You’ll hear this idiom more than anything else at my house. But I heard something this week that has convicted me of many things; most notably the way we speak.
But first let me assure you, I do feed my children … and they’re not starving.
I’m sure if they think hard enough, they’ll remember that they ate today. Many times. Their bellies are full, their eyes are bright and they’re able to move … not crippled over in pain from not having food in days … or weeks. They aren’t drinking fetid water from a hole in the ground that’s teeming with insects. Or pulling dry leaves from a nearby tree to stay alive.
No, they aren’t starving.
“You want to know how sick and hungry we are? Then let me show you the tombs of my two children.”
I quite literally gasped when I heard this.
My hand then covered my mouth … I felt sick … I couldn’t speak … tears filled my eyes.
The dad that uttered these horrifying words lives in a South Sudanese village. His name is Martin, and he has such a grieved stare in his eyes that I could barely stand to look at. His children were hungry. And he’d lost them because of it.
And when I think of these little ones … their tiny graves … and this father’s despair … I can’t help but feel completely distressed about it. And so I should.
I could have kept his children alive. But if only I knew …
If you’ve read this far I now have to tell you the rest of this story—his village is full of hungry children.
After wrestling with the guilt that I probably threw away enough food to have kept this man’s children alive, I realized something greater. That I owe him so much more than just my feelings.
I have to tell his story … and honor his children.
South Sudan is a mess right now. A young country that should still be bathing in the celebration of independence is instead caught in a web of raging violence … economic disaster … and dire food shortages. Poverty is tightening its grip and the poorest people can barely breathe.
Pushing my shopping cart hurriedly through the supermarket aisles, I paused briefly to glance at my watch.
Four-thirty. Great, I still had time to get what I needed and make my doctor’s appointment.
Weaving past carts filled with food, expertly avoiding strollers,
and randomly placed boxes, I barely slowed down to grab each item off the shelf and toss it in my cart. I was on a roll; a can of peanuts, lightly salted of course … a bag of washed potatoes … risotto rice … a bunch of fresh celery … a dozen free-range eggs … and the list went on.
Within ten minutes I’d finished my shopping, proudly looking at the pile of groceries that now spilled over the side of my cart. I’d checked off every item on my list, and managed to find a checkout aisle with less than four people waiting. I am the greatest shopper in the world.
Out of breath, I now stood impatiently in the checkout line, waiting to now unload everything that I’d just put in. Well, at least they would repack it for me. It was around the time I was contemplating whether I wanted the 2 for 1 candy bar offer that I thought of April. Not the month, but a little one-year-old girl I’d been reading about earlier that afternoon.
Before my frantic trip to the grocery store, I’d spent a few hours with little April. She lives with her mom in a small village in Myanmar. I wasn’t physically sitting with her, but reading her story it sure felt like it. I read about how this precious one had been sick for over six months. That’s half her life.
Her mother shared April’s story with a colleague of mine, and told of how hungry they both were. She earned enough to buy the very basics; rice, and a few vegetables every now and then. But they were never fresh, and something always had to be sacrificed in order to afford them. It was clearly April’s health.
I unpacked my cart, haphazardly placing each item on the belt as the checker scanned, and dropped them in a paper bag. My thoughts were not on whether my eggs were cracked, but firmly focused on April, and the dire situation she was in.
April and her mom had been screened for malnutrition, and the results were not good. In villages across Myanmar (and elsewhere in Asia and Africa), World Concern staff visit children like April and test them for malnutrition and other illnesses. It’s a free service, and the results (while often shocking) can save a child’s life.
I read about how April’s mom carried her to the mobile clinic, sitting quietly on a chair and waiting for the volunteer to call them. April did nothing but cry; not a wail or an impatient tear, but a whimper, as if there was simply nothing left to cry about. Her mom did everything she could to comfort April—making faces, singing, and bouncing her on her knee—nothing worked. So she sat there, totally defeated, and waited for her daughter’s name to be called.
When it was April’s turn to be seen, the nurse first weighed April in a sling, kind of like a hammock, recording her weight before moving onto the next, and most
important test. The nurse delicately threaded a paper tape around April’s upper arm. This measures the mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC) and diagnoses the level of malnourishment according to a color scale—green is considered healthy, yellow shows that the child is malnourished, and red indicates severe and acute malnutrition.
April’s arm was in the red. And by a long way.
The cheerful grocery checker had almost finished packing my groceries, but at this stage all I could think about was April, and all I could hear was the beep … beep … beep … beep … of my food being scanned. Then I saw my total.
I quickly moved my eyes to my two bags of groceries. How is that $181.91?
Little April was starving, and here I am buying $181.91 worth of groceries. Her tiny immune system simply didn’t have the energy to keep on fighting, and so it was slowly giving up. She needed nutritious food, and quickly.
Thankfully, that’s exactly what World Concern is doing for hungry children in Myanmar and other communities like April’s. So after the clinic visit April’s mom was given an emergency food kit and told lovingly to come back when the basket was empty to receive more.
The basket they carried home that day was filled with locally-sourced, highly nutritious, fresh food—a bag of potatoes … nuts and beans … rice … fresh vegetables … free-range eggs—pretty much everything that I’d just bought.
And the cost of the emergency food kit? Only $22. I could feed 8 hungry children with what I just bought.
Collecting my receipt and trudging out to the car, I cringed at the abundance that was around me. Food was readily available. I had money to buy it. And I was about to visit my family doctor.
Later that evening I spoke with my son about April, and how we could give a hungry child basically everything I’d bought at the supermarket, for just $22.
My son is seven, and his response to me was exactly what ours should be:
In the back of her classroom in rural Haiti, 12-year-old Dashna often puts her head down on her desk and prays. The pain in her stomach gets to be too much and she can no longer concentrate on the lesson being taught. She winces with pain and silently cries out to God for help.
Worms are ravaging Dashna’s insides, sucking away vital nutrients she needs to grow like vitamin A, and causing her excruciating pain. Can you imagine try to learn in a classroom when you are in so much pain?
This is common in places like Haiti, where children walk barefoot, drink from filthy streams contaminated by raw sewage, and parasites are rampant. Worms enter the body through dirty water, or when a child eats or touches her mouth without washing her hands after going to the bathroom. They can even enter through the soles of her feet.
Once worms enter a child’s body, they multiply and begin their painful pursuit of eating away at what little food she consumes. Sometimes, this can cause her stomach to hurt all day long.
Even more, parasites spread easily between family members living in cramped quarters with no access to toilets or a way to wash their hands. Because of this, Dashna’s two younger siblings are also sick.
The good news is that deworming medicine is inexpensive and can begin to work within hours of taking the pill. When coupled with vitamin A, which is depleted by worms, and long-term solutions like clean water, sanitation, and hygiene training, the 44-Cent Cure can prevent reinfection.
“When you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.” Proverbs 3:24
Most of us love to sleep. We dread the alarm clock that interrupts our blissful 8-hour escape to dreamland. We look forward to weekends when we can catch up and sleep in a bit. As we get older, we appreciate bedtime more.
Good sleep protects our health, boosts our immune system, and helps our bodies and brains restore themselves. Most of us live in places where we can lock our doors at night and sleep in relative peace without fear of harm. It’s a blessing we often take for granted.
I was reminded of this while touring an exhibit at Medical Teams International yesterday. Visitors are invited to step inside tents and shelters that serve as homes for people in places like Haiti and Uganda. Imagining the discomfort of sleeping on the ground with six people in a tent was troubling, but what disturbed me the most was thinking about the insecurity these families must feel when darkness falls.
They have no doors to lock, and a plastic tarp offers no protection from potential intruders.
During an interview last summer, a South Sudanese widow named Rebecca told us she is haunted by memories of hiding in the bush at night with her children when their village was attacked. “The memories of war … there are many,” she said. Those memories have become nightmares now and she has trouble sleeping. “Thank God I am alive. That day was horrible.”
In Somalia, families fleeing violence and famine travel by foot for weeks in search of food and water. About 80% of them are traveling without a male companion. They sleep outside in the open air. Many women are raped along the way, or even after they reach the refugee camps in Kenya. In spite of this, one mother told us, “I will sleep better at night, knowing my children have something to eat in the camp.”
Those who have survived a sudden disaster, like the earthquake in Haiti, often sleep lightly with one eye on the door and are jolted awake by the slightest sensation of shaking. Others living in crowded tent cities for months fear the danger of intruders. Families who have received new homes from World Concern are grateful to have doors and windows, they tell us.
Being able to sleep is one of blessings of having a home.
Tonight, when you crawl into bed, take a moment to thank God for the gift of a good night’s sleep and say a prayer for those who don’t have this.
