"Imagine no possessions, I wonder if you can. No need for greed or hunger....Imagine all the people, Sharing all the world.
Imagine all the people, living life in peace..." John Lennon
The year 2021 and this Christmas is like no other in our lifetime. Nearly two years of battling the coronavirus has devastated our economy, our world, divided families and led to tragic loss of life. COVID-19 has only made things worse.
The capacity to help people and children in need is a measure of our humanity. Hunger and poverty are not abstract; they have a human face as I myself well and truly know. In order to tackle what seems insurmountable, we must encounter the face of those who are hungry and poor in the most tangible way. It is never possible to forget the gaze of a child who is hungry and poor or the desperation of a mother trying to secure her child's next meal. The need for food to sustain one's life is primal yet the ability to do so depends on many complex factors beyond oneself. Today, more than ever, we are continually exposed to and aware of hunger and poverty in our world, whether it is in Yemen, Ethiopia, Congo, Mali, Bangladesh or South Sudan. Yet, the ability to help those who are suffering seems like it can be far from our reach. Many of our brothers and sisters all over the world are surviving on just one cup of rice per day. Intellectually, we understand the common drivers of food insecurity: conflict, displacement, poverty and climate change. We understand the basic human right to life and a basic standard of living, including food. We understand, and we are outraged. But is it enough?
The passage in James 2:15-16, "Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, `Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?" reminds us that faith must be accompanied with action. It is not simply enough to send good wishes with the hopes that words will suffice to alleviate someone's condition. While being empathetic is necessary, it must also be translated into good deeds and real action.
My work with Self Help Africa
This year, yet again, while the coronavirus pandemic has continued to push us apart, it has also pulled us together. Although one-to-one meetings, social, sporting and other community gatherings have been replaced for many by Zoom calls and Skype meetings, other areas of our economy and society have motored along with only minor disruption. Those who have been lucky enough to be facilitated with working from home have had the opportunity, perhaps, to reconnect and spend time with their families and neighbours like never before. While frontline workers, especially – our health care professionals, emergency service workers and the multitudes who work in the retail sector to keep us supplied with life’s essentials – have continued, in 2021, to be the new heroes of our communities.
In my work with Self Help Africa, I have to admit that I’ve badly missed the regular interactions I enjoyed with the many friends, donors, and volunteers who support us in our work. While I was lucky enough to have a few outdoor fundraising events over the past number of months, unfortunately, I have not been able to organise many of the usual fundraisers such as cycles, runs or raffles. In addition, I miss sharing laughs, visiting clubs, schools or communities, but if coronavirus has taught me anything, it is that we are all in this together. I am very proud of the spirit of solidarity that has been shown by the vast majority of people across our island. Without the many volunteers and supporters the length and breadth of our country, Self Help Africa would not be able to continue its life-saving work. We are extremely grateful to everyone for being part of our team to help some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in Africa.
Hunger and Poverty
Hunger and poverty are problems that have plagued humanity for thousands of years and they continue to haunt us today. For many, the coronavirus has made circumstances even worse than they were. As the world shut down, pandemic restrictions interrupted supply and distribution, making food less available and affordable. COVID-19 has been a multiplier and a magnifier of global hunger. Africa has also been fighting more than a global pandemic these last two years. Some of its countries have been experiencing intense humanitarian crises, with nations wrestling against high hunger rates, civil unrest, natural disasters, and public health threats that aren’t the coronavirus. Not only has Africa been left behind on the mission to secure enough COVID-19 vaccines for its population, it is also home to some of the world’s hunger hotspots with two out of three people in the world impacted by food insecurity living on the continent. Action needs to be taken to make sure that Africa’s people are considered in global recovery efforts, and that the continent is not left behind by any means.
Indeed, global extreme poverty is expected to rise even more yet again in 2021/22 for the first time in over 20 years as the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic compounds the forces of conflict and climate change, which were already slowing poverty reduction progress, according to a recent World Bank report. It says that the COVID-19 pandemic will push an additional 115 million to 150 million people into extreme poverty this year, with the total rising even more in 2022, depending on the severity of the economic contraction. Extreme poverty, defined as living on less than $1.90 a day, is likely to affect between 9.1% and 9.4% of the world’s population in 2021/22, according to the banks new Poverty and Shared Prosperity Report. Had the pandemic not convulsed the globe, the poverty rate was expected to drop to 7.9% in 2020. It is difficult to accept, and for some even difficult to believe, that there are still children going hungry in our world. According to the UN, more than 10,000 children die every day because of hunger, which means over 310,000 children will die of hunger in December alone. More than 1 in 5 children globally (22%) under the age of five are ‘stunted’ because of poor nutrition or repeated infection. Every child deserves a healthy start in life. However, there are far too many starving children in Africa for whom hunger is a constant, chronic pain.
In sub-Saharan Africa, a shocking 28 million children are experiencing stunted growth due to malnutrition. Stunting prevents children from developing to their full potential mentally and physically, and it is largely irreversible. Stunting is not the only form of malnutrition that affects children. Worldwide, one in four children is stunted. Three-quarters of them live in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. However, while stunting has declined by more than a third in South Asia since 1990, in sub-Saharan Africa, the number of stunted children is still on the rise, up 12 million since 1990 to 56 million. Forty percent of all children in sub-Saharan Africa are stunted. Children who have severe acute malnutrition, the deadliest form of extreme hunger, can succumb to the disease in just a few days. Children who die in this way suffer immensely as their vital organ functions slow down and eventually stop. It doesn’t have to be this way for children. One in ten people worldwide has malnutrition and the gap between their needs and humanitarian assistance is widening all the time. It’s time to act. We need your help to alleviate the hunger crisis in Africa today.
