Hunger in West Africa: Putting you in their shoes

You are in a small health clinic in southern Chad. It is 9 a.m. The air is hot, dry, and filled with cries.

You are amidst 40 mothers sitting on the ground or on the clinic’s porch, babies in their laps. Under brightly colored headscarves, their faces look tired, drawn, sad. You catch glimpses of the babies. Their skin is stretched over their chests like paper over wire frames. Their legs are long and thin. Their bellies are protruding. Four of the mothers, clearly malnourished themselves but still trying to breastfeed their babies, are sitting on a wooden bench. In front of them is a row of tall, yellow roses.

You have never seen so much color and sadness in the same place. The contrast is unbearable. But you try to cope.

Then, your name is called out. You look up. But it’s not you who is being called. It is one of the mothers. She struggles to get onto her feet. She walks with her baby into the consultation room. Tears flow down the baby’s face as he is measured, weighed, and the nutrition-monitoring band is wrapped around his arm. You don’t need to wait to hear the results to know that he is severely malnourished.

You ask your namesake about her age. Her eyes tell you she doesn’t know it. “I think I was born in 1990, and my baby is about 1 now,” she says, tugging gently at her baby’s red headscarf, trying to soothe his cries.

Hunger in West Africa: Putting you in their shoes | World Vision Blog

Adele holds her child at the clinic as he receives Plumpy'Nut, a fast-acting nutritional supplement to counter malnutrition.

Then, it hits you. You share the same name. But your lives and your worries couldn’t be more different. Yours revolve around the fear that the engulfing sadness around you would render you useless, unable to do your job. Hers are centered on the sick, fragile little boy she holds in her arms.

In this small health clinic, all 39 of the other mothers share the same worries.

“Priscille…Marie…” Names continue to be called out. “Severely malnourished…severely malnourished” comes the verdict each time.

In West Africa (Niger, Mali, Mauritania, Chad, and Senegal), about 13 million people share similar worries. The lack of rain last year -- combined with failed crops, rising food prices, declining food stocks, and the cycle of drought that has been hitting the region -- have rendered entire families and communities vulnerable and feeling helpless.

“I can’t even look after myself; how I can look after my baby?” asks another mother at the clinic.

More and more people are resorting to desperate measures: leaving their villages and their families and migrating to cities to work or beg. Others are surviving on wild fruits or animal feed. Some are selling their animals, which are their only livelihoods, even though their prices are getting lower while food prices are getting higher -- in some areas, by 100 percent.

This is why we are here. And by “we,” I don’t just mean the larger World Vision team. I mean you, me, and everyone we know -- anyone who might have a namesake in this part of the world.

There is a sense of comfort in the power of humanitarianism, a quality given by God to each of us. When we use that quality, it feels entirely right because we are the eyes, ears, hands, and hearts that make it possible for mothers like Adele and their babies to get help and feel safe. And this is why -- you and I, and everyone we know -- should be here.

Although hunger kills more people every year than AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined, it is also the single most solvable problem facing the world today. We just need to be here.


Over the past year, we've extensively covered the historic drought and food crisis in the Horn of Africa. Though the drought there has been subsiding, people are still hungry, and this new crisis in West Africa is just taking shape. Read another article about how families and communities in both regions are struggling to survive the "hungry months."

You can join our efforts to bring relief to those who are suffering by making a donation to our Lifesaving Food and Care Fund. Your gift will help provide interventions like emergency food aid, agricultural assistance, clean water, and nutritional training in areas where the need is great.

Comments

It wasn't the coffee that woke me up this morning. Thank you for making me cry. This is the most touching piece and to think that it came from a non-profit. It holds a bag of emotions that no matter how much you want to, you simply cannot hide from.

Aren't we all fortunate that we don't need to worry about where our next meal is coming from? Let's not forget those who are not so fortunate.

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