The human face of Kenya’s drought and food crisis

Monica and her five surviving children have been hit hard by the drought in their region of Kenya. This mother hardly has anything to feed her family, and what little the children do eat is often too much for their frail bodies to handle.

Story and photos by Abby Metty. Edited by Rachael Boyer.
Published October 20, 2011 at 12:00am PDT

Monica Nguriakwiang, 27, sits on a dry, weedy hillside at her homestead in northwest Kenya, an area gripped by the worst drought in more than 60 years. Drought in neighboring Somalia has turned into famine.

Monica is married to a man 40 years older than herself. She has already lost two children, and she worries about how she will provide for the remaining five.

Her children sleep in her lap or in the dust around her. She absentmindedly swats flies away from their faces and shares about the hunger and poverty affecting her family, which is compounded by the severe drought.

Too hungry to stomach anything

The drought is sweeping the Horn of Africa, claiming most crops and cattle and thousands of lives across Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya. Many pastoralists who live here depend on their animals for food and income.

Monica and her husband Lokodongar, 67, lost two goats and three sheep in the drought. Now, just nine animals remain.

“It’s not enough,” says Monica. “We sell our goats, especially during the dry season. If anyone in the family gets sick, I take one of the sheep or goats and sell it so I can take them to the hospital.”

The children's lack of energy from hunger is painfully obvious.Monica’s children are so hungry that even when they get a small meal, they cannot hold down the little food they eat. “They become sick when you give them the first meal,” says Monica. “They start vomiting.”

The only way they can hold down food is by eating very slowly.

In search of food

“Mama, I want to eat ugali!” the children say.

“Please, can you keep quiet until I can go and look for food?” a distressed Monica replies.

If she can find maize, Monica makes ugali, a traditional porridge that is little more than ground maize and water. This meal lacks crucial nutrients for growing children and does not give enough energy for work or play. But, it’s better than nothing.

Monica is a wise woman. She keeps stores of maize that she has harvested for situations such as these — seasons when the rains don’t come and the crops fail. But this season has been unusually dry, and her supