Have you ever just woken up one morning to realize that your worldview has shifted? Terrill & I have been so busy with hosting visitors for the past few months that we didn't realize what was happening around us. Now we're on our own back in Timu with our eyes wide open at the changes. Hunger...it's suddenly staring us in the face.
Remember watching those commercials on TV about world hunger? The commercials that asked each viewer to help fill a child's stomach. Sorrowful eyes and round bellies would flash across the screen and as a child in a sheltered home in rural Ohio, I felt a twinge of sympathy for those who were hungry. But then the commercial ended and all was forgotten. I was born into a home where there was no hunger. A culture that doesn't really know hunger. And it was easy to forget faces of people that I don't know.
All that has changed. Now the faces of people that might flash across the screen for those commercials are my friends and neighbors. I know their names, how many children they have and the way they like their tea. Think about your own neighbors....those you know the best....the ones who collect your mail when you're on vacation or take care of the dog. What if you went to visit them one evening only to find that they've already gone to bed at 7pm because there is no food in the house to eat and sleeping is the only thing left to do. How would you respond? You'd want to help them, right? Well what if you had 300 neighbors and they were all in this fix?
This is the situation. The land that the Ik people live on and practice subsistence farming on cannot sustain them. They grow enough crops for a portion of the year but not the whole year. They dig and weed their gardens by hand. It's not safe to have oxen to plow with. They would be stolen by the neighboring tribes and people would get killed if they got in the way. There are no tractors around. Some tractors have been brought to Kaabong district for plowing in Karimojong gardens, but they never make it all the way up to Ik gardens. Just another way that the Ik get marginalized by the KJ. So the Ik do 'group work' and dig their gardens by hand in groups. Imagine having to dig a garden big enough to feed your family of 9 people for a whole year. Doesn't sound like much fun, does it?
The Ik used to get food relief from the United Nations World Food Program. In fact, they'd been getting it annually for many years (since the 80's). It suddenly stopped this year and the WFP is pulling out its relief. I believe this to be a good thing that happened the wrong way. People had become dependent upon the WFP and they were not managing their food supplies or families wisely. Since the WFP food was a crutch, they could continue to produce large families without any consequences. They could also eat as much as they wanted during the season of plenty...because they'd be getting food relief during the season of famine. It happened this year again. I watched it happen. My friends and neighbors would cook huge meals multiple times a day and would eat to their hearts content during the harvest season. They didn't save much or think about putting food away 'for a rainy day'. They could use some lessons in food management; someone teaching them how to stretch their resources for 365 days. The Ik don't seem to value planning ahead. They seem to live for the moment and embrace today. They eat like there is no tomorrow; maybe this is a lesson they've learned over time. Too often, there was no tomorrow.
But back to the problem with the WFP pulling out. It's good that they left, but in the wake of their leaving, someone needed to come in and help the Ik develop their economy. If the Ik are to live on land that can't sustain them, they need jobs to survive. But alas, there was nobody to follow the WFP's departure and the Ik are getting hungrier and hungrier. The adults are starting to have prominent bones stick out and bellies that are drawing in....like Charles (below). Charles is married to Sabina and he loves onions in all his food. It hurts me to see him suffer.
The children are beginning to have bellies that poke out and eyes that sink in....like Paul (below). Paul has three sisters and likes to make trucks out of cardboard. It's especially hard to see the children suffer.
The Ik say there used to be more food that could be hunted and gathered. They used to collect white ants from the valley this time of year. They said they would get fat on those ants. These days, it's too dangerous to venture into the valleys and gorges where the ants are because the Turkana are there with guns and more than one Ik has already fell victim to a Turkana bullet. There is also not nearly as much game as there used to be because the animals have been overhunted for too long.
There is something amazing in this sad story. The people are still singing and dancing. They've not lost their capacity to love or enjoy life. A baby boy was born yesterday and we heard a great celebration come from the village. They might not be eating much, but they're still alive. I wonder if we would all respond to these type of circumstances in the same way?
This is a pretty emotional blog for me to write (and I don't usually get emotional on here), but it hits close to home and the subject matter is of utmost importance. Life or death for some. As I've been racking my brain this week about what I can do for this situation....the most tangible thing that has come to mind is that I can pray for these people. I can pray that they find food, that they are comforted in their misery, and that they would find God through their trials of life. Won't you please pray with me for the Ik today...and for all those who across the world are hungry? Thank God that you were born into a culture that never knew true hunger. Thank God that he poured out his grace upon you and you've never had to worry about starving to death. Thank God each and every time you sit down to a meal. It's a privilege not given to everyone.