the region. Along with the difficulties COVID-19 poses in India generally, Kashmir faces unique and severe vulnerabilities unlike other parts of the country. Since 1947-48, when the newly-independent nations of India and Pakistan fought their first war over which country the Muslim-majority princely state of Kashmir would accede to, the portion of Kashmir controlled by India has been governed according to Article 370 of India’s constitution. Article 370 granted Kashmir substantial political and economic autonomy. However, on August 5th, 2019 India unexpectedly revoked Article 370 and placed Kashmir on strict lockdown to quell protests against the unpopular move.
Due to years of militant insurgency and protest against Indian occupation, Kashmir is no stranger to curfews, internet blackouts, and economic shutdown – but the lockdown starting in August 2019 became the longest on record, and just as it was beginning to be eased the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Thus, Kashmir has been on lockdown for over a year. This situation is likely to continue as India struggles to contain the virus; consequently, the poorest and most marginalized in Kashmir remain especially vulnerable to economic shocks and food insecurity.
Hundreds of families and several thousand men, women, and children have already received food relief. This need and opportunity will continue. It is about $80 for a month of food and hygiene items for a family of 6-8 people.
In addition to food relief, Pastor Peter* explains, “Our Kashmiri people lost their dignity when the militancy started in 1990. From that year on, Kashmiri youth had lost all their basic needs like jobs, education, etc. It has been the worst lockdown due to strikes and curfews from August 2019 with the abolition of article 370, and now due to COVID-19. Every market, transportation, school, etc. are closed.
Due to continuing conflict in Kashmir, there has been a phenomenal increase in psychiatric morbidity. The result revealed the Increased prevalence of depression in the region. Over 456,000 people have lost their jobs since August 5, 2019. Due to this, people are particularly involved in drug addiction; around 90% of drug abusers are between the ages of 17 and 35. So, our team has decided and is praying for the unemployed youth, for jobs, and to receive a double portion of the blessing instead of shame. So, we have planned a project to purchase pull carts so that our youth can earn their livelihood to fulfill their basic needs. By getting pulling carts, they can sell vegetables, fruits, ready-made garments, etc. Each cart and upfront cost is $275.”
So, alongside food relief, micro-investments in the younger generation is our focus in COVID-19 response.
*Names changed for safety
New Delhi, India
New Delhi is the capital of India, and where our journey through the rest of India has taken us! We come alongside local leaders all throughout India in 11 states and three union territories (more cities and states than we’ll go during this virtual race), so think of this as your overview to India generally! India is the second most populated country in the world, after China, and is on track to surpass China in 2027. Nearly one in five people on earth live in India. There are 121 languages which are spoken by 10,000 or more people in India, and although it is debated how many languages are used in the country, the general consensus is around 780. With 28 states and 8 union territories, India is a diverse country with its geography ranging from the Himalayas to dry desserts to tropical rainforests, and everything in between.
Not only is it home to the largest Hindu population in the world, it is also home to the third largest Muslim population. We directly come alongside the work of about 50 followers of Jesus – reaching their people for Christ through childcare and education, pastor training, women’s business empowerment programs, disaster relief, and more.
On January 30th, 2020, the first case of COVID-19 in India was confirmed in the state of Kerala. The number of confirmed cases rose slowly at first, and the virus’s spread was hindered by a strict national lockdown from March 25th – May 31st, with extended lockdown periods in areas with more confirmed cases. However, despite these efforts, India had recorded 118,000 COVID deaths as of October 24th, 2020.
A low-income country with over 1.3 billion people and high population density, India faces many disadvantages in managing a large-scale outbreak. Physical distancing and proper handwashing are impossible for many millions of the poorest and most vulnerable living in urban slums and rural villages. The nationwide lockdown precipitated a food security crisis among India’s poorest and most vulnerable. Minority religious groups, low-caste people, and other neglected groups have in many cases been overlooked in the distribution of aid. The situation has improved with the easing of lockdown measures and resumption of economic activity, but many severe needs remain and COVID-19 cases have spiked with the loosening of lockdown restrictions.
Harvest Bridge has been superbly well-positioned to respond to these needs through our Indian leaders who have experience in disaster relief. Already over a thousand families have received life-saving food and supplies, and as funding comes in, this relief will continue. Throughout the country, our focus is on food relief, funds for education, and investment in micro-enterprise.
