WEST AFRICA — They
volunteered to die.
The elderly men and women in
this famine-wracked West African community knew there was simply not enough
food to go around. Unwilling to watch their families starve to death, some made
a choice: They would not eat so that their children and grandchildren might
live. Some have already wasted away and perished — the price, they believed, of
preserving the future.
The babies, of course, did
not volunteer to die, and their mothers were trying desperately to save them.
As local government officials handed out pans of grain, the women swarmed the
site, knowing there was not enough for everyone. They pressed into each other
under the blistering sun, their infants tied to their backs.
“Three babies died that day
from suffocation and heat,” said Kate Gibbs*, a Southern Baptist field partner
for Baptist Global Response, an international relief and development
organization. “I cried.”
Kate and her husband Todd
live among a people in crisis. These nomadic herders usually sell animals to
buy food for their families, but a harsh drought has wrecked their livelihoods.
“Daily, we feel the effects
of the dust blowing across the arid fields,” Gibbs said. “The people all tell
us that the dust blows like that this year because there is no grass to hold
it. That also means no grass for the animals to eat.”
As the animals grow thin and
feeble from hunger, the price they fetch at market plummets. At the same time,
the drought has caused food prices to soar. This deadly combination means
starvation for the people, who are already contending with chronic
The Gibbses’ hearts broke as
the local people spoke of their hunger, and in some cases, showed up at the
Gibbses’ doorstep pleading for food to feed their families. Something had to be
The Gibbses decided on a
food relief program for their community. They worked with local leaders to
identify the neediest families, who would receive a series of food shipments
hauled in on donkey carts. They also planned a de-worming program to kill
nutrition-robbing parasites in the stomachs of the people and their animals.
“Since food security is an
ongoing issue, we hope to help them make the most out of the food that they are
able to obtain,” Gibbs said.
Through Baptist Global
Response, money was allocated from the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund to
purchase grain, rice and powdered milk for distribution. When the supplies
began to arrive for the first distribution, the local people were so hungry
they could not keep to the schedule the Gibbses set.
“The distribution was moved
ahead three days, because when the people heard that the food was in the
storage room at the distribution point, they begged to get it,” Gibbs said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Doukas is
an international correspondent for Baptist Global Response.)