I remember donating a few dollars and even helping raise money after listening to a speech about the famine in Ethiopia and the horn of Africa. The speakers berated our leaders for not doing more and for the weakness of the UN in its efforts to feed the starving masses. One comment I’ll never forget: “In these times no one should go hungry. Famines don’t happen overnight, so we should be able to prevent them!” No, this isn’t a “We Are the World” mid-eighties flashback – it’s from my college years in the mid-seventies!
During the Ethiopia famine of the mid-eighties, we heard an outcry around the world to stop the dying. After all, we had plenty of food worldwide, so how could this happen AGAIN just 10 years later? We were upset that once again millions were starving. Hundreds of thousands of innocent people had already died when news of the famine finally broke.
Today, we see all the signs of a world food crisis again: increasing food prices, lower production of edible food due to weather, emerging economies consuming more than anticipated (India and China), and the poor getting less and less because their money doesn’t stretch as far as it did just a few months ago. Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa have once again been in the headlines.
As the developed world heads into the indulgence of the holiday season, I cannot help but think about those who don’t experience a holiday from hunger. I think about the mother in Haiti who, on nights without food, would boil small rocks and tell her children supper would be awhile. She encouraged them to go rest, hoping their wait would cause them to fall asleep.
Even without widespread famines, children in places like Honduras, Guatemala, Kenya, Uganda and the Philippines are just days away from personal famine because their family livelihoods are so fragile. This kind of famine is not confined to a particular geography, and it doesn’t have a cultural face; it isn’t caused by one crop failure or a drought in one region of the world; it’s not the result of a greedy or uncaring government. It’s many of these things all coming together.
To stop it, we must come together, too. Caring individuals like us need to identify people groups who are the most at risk, and we must act. We – individuals – need to step forward and be first to aid the poor. We need to influence our leaders to help keep grain and rice prices at reasonable levels, and we need to motivate our brothers and sisters in other developed countries to take hold of this chance to help the poorest of the poor.
Almost 1 billion people live in extreme poverty. I know that this number is overwhelming. Each of us has wondered how one person can do anything to put a dent in 1 billion hungry people. The fact is, most of us can’t, but we each can make a difference in the life of one person. You can help one child get at least one healthy meal each day, go to school, and maybe break free from poverty thanks to the chance you gave. If you are ready, we have a child for you.
Matt Panos is the Chief Development Officer for Feed the Children and has served the poor and hurting people of our world for more than 30 years. He’s traveled to more than 40 countries in his service with the poor.