Chennai, Tamil Nadu
With a population of 77 million, Tamil Nadu is the only southern state in India we work in, and the state’s capital city, Chennai, is one of the only major cities in India we work in. This is where Harvest Bridge began, 13 years ago, with a focus on pastor training and development of gypsy, tribal, and leprosy communities.
Chennai, and the state of Tamil Nadu more broadly, emerged as a COVID-19 hotspot early in the crisis. In response to a spike in cases locally after the national lockdown was eased, authorities in Chennai have reinstated several subsequent intense lockdowns. Additional lockdowns are likely as the city continues to struggle to contain the virus; consequently, the poorest and most marginalized in Chennai remain especially vulnerable to economic shocks and food insecurity.
Among the poorest, most marginalized, and most vulnerable in the Chennai region are gypsy and tribal communities, three of which our partners aim to help through this project. Gypsy and tribal peoples, generally considered to be below the lowest castes in India’s social hierarchy, suffer from inadequate housing, low-paying jobs, and poor nutrition. Many are beggars, and their communities are characterized by low educational attainment, low literacy, and severe poverty.
Gypsy and Tribal Empowerment (GATE) was started in Chennai by a local leader, Priya*, to reach gypsy and tribal peoples with the Gospel and to demonstrate Christ’s love through holistic community development. This includes helping communities gain rights to land, education, job training, and proper water and electricity supplies. Twenty gypsy and tribal communities, consisting of several thousand households, are served through GATE’s 13 local missionaries and volunteers.
This is where food relief is focused, as well as on other vulnerable communities in the city. The cost is about $50 per family for a month of food.
13 years ago, in those 20 communities, the number of children in school could have been counted on one hand. Today, 75% of the children were attending school prior to COVID-19. Now, we focus on helping these children afford to go back to school post-pandemic.
Priya explains, “Since people’s economic status has been severely affected by this COVID-19 virus, most of the parents over here are deciding whether they should send a child for begging and collecting rubbish and waste on the roadside to earn money. Since the children of the Gypsies began going to school with other community children in recent years, they have had some improvement in their life. Their parents are also learning some good habits from their children. I have advised them by way of counseling for their lives, especially in respect of education. They are all getting benefits by way of going to school – particularly they are becoming very disciplined, and they are becoming skilled. If they go for jobs in the future, their poverty can be removed. It will cost $30 per child for them to go back to school after COVID-19. Without this help, they may not go to school again because of the cost. I do not want them to go back to their old life, since I see good improvement in their life now.”
Bhubaneswar, Odisha India
The men and women we support in Odisha (formerly called Orissa) are nowhere near the capital, Bhubaneswar, as they are all working in remote villages in this state of 45 million residents. The pastors we come alongside here have been beaten, are often taken into jail for several days, and denied basic social rights because of their faith in Jesus.
When a strict national lockdown, the largest in the world, went into place on March 24th with four hours’ notice, migrant workers originally from remote areas like rural Odisha who were working in India’s major cities were forced to walk back home as public transportation was shut down as well. Millions of men, women, and even children were walking up to hundreds of miles, and some over a thousand miles to reach their hometowns. Food relief in this state went mainly to help persecuted Christians and dozens of these migrant workers who were returning home, most starving and some sick from the virus as well. As the pastors we support are in remote areas, they have been well-positioned to help those that the government and other humanitarian organizations cannot reach. Continuing forward, food relief for those overlooked by the government remains the focus with stringent focus on widows, the elderly, and those with disabilities. It costs about $50 to feed a family for a month.
Rich in history and poor in finances, Bihar, India is the third most populous state in India and the poorest. 124 million people call Bihar home. Although 82% are Hindu and 17% are Muslim, Bihar is where Buddhism began when Gautam Buddha – The Buddha – purported to attain enlightenment here. It has also often been called the “Graveyard of Missionaries”. However, as local Christians share the Gospel and live like Christ, our head pastor in the state, Suraj*, says, “Our persecutors have become our brothers”.
This summer saw unusually severe monsoon floods in Bihar. Floods have affected over 2.7 million people in 26 of the state’s 33 districts. Bihar’s residents have already been suffering due to COVID-19 cases and lockdown; floods have exacerbated these challenges. Officials say northern Bihar is among the worst-hit regions in India because of heavy rains in Nepal, which have claimed at least 132 lives there. Heavy rainfall has swollen rivers that originate in Nepal, leading to increased flooding in Bihar.
Already, nearly a thousand families have been fed and given hygiene items to survive this combined time of pandemic and floods.
