Christmas is a joyful time of year in Australia. Churches host more frequent services, carols play on repeat in shopping centres, and many of us look forward to celebrating with family and friends through good food and gifts. 

But as we put up our Christmas lights, we know there are millions of families for whom Christmas will happen in the dark. COVID-19 continues to affect people living in poverty, and conflict and environmental crises increase the dangers they face daily.   

As many of us settle down for Christmas dinner, we remember in the following that many of the communities we serve live in parts of the world where such celebrations won’t be the norm.  

Pacific 

Where we work: Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands 

COVID continues to spread in many Pacific Island countries. Both Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands lag behind global vaccination rates due to the unequal distribution of vaccines around the world. Vaccine hesitancy also hinders progress. As of October 2021, the Solomon Islands and PNG had vaccinated just five and two percent of their respective populations. 

The Pacific region is also extremely vulnerable to climate crises. Sea-level rise and natural disasters threaten communities and their livelihoods, as communities adapt to changing conditions. 

Spotlight: Papua New Guinea 

PNG is experiencing its third outbreak, with close to 30,000 cases and more than 300 deaths reported since September. Our PNG Partners continue to battle overflowing hospitals and too few medical staff and supplies in addition to slow vaccine rollout. 

Early in 2021, Baptist World Aid’s COVID-19 Appeal delivered PPE including 2,750 face masks, 1100 face shields, 330 protective coveralls, 3,000 pairs of gloves, 550 pairs of shoe covers and 300 bottles of hand sanitizer. We continue to stay in close contact with our local Christian Partners and pray for quick recovery.  

Middle East 

Where we work: Afghanistan, Lebanon 

Years-long conflicts in the Middle East have displaced millions of people. In Lebanon refugees face obstacles to gaining shelter, work and education, and government removal of some healthcare subsidies have raised concerns that preventable deaths will rise around the country. Meanwhile in Afghanistan thousands have been displaced since the Taliban’s takeover and human rights violations are widespread. 

Spotlight: Afghanistan 

The Taliban continues to restrict the rights of women and girls with regards to work, education, marriage, and travel. 

Experts say there will be more deaths from hunger in the next two months than in the country’s entire 20-year war. 

Baptist World Aid continues to monitor the situation in Afghanistan and advocate to the Australian government to provide assistance to refugees fleeing the crisis. We are actively supporting the work of our regional Partner on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan to provide critically needed emergency supplies to people displaced by the conflict, including food aid, blankets, mattresses and plastic sheets for winter protection. 

Southeast Asia 

Where we work: Cambodia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines

Many Southeast Asian countries have begun recovering from the COVID pandemic. Malaysia, Cambodia and the Philippines are slowly vaccinating their populations and have begun opening their borders to international travelers. At the same time, the region’s economy has taken a huge blow and thousands have been pushed into poverty. Several countries including Cambodia and Myanmar are also vulnerable to natural disaster; both countries experienced major flooding events in 2021 which damaged significant infrastructure and displaced thousands of people. 

Spotlight: Myanmar 

The people of Myanmar have experienced incredible hardship since the military coup in February 2021, which has displaced over 200,000 people and killed at least 1,120. Several Baptist Pastors have been subject to violence, including Baptist Pastor Rev. Thian Lian Sang who was abducted on 16 September and Baptist Pastor Rev. Cung Biak Hum, who was shot and killed while trying to help a member of his congregation whose house was being burned down by the military.  

Baptist World Aid supports our local Christian Partners in Myanmar and the diaspora in Australia. Recently Baptist World Aid participated in a virtual ‘Pray for Myanmar’ event which brought together more than 200 Christians from Australia and around the world.  

‘We are so grateful to have had the opportunity to raise awareness and highlight the voices of the Australian diaspora on the plight Myanmar is facing,’ said Baptist World Aid National Manager for Church Engagement Marbuen Dias. ‘The event was an incredible expression of unity in the body of Christ. ‘

Spotlight: Philippines 

Extreme weather events, particularly hurricanes and typhoons, are common in the Philippines around Christmas time, and 2021 is no different. Super Typhoon Rai struck the country’s southeastern islands on 16 December, causing severe flooding and landslides and displacing around 300,000 people. More than 200 deaths and several hundred injuries have been recorded, though there are fears that the real toll is far higher. A key concern is diminishing food and water supplies, as emergency services struggle to communicate with some of the worst-affected areas. 

 

South Asia 

Where we work: Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka 

South Asia countries have experienced some of the worst of COVID’s second wave in 2021, with tens of thousands of deaths reported throughout Bangladesh. Nepal and Sri Lanka. The region’s infection rates have declined in the latter part of the year, but communities continue to feel the impacts of the pandemic. The United Nations estimates that more than 400 million children have experienced disrupted schooling and millions, particularly girls, will never return to school, as they will instead be forced into marriage or child labor. 

Spotlight: Bangladesh 

Bangladesh has seen an estimated 32 million people plunged into poverty this year. The country’s ready-made garment sector has been a key factor in keeping the country’s economy afloat, yet garment workers continue to experience poor working conditions and low pay. Baptist World Aid Child and Youth Club programs provide necessary help for many families across Bangladesh, as we continue to advocate to clothing companies to improve their ethics and sustainability in their international fashion supply chains. Find out more here. 

Africa 

Where we work: Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia 

It’s estimated that G20 member countries have received 15 times more COVID vaccine doses per capita than sub-Saharan African countries, which have borne the brunt of global vaccine inequity. As of October 2021, less than five percent of the African population had been vaccinated.  

Spotlight: Kenya 

Kenya is currently in the midst of its worst drought in 40 years, and more than two million people have little to no access to food and water. Many informal work sectors such as domestic labour, agriculture and mining have been severely affected due to lockdowns and drought, and with four out of five families in sub-Saharan African countries reliant on informal work to survive, many are vulnerable to forced labour situations or losing their livelihoods altogether. 

Spotlight: Uganda 

Schools in Uganda are set to reopen in January 2022 after being closed for 83 weeks due to COVID. Up to 30 percent of the country’s 50 million school-aged children are expected not to return, with many forcibly married or employed in child labour during the pandemic. 

Child and Youth Clubs throughout Uganda provide opportunities for children to learn about hygiene, skills to grow healthy food to eat and sell, and their rights to a childhood without child labour or marriage. This year more children and their families will not fear going hungry over Christmas and will look forward to returning to school. 

Christmas should be merry for all, but so often isn’t. This Christmas, please consider being a source of light for our partner communities in crises and give to Baptist World Aid’s Hope for All Christmas Appeal.