Bringing death in Africa to life in America [LINK UP]

“Can I have a snack?”

“I’m so hungry mom. Is it dinnertime yet?”

“I’m starving – what can I eat? No, I don’t want that. Do you have ____?”

So much of my day revolves around my children ruled by their bellies. They eat three meals and a snack. The youngest, with his medical condition that requires additional calories, eats two snacks and, if given the chance, would graze all day long.

They fill the air with misery if I dare suggest not eating right that instant. And the days I’m caught empty-handed when they decide they’re hungry? The wailing and gnashing of teeth makes me want to rip my hair out, don sackcloth and ashes, and carry a banner touting “Meanest mom alive.”

When I returned from visiting Bolivia, I could no longer smile indulgently at our obsession with food. After seeing true poverty, and meeting people so poor they could only eat two meals a day (no snacks!), I realized that none of us have any idea what being hungry really means.

I’ve been told that starving is excruciating – like having a belly full of bleach eating your organs from the inside. I’ve never truly starved.

We don’t shelter our children from the hard things in this life. We couldn’t – their oldest sister passed away a couple of years ago. When they complain we’re so poor because we haven’t been to Disney Land, we point out the carpet, roof, mattresses, and running water in our home.

Last week we told them about the famine in Africa. I brought it up at dinner where we have world map hanging on our dining room wall.

“Look up here. This is Africa, and lots of people here don’t have food or water. They are so hungry and thirsty they are dying. They need rain and they need help.”

“You can die if you don’t get food?” my daughter asked. I nodded.

“Can they go somewhere else?”

I explained that they had to walk for days, sometimes more than a week, to find water and food.

“Can they eat their animals?”

“No, honey. Their animals don’t have food or water either, so the animals are dead.”

“Can they collect rain and drink that?”

“Not in this part of Africa. It hasn’t rained in a long time.”

To help them grasp the situation, I opened my laptop and pulled up Jon Warren’s photo journals and some World Vision videos. The kids stared at the makeshift tents of sticks and cloths, the dirt floors, and the dirty clothes and faces. The kids cheered at the photos and video shots of water tankers and people with large jugs full of water.

My husband told them, “We want to send money to World Vision so they can bring more food and water in on airplanes and trucks.”

Our kids brightened. They understood this.

I explained, “We need to pray that it rains in the Horn of Africa. And I’d like to find some ways to send them more money.”

“We have rice and beans we could send.”

I smiled. “It’s too expensive to send food. The best way to help them is to send money. What do you think we could skip this month so we have extra money to send?”

The oldest slunk down in his seat. “I don’t want to give my own money, Mom.” (Here’s where my genius plan to get the kids on board derailed.)

Our daughter suggested we eat African food for a day. I jumped on that. “Yeah, what if we don’t go out for dinner this month and eat African food? We spend around $35 on dinner out.”

My husband suggested a bake sale, and my son perked up. “I’ve been wanting to earn some money. I could do a lemonade stand, and I could keep half the money.”

It was my turn to slump in my seat. How do you explain that people are more likely to buy if they know it’s going to a worthy cause? How do you explain that a 3rd grader isn’t quite what they have in mind?

Eventually we agreed not to buy new toys until Christmas (except for birthday gifts) and to set up a bake sale and lemonade stand. It wasn’t painless, and it sure wasn’t Norman Rockwell. But I believe that because we agreed together on a plan, we’ll keep each other excited. I am praying that my children will discover the happiness found in a small sacrifice that saves lives.

What one thing will you give up to help save lives in the Horn of Africa?


    Joy ... this is beautiful! The post, the idea and the truth ... that even if when life isn't a 'perfect' picture ... it's still beautiful and we can touch the lives of others.

    (two of my sons were grumbly when they were younger, as young adults now, one is still grumbly more often than not, but the other one is happy the majority of the time ... so you have a 50/50 chance of it changing :)

    Call me a scrooge but my kids are 3 and 2 and we have yet to buy them any gifts for Christmas. They are not deprived because of grandparents and we have PLENTY of hand-me-down toys. I just see it as a waste to buy when they already have so much when so many have so little.

    Teaching early and consistently by example and illustration to give to those who are in need and they will always be givers. It's the who to and by what avenue is the trick. World Vision is secure in the placement of gifts, I believe.
    Give and it shall be given unto you. And what I heard long ago - give out of your need. I hope we all can put a real dent in this famine.

    I really like the way you've said it, Koali -- let's put a real dent in this famine. Thanks for your support.

    It just seems like there has been donating and donating and donating to Africa for so long. I'm watiing to see one of these African children eating a steak. what is up with just pictures of them eating grains with the donations? Ever since I was a kid I've been hearing about "just 10cents a day to save a kid in Africa" and eat all your food because there are starving kids in Africa...What is really going on here? Is there a certain politics to where all the money is actually going? I understand and commend those who do give because we indeed are very privileged in America but how and where is this money going?

    You raise an important question. It is important to give to organizations that build sustainable systems and train local people to lead. We have failed Africa in some stellar ways in the past.

    May I recommend reading "When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor... and Yourself"? ( ) It provides a thorough examination of current strategies and description of what to look for when deciding which humanitarian organizations to support.

    I read the book before going to see World Vision's work first-hand in Bolivia, and I wholeheartedly support World Vision now. They have an approach that works.

    One side note: I'm not sure even the best government and highest quality humanitarian organizations could prevent the widespread suffering we're seeing in Africa. It hasn't rained in three years. Unless you're Pharaoh and you have a Joseph to tell you what to prepare for, you're pretty helpless.

    All really great questions, Telika... tomorrow morning I'm posting a new blog post introducing World Vision's program officer for the Horn of Africa food crisis, Betsy. Would you please resubmit your questions to Betsy's interview post tomorrow? On Thursday she is going to answer the top questions from our readers. I'm confident we'll both learn a lot from Betsy's responses.

    I'm giving up my car! Riding my bike to work for the next two days. I assure you that this is a major inconvenience!

    I got a pending reimbursement from work travel, there's a whole lotta $10s in there. Joy you're not the meanest mom by a long shot, and Katie you're not a scrooge, you're both doing great for your kids long-term. Keep doing that and you'll have the kids I wish I had. As one pastor I know says, helping people isn't a have-to, it's a get-to, it's one of the things we were made for and blessed to do, and truest satisfaction comes from doing what we were made to do.

    I was watching the news last night.They were covering Hunger in the US.They interviewed a VERY large couple with a nice garden of food in the backyard. The lady was sobbing because they didn't have much money etc for food
    I had to change the channel.You are right we are obsessed with good and don't know what real hardship is.Already send check to WV but will eat less Ans send more

    Edit to previous comment: I meant "obsessed with "food" not "good".

    The Bible reads, "Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy" (Ezekiel 16:49, ESV). Of all the things that we know of Sodom...and this is what angered God the most? Could it be that at the root of all their rebellion was their worship of themselves. They would do anything for pleasure. Anything. And nothing for anyone else.

    I am choosing to give up any personal coffee purchases for the next seven days. A small sacrifice, I know, but a daily personal reminder to pray for those who are dying of hunger. A small step in realigning my thoughts, habits, and priorities. Will you join me?

    Another way to help stop the suffering in Africa would be by partnering with one of my favorite organizations called Convoy of Hope (

    Thanks for this post,I posted on my blog to help spread the word as well.This is so heart breaking and I hope things will change.
    I pledge to give up starches for 2 weeks!
    Thanks again,

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