Pastor Suraj says this about the past food relief during this season, “The distributions took place in different communities instead of in just one big community, which helped us to reach the selected neediest people specifically. The beneficiaries were migrant workers, the elderly, widows, farmers, and the unemployed. People from all faiths like Hindu, Muslim, and Christian were helped.
There is a married lady with four daughters and one son who is from a Hindu background. They were a happy family with her husband. But sometime back, unfortunately, her husband died and her cruel in-laws threw all of them out of the house. She was not educated enough to get a job. Meanwhile, this virus and lockdown came, mounting their problems. They were struggling in their life when they got a gift of food packets. It brought a great relief and some happiness among their sufferings.
An old man from a Hindu background was working as a gardener in another city, but because of the lockdown he lost his job and returned back here with his family to his hometown. This family and children were going hungry, as they had no work and no money. They were overwhelmed with thankfulness as our team showed them the love of God and a warm welcome.”
These are two examples of nearly a thousand families in this area, all with similar experiences. We will continue to come alongside them as this pandemic and food shortages continue. About $60 helps a family for a month.
*Names changed for safety
Kathmandu, Nepal + Tibet
The beautiful home to Mount Everest! Also, the neighbor to Tibet, where we also support ministry near the border. Nepal, with a population of 30 million, has the distinction of being one of the few countries in the region never to be colonized. As such, it has maintained a rich cultural history and pride, despite being landlocked by the two most populous countries in the world – India and China. It even has its own calendar, called the Vikrami calendar, which is a historical Hindu calendar – while it’s 2020 for most of the world, it’s 2077 in Nepal. Until 2008 Nepal was the only Hindu Kingdom in the world. However, in recent years the church in Nepal has moved into the top ten fasted growing in the world.
The men and women we support are throughout the country, and primarily in mountainous areas. Pastor training and disaster relief has also been one of our greatest focuses of work, with recent work also focused on women’s empowerment and education. Although food relief was a focus early on during the pandemic, moving forward the primary focus of our COVID-19 response will be on education. Our head leader, Shalva*, explains:
“The COVID-19 situation has financially put down almost every poor family who earns all their needs by selling their sweat and labour every day. During COVID-19 they had no work, no money, and no food. Somehow, they survived through food packages distributed by the government, some other social organizations, and the Church. After the relief package was finished most of them have borrowed money or taken advance from neighboring people to buy food and survive, with the condition that they will fulfill the borrowed money through the labour work in their field. So in this situation they can’t send their children to school when they are able to return – rather, they will send their children for child labour… there are many families who are unable to send their children to school, but we have identified through our missionaries and partners children of the poorest of poor families. If additional funding is available, many more children would be able to be helped. If children are not going to school they will engage in child labour, addiction, child abuse, sexual abuse, and the family will always remain in the poorest of poor situation. So, sending those children to school is crucial for helping them to come out from such a situation and poverty.”
It will cost about $30 for the one-time costs of a child returning to school when their village schools open. If they miss this year, it puts them at high risk of never returning to school.
*Names changed for safety
Although many people have never heard of this tiny Buddhist Kingdom in the Himalayas, we support 26 Bhutanese pastors and missionaries in several areas of this mostly mountainous country. With a population of less than one million, if Bhutan is known for anything, it may be that they are the only country in the world to officially measure national happiness. The index is known as Gross National Happiness (GNH) and has a greater emphasis in the country than GDP does. However, depression and suicide are common.
Bhutan has a mandatory national dress code. Men wear traditional, knee-length garments and women must wear ankle-length dresses. The colors give away someone’s social class and status. Uniquely, inheritance (land, house, and animals) is generally passed to the eldest daughter rather than the eldest son. A man often moves into the home of his new wife until he can “earn his keep”. Yet still, women are educated at a much lower rate than men.
The men and women we support focus on sharing the Gospel in their own villages and cities, as well as traveling to even more remote parts of their country. There is a significant emphasis on counseling, sports ministry with young people, and drug and alcohol rehabilitation.
During COVID-19, Bhutan was one of the earliest countries to close its borders in January and used significant testing to trace cases, as well as providing their people essentials during this time of decreased work. With this response, there has not been a single death due to COVID-19. However, with flooding happening because of a significant monsoon season – the worst in 30 years all through South Asia – our pastors have focused on helping vulnerable families that the government has a more difficult time reaching with help. Continuing forward, this will be the focus for combined flood and COVID-19 relief. $95 covers the cost for food for a month, as well as shelter items (tents and blankets).
