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Bringing death in Africa to life in America

After seeing true poverty, blogger Joy Bennett realized that she and her family have no idea what being hungry in Africa really means.

After seeing true poverty, and meeting people so poor they could only eat two meals a day, blogger Joy Bennett realized that she and her family have no idea what being hungry really means.

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“Can I have a snack?”

“I’m so hungry mom. Is it dinnertime yet?”

“I’m starving — what can I eat? No, I don’t want that. Do you have ____?”

So much of my day revolves around my children ruled by their bellies. They eat three meals and a snack. The youngest, with his medical condition that requires additional calories, eats two snacks and, if given the chance, would graze all day long.

They fill the air with misery if I dare suggest not eating right that instant. And the days I’m caught empty-handed when they decide they’re hungry? The wailing and gnashing of teeth makes me want to rip my hair out, don sackcloth and ashes, and carry a banner touting “meanest mom alive.”

When I returned from visiting Bolivia, I could no longer smile indulgently at our obsession with food. After seeing true poverty, and meeting people so poor they could only eat two meals a day (no snacks!), I realized that none of us have any idea what being hungry really means.

I’ve been told that starving is excruciating — like having a belly full of bleach eating your organs from the inside. I’ve never truly starved.

We don’t shelter our children from the hard things in this life. We couldn’t — their oldest sister passed away a couple of years ago. When they complain we’re so poor because we haven’t been to Disneyland, we point out the carpet, roof, mattresses, and running water in our home.

Last week we told them about the famine in Africa. I brought it up at dinner where we have world map hanging on our dining room wall.

“Look up here. This is Africa, and lots of people here don’t have food or water. They are so hungry and thirsty they are dying. They need rain and they need help.”

“You can die if you don’t get food?” my daughter asked. I nodded.

“Can they go somewhere else?”

I explained that they had to walk for days, sometimes more than a week, to find water and food.

“Can they eat their animals?”

“No, honey. Their animals don’t have food or water either, so the animals are dead.”

“Can they collect rain and drink that?”

“Not in this part of Africa. It hasn’t rained in a long time.”

To help them grasp the situation, I opened my laptop and pulled up Jon Warren’s photo journals and some World Vision videos. The kids stared at the makeshift tents of sticks and cloths, the dirt floors, and the dirty clothes and faces. The kids cheered at the photos and video shots of water tankers and people with large jugs full of water.

My husband told them, “We want to send money to World Vision so they can bring more food and water in on airplanes and trucks.”

Our kids brightened. They understood this.

I explained, “We need to pray that it rains in the Horn of Africa. And I’d like to find some ways to send them more money.”

“We have rice and beans we could send.”

I smiled. “It’s too expensive to send food. The best way to help them is to send money. What do you think we could skip this month so we have extra money to send?”

The oldest slunk down in his seat. “I don’t want to give my own money, mom.” (Here’s where my genius plan to get the kids on board derailed.)

Our daughter suggested we eat African food for a day. I jumped on that. “Yeah, what if we don’t go out for dinner this month and eat African food? We spend around $35 on dinner out.”

My husband suggested a bake sale, and my son perked up. “I’ve been wanting to earn some money. I could do a lemonade stand, and I could keep half the money.”

It was my turn to slump in my seat. How do you explain that people are more likely to buy if they know it’s going to a worthy cause? How do you explain that a third grader isn’t quite what they have in mind?

Eventually we agreed not to buy new toys until Christmas (except for birthday gifts) and to set up a bake sale and lemonade stand. It wasn’t painless, and it sure wasn’t Norman Rockwell. But I believe that because we agreed together on a plan, we’ll keep each other excited. I am praying that my children will discover the happiness found in a small sacrifice that saves lives.

What one thing will you give up to help save lives in the Horn of Africa?

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