It has been 30 years since HIV and AIDS were discovered. In some ways it seems like a short time, but in reality, it has been a long, hard-fought battle. There are still 34 million people living with HIV/AIDS. For them, and their children, we need to intensify the fight.
World Concern’s mission is to reach the most vulnerable first – in this case, the children orphaned and affected by AIDS and their caregivers.
Children in Haiti are typically born into a family that survives on less than $100 a month. Eighty percent of the population lives below the poverty line and more than 40% are unemployed. There are about 120,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in Haiti. And there are hundreds of thousands of children who have lost a parent to AIDS or whose lives are affected by having a sick parent.
We work in impoverished communities in Haiti ensuring vulnerable children are in school, have nutritional and psycho-social and that their families have medical care, health and hygiene training and more. We’re also reaching thousands of people with AIDS prevention information to help stop the spread of this disease in Haiti.
One of those we’ve helped is Marie, a widow whose husband died in the earthquake. Marie has four children. And she has AIDS. When we met Marie, her biggest concern was not how long the tent they were living in would hold up. What kept her awake at night was worrying about what would happen to her children if she died.
We connected Marie with the support she needed to stay healthy and provide for her kids. They’re getting nutritious meals and an education, and Marie attends support groups for people living with HIV and AIDS.
“I learn about my disease, what causes it, and I get my questions answered. We pray together,” she said. “I found the support I needed here. They’ve helped me.”
For Marie, for her kids Suzeland, Blondel, Jeffton and Luckny, the fight against AIDS is not over. We need to keep fighting with them.
This World AIDS Day, take a moment to learn more and get involved.
You can honor a loved one this Christmas with the gift of support for an AIDS orphan. Find out more here.
Chelsi Wylie is passionate about supporting the 44-Cent Cure. She has seen first-hand the painful effects intestinal parasites can have on a child.
Her daughter Brookelyn developed a scaly spot on her scalp when she was 2 years old. Her pediatrician thought it might be psoriasis or ringworm, but when it spread to the size of a baseball and Brookelyn’s hair started to fall out, Chelsi knew something was wrong.
“She would cry and scream when I brushed her hair. It was so painful,” recalled Chelsi, who took Brookelyn to a dermatologist, but still had no answer. The pain went on for months, until finally Brookelyn was diagnosed with pinworms – a common form of intestinal parasites.
“I didn’t realize you could get worms here,” said Chelsi. “I thought that was a third world problem.”
After receiving treatment, Brookelyn was cured.
Recently, Chelsi heard about the 44-Cent Cure on KLTY 94.9 FM in Dallas and learned how World Concern is helping cure children in poor countries from parasites that deplete their bodies of nutrients and make them too sick and lethargic to attend school. The cure costs just 44 cents.
“I have to get involved in this,” Chelsi told her husband, who agreed. “After all Brookelyn suffered, we don’t want any other children to suffer like this.”
Chelsi asked her friends and family to support the 44-Cent Cure last Christmas and raised $650 – that’s enough to cure more than 1,400 children! Now, she’s planning fundraisers at her church and in her hometown.
Thankfully, Brookelyn is now a healthy 5-year-old. “We’re fortunate to live where we have access to healthcare, clean water, and a place to go to the bathroom,” said Chelsi. “But people are suffering all over the world.”
I’m sitting in a packed church in Port-au-Prince, with 500 people filling every row, the concrete stairs, and the balcony. The sermon today is not delivered by a pastor. Instead on this hot Thursday, health workers are delivering the vital message about cholera: how to prevent it, how to treat it, how to survive an illness that can kill within hours.
World Concern’s work here at Eglise de Dieu Jean 3:16 is likely saving lives. People in the audience are learing a health message that they have not heard before. The interactive lesson allows questions from the audience, and people do have questions.
Though you may know cholera is spread with contaminated water, feces and unsanitary conditions – many people in Haiti don’t know. Superstition often precedes knowledge. In the past few weeks, dozens of people involved in voodoo have been lynched for the baseless belief they are spreading cholera. Without good information, people come to their own conclusions. We’re making sure they know the truth – and get basic supplies to prevent cholera’s deadly spread.
Imagine if every child under the age of 5 could be cured from painful intestinal parasites, which infect 40% of the world’s children, causing sickness and malnutrition. That’s about to happen in Somalia, a country with one of the highest under-five mortality rates in the world.