Bangladesh, a country bordered by India on three sides, and the Bay of Bengal on its southern coast, is a country rarely talked about on the world stage. However, with over 160 million people, it is the eighth most populous country in the world, the most densely populated, and the fourth most populous Muslim country. It is also the home to the largest refugee camp in the world. The 51 men and women we come alongside in reaching their country with the love of Jesus focus on child protection through family care, anti-human trafficking work, and education programs. They focus on economic development in rural areas and city slums. They organize relief programs in their natural disaster-prone country.
Bangladesh is both blessed and cursed by its territory; its land is largely low-lying and highly suitable for agriculture, but also highly vulnerable to flooding, cyclones, and climate change. This year’s monsoon rains have been unusually severe – the worst in 30 years. Flash floods have ravaged houses, farmland, and roads. In some districts, this comes on top of damages and waterlogging caused by Cyclone Amphan, which struck Bangladesh in May.
The leader of our Bangladeshi ministry, Pastor Darpan*, writes, “In many areas, people are still unable to leave their homes due to water from Cyclone Amphan [and additional flooding]. There has been a big delay to remove the water … For this reason, we need to provide food and other contingencies similar to what we did recently with the COVID-19 pandemic relief program. We also need to help flood survivors in other parts of the country. The government is welcoming donor agencies to come forward to do humanitarian service at this critical moment. With COVID-19 relief, the government is distributing food in Dhaka to those who are very poor, but many people in the rural areas are suffering with lack of food because they cannot go for their daily labour.”
Nearly a thousand families have so far received desperately needed food relief in the midst of this pandemic and flooding. And many more will need this help in the days to come. About $50 covers the cost of food for a month for a family.
Darpan shares one example of these almost thousand stories:
“One couple has two sons, whose ages are 13 and 8. The elder son stopped going to school due to his parents’ low income. The younger son is disabled; his vision is not good, but he is still going to school and is currently in Class II. The husband and wife don’t have any land, but are living on vested roadside land. Thy have a dilapidated mud house. They live hand-to-mouth by working as day labourers, which is their only income source.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic hitting their area, the government has kept it locked down from the very beginning, and no day labourers could go for work. So, they have not been able to earn any money or even take a loan from anywhere. This family began to think they would starve. At this time, UBCT was able to offer them a relief token. They received a relief package, which has food that will last for over 14 days when used with other vegetables.
The family told us that the relief was an amazing blessing to them from the living God. They thought it was a great act of Christian love to help those that are facing problems. So, they praised His name with tears and became grateful to us. We said that all the blessings were from God, thanks to Him.”
*Names changed for safety
Myanmar, also called Burma, takes up a land mass the size of Texas, yet has twice the population of Texas, with 54 million residents. A beautiful country with a majority Buddhist population, Myanmar is rich with history, architecture, precious gems, incredible landscapes, and diverse culture. Yet, Myanmar has a long history of foreign colonization and local military rule. After being under a military junta since 1962, a gradual liberalization began in 2010, leading to free elections in 2015 and the installation of a government led by veteran opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi the following year. This has led to an opening of the country, leading to an active tourism industry. Since then, an army operation and genocide against Muslim Rohingyas has damaged Myanmar in the public eye and caused the diaspora of nearly one million refugees into Bangladesh (which created the largest refugee camp in the world, mentioned in our last stop: Bangladesh). It highlights the continuing grip of military rule in Myanmar, even as they held an election on November 8th.
With a network of over 80 men and women throughout the country, Harvest Bridge comes alongside their work of pastor training, child protection and education, women’s empowerment, economic development, printing of theological materials, and disaster relief.
During COVID-19, food relief and micro-investment has been the focus as the government has failed to help its citizens, especially minorities. We are working in remote villages where others cannot reach during this pandemic. More expensive than other countries, it costs about $100 to feed a family for one month. And so far, several hundred families have received this life-saving help. Micro-investment has gone to women who received previous grants to start their own businesses. Now, we are providing a few hundred dollars to help them boost their business again, as well as train new women to also provide for themselves and their families. This investment is on average about $350 per small business.
Port Blair, Andaman Islands
Although it is to the south of Myanmar in the Bay of Bengal, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands are in fact a union territory of India. These islands are home to what is referred to as the most remote place on earth – North Sentinel Island. With a population of just 400,000, the 20 local pastors and missionaries we come alongside have the opportunity to make a large impact on the culture of the entire main island, Great Andaman.
In this time of COVID-19, much like the rest of India, it costs about $50 to feed a family for a month. And as with the rest of India, this $50 will change lives.