I have been back from Uganda for 2 weeks. Back in my comfort zone. I have hot and cold running water just a few steps away at any given moment. My electricity works all the time. I have 3 types of ovens and a stovetop, as well as a refrigerator, which is full of food and spits out luxurious ice at the push of a button. I have a car that can take me anywhere I want to go, at any time I want to go there. These are the things I assume will always be there for me, the things I take for granted.
I do not have to walk several miles each day, with a jug on my head, to get water for my family. I do not have to gather firewood to cook my food. I do not have to wait a month for my food ration to arrive, or figure out a way to make it last so that my kids can eat every day. I do not live in a tent made from a tarp, or a hut made from the mud I made myself.
These differing experiences make me ponder and feel. They move me, and cause me to recognize I could have easily been born in a different place and had a completely different reality. I could have lived in a country where war knocks on your front door, while you are running out the back. Honestly, I am not sure I would survive it, because I am soft. I am not accustomed to the back breaking work it takes, just to make sure my family lives another day. It is beyond my comprehension how strong the South Sudanese people are. If it were me, I would crumble up in the heat and die.
These kinds of trips are perspective changing ones. I knew this would happen, and that my eyes would, once again, be opened to the disparity of the world in which I live. I have heard it said, “We have poor kids here. Why not feed them?” I would agree with that statement. I have 20 years-worth of experience meeting the needs of poor kids in my own community, educationally and otherwise. The schools here feed them breakfast, lunch, and an afternoon snack. They also send home backpacks full of food every weekend. There are food banks, and soup kitchens in our town. The schools have clothes closets. All of the community programs are specifically designed to care for these kids and their families. All of them are important to the well-being of children.
In the refugee camp I visited, there are not the same types of programs. There are monthly rations, and that’s about it. Fending for yourself is the norm. Some kids can do that, and others cannot. Being that 85% of the people in the camps are women and children, it is difficult to make do. It requires the entire family just to survive. The little kids, pick up firewood. The bigger ones walk for water. They plant and try to make the dry dirt produce something edible. It is a life of survival which produces a survival mentality. Thinking past today is a rarity. Going to school, if you have one near enough, is a luxury.
The Greater Hope Schools Initiative, just started a school lunch program at Hope Primary School in the camp. The parents of the students do the cooking, so all 600 students get one meal each day. The pictures show smiles from ear to ear, as the children eat their fill. Learning is increasing, as is hope. All because of one meal a day.
I heard a story once of some orphans who had been through traumatic times. They couldn’t sleep at night, until someone figured out they were worried about when and where their next meal would come from. Each child got some bread to sleep with so they knew they would eat again tomorrow. It solved the problem of not sleeping. For the kids at Hope Primary School to know they will get at least one meal a day, will have a similar effect on their studies. It is difficult to concentrate when starvation is rumbling around in your stomach. The difference on their faces, after just one week of the lunch program, is remarkable.
I am not sure why it has to be either we feed kids here, or we feed kids there. Why can’t we feed both? It seems to me that all children should have the right to survive and to thrive, no matter what country they live in. It is not up to me to pick which ones need help. They ALL do. So rather than wall my heart off, I have opened it wide, and despite the pain of seeing the hardships, I have also seen a spark of hope beginning to flame up. The smiles of the students are amazing to witness, because this lunch brings life to them, in more ways than one.
To find out more about the lunch program go to The Greater Hope Project