Self Help Africa works to alleviate the extremes of this poverty crisis, and each year the Irish public support us – by buying ‘virtual’ gifts like livestock, beehives, seeds and other tools and equipment for rural poor African families. Our Christmas Lifetime Gifts provide a great opportunity to give something thoughtful to your nearest and dearest, and at the same time give something thoughtful to someone you’ve never met – but who really needs it. Imagine the impact that a new beehive – together with training, support, and a swarm of bees – could have for a rural poor mum in Kenya or Uganda. Once they’ve received training in how to make and properly maintain their hives and their swarms, a new beekeeper can earn more than €40 per season per hive – and they very often have five or six occupied with bees at any particular time. It’s the same with gifts of chicks, or pigs or goats – they provide families with a vital source or income – and also the security of having something that they can sell if they find themselves in need of income, at a particular time.
It’s been awhile since I was in Africa to visit some of our projects and meet the communities where we work. When last there I met some extraordinarily brave and articulate women who were experiencing harsh difficulties gaining access to food for their children. They told me what a debilitating experience it is and was. It damages their children's growth and ability to learn. It brings the kind of anxiety and stress that can trigger mental-health issues and malnutrition in their children that can also cause much loss of life. It creates an unshakeable sense of hopelessness, and it is deeply demoralising. Families like these – that were fighting to put food on the table before Covid-19 - now find themselves in an impossible position where months of lockdowns, restrictions and quarantines have seen millions of parents and children experience additional food insecurities. We have all been hearing much about social values and moral duty recently. So why are we able to live with the fact that millions of children still go hungry every day? We all need to take responsibility and fight against the inequality which forces so many families into poverty and have mothers, like those I met in Africa, struggling to feed their children. We in Self Help Africa believe that agriculture remains vitally important to the lives of people and to the economy of the African countries where we work, and where most people rely on small-scale farming for their survival. I’ve seen at first hand how the ‘help up, not a hand out’ approach that we’ve taken has had transformative effects, and that by providing farming households with the means to grow and earn more, we have given them, and the next generations, a better, and a fairer chance in life.
In Kenya the last time I visited I spoke to a 35 year old mother, Mary, who was selling milk to the Keringet Dairy Cooperative and was earning a decent living from her efforts. Thanks to the support she received from Self Help Africa she was growing more than an acre of elephant grass which she used as fodder for her animals, and was supplementing her income as a ‘paravet’- visiting other livestock owners and checking their animals for parasites and disease. We had trained Mary in her supplementary career, and she was loving the experience and the opportunity to help others in her community. The Keringet Cooperative is a dairy and horticultural cooperative that’s been supported by Self Help Africa for over 10 years, and is now a key processor and bulker of milk in a region where many households keep dairy cows as a source of food and income.
At Keringet they’ve installed a chilling unit and other equipment to process and add value to raw milk, and have a network of freelance collectors who pick up small churns for transport to the plant – much the same as happened here at home in Ireland until not that many decades ago. After visiting the coop we called to Mary at her homestead, and I had a chance to speak to her teenage son Lawrence and daughter Joan, and heard from both that they were still attending school, and were aiming to become the first generation in their family to complete High School. Their mum was immensely proud of the pair of them, and said that she wanted to support both of them for as far as they could go with their education – and predicted that both would some day achieve their goals – to become a doctor and a surgeon, respectively. Mary was aware that they had a steep hill to climb – not least of which was the costs of continuing education, but on top of that the cost of the accommodation and subsistence that would be necessary if they moved out of home to rental accommodation in Nakuru, the Western Kenya city where the nearest university was located.
Mary wasn’t sure she could afford to send both of them to college, and although the chance would come to Lawrence sooner than it would to her daughter, because he was a grade ahead in school, she was determined not to discriminate against her oldest daughter. “I understand the challenge and I understand that the easy thing to do is to send Lawrence to college and for Mary to get a job nearer to home,” she said. “But she’s so bright, she deserves the same chance, and I’m going to work very hard to provide it for her,” she pledged. Self Help Africa works with hundreds of thousands of hard working families like that of Mary, and they all have similar hopes and dreams – that their children might enjoy a better life than they had themselves.
Please, if you can afford to, make a donation to help us continue this work with some of the world's poorest people. Why not organize with your family, friends or businesses an event during Christmas or during 2021/22 or to make a donation, buy Lifetime and Christmas Gifts or support our One Million Trees Campaign and find out more about the work of Self Help Africa to “Act locally but impact globally”. You can make a credit or Laser card donation by phoning ((01 ) 6778880 or simply send whatever you can afford to Self Help Africa, Westside Resource Centre, Seamus Quirke Road, Westside, Galway or to Self Help Africa, Kingsbridge House, 17-22 Parkgate Street, Dublin 8. If you are interested in finding out more about Self Help Africa’s Lifetime Gifts, or want to find out any other ways you can help us in our work, just visit www.selfhelpafrica.org, or drop me a note at email@example.com. I’d be happy to chat!
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