UNICEF has agreed to partner with World Concern in Somalia to distribute 3.5 million doses of deworming medicine (Albendazole). This will be part of UNICEF’s vaccination campaign in Somalia, scheduled for April 2011. There will be enough doses to reach every Somali child under 5.
This comes at the same time we’re launching new clean water projects in northern Somalia, which will provide wells, latrines and life-saving health and hygiene information to thousands of drought-affected people. We’ll also be completing wells in the Juba Valley, which we started before insecurity in that area forced us to halt those projects. Clean water and deworming go hand in hand – access to fresh water, sanitation and understanding hygiene help prevent reinfection.
We’re excited to partner with UNICEF in this amazing endeavor to help children in Somalia enjoy healthier lives!
To learn more about the 44-Cent Cure to rid children of intestinal parasites, click here.
World Concern is responding to the rapid spread of cholera through Haiti with a plan to help protect 250,000 people there by teaching them how to prevent the illness and providing them with the means to do so. We’re also giving them tools and information in case someone in their family becomes sick.
But with the death toll at nearly 800, and 1,000 more people becoming sick each day, some may wonder why we’re not focusing our effort on helping the sick and dying.
Aid agencies that specialize in medical care are doing the hands on work of treating sick patients. World Concern has worked in Haiti for more than 30 years, and we’ve learned a lot in that time. Through long-term relationships in the regions where we work, one thing we’ve learned is how to get vital information in the hands of people quickly and efficiently. And this is what those who are still healthy need right now.
An article on AOL News titled Sudden Death by Cholera a Mystery to Haitians reveals the dramatic lack of information people in Haiti have about how disease is spread and prevented. Some people, the article says, believe cholera is caused by evil. Others believe it is a conspiracy by the government. It’s no secret superstition is alive and well in Haiti, and something this fast-moving and deadly can lead people to jump to conclusions.
“I don’t think it’s a virus. I’ve never met a rich person who caught it. We want the government to say something about it, because I don’t think it came like they say. It’s in the air,” one woman was quoted as saying in the article. It’s hard for us, living in the developed world, to imagine not having basic health and hygiene knowledge. But there are many parts of the world, including Haiti, where millions of people simply don’t understand how disease spreads.
The truth is that cholera is spread only by oral ingestion of the bacteria via coming in contact with vomit, feces, or water contaminated with those things. Hand washing, good hygiene, proper sanitation and avoiding contaminated water (and foods prepared with or washed in it), can prevent the spread of the disease. And if someone does get sick, it is treatable; rapid rehydration can save their life.
This is what people in Haiti need to know. And we’re working to get that information to them quickly. The more they know, the better they can protect their families.
In addition to prevention education, we’re also distributing cholera health kits with oral rehydration solution packets, water purification tablets, and soap to people.
The UN warns that more than 200,000 people could get sick with cholera in Haiti before the epidemic is over. We’re working to reduce that number as much as we possibly can.
With several cases of cholera being reported in the city of Port-au-Prince, World Concern is stepping up our response to the disease spreading by collecting supplies for hygiene kits and preparing to distribute these to more than 30,000 people. The kits will be assembled and distributed within the next few days to people we serve through our HIV and AIDS programs in rural areas, and to the earthquake victims we’re working with in the Delmas neighborhood of Port-au-Prince.
World Concern President Dave Eller is concerned that if cholera becomes an epidemic in Port-au-Prince, it will be a problem for a very long time. He feels strongly that we need to help those we’re currently serving.
“It’s the responsible thing to do, to protect the people who God has given us to walk alongside,” he said. “This is one more tragedy they may have to endure. I wish that we were in a place to have a response beyond these people, but for now, they’ve been given into our care. They trust us.”
The hygiene kits will include:
Water purification tablets
Oral rehydration packets
We’re estimating we’ll need to spend a minimum of $45,000 to get these kits and information in the hands of Haitian families, but it could cost up to $80,000.
We know that cholera spreads easily in crowded conditions with poor sanitation, and that pretty much describes the situation in Port-au-Prince, where hundreds of thousands of earthquake survivors are living in tent communities.
World Concern has responded with carefully planned prevention strategies: training our field staff about the disease, its symptoms, how it spreads, and ways to improve hygiene to stay healthy. They, in turn, are passing that information along to people we work with. Now, that information will come with supplies to help keep families healthy.
If you’d like to donate to the Haiti cholera response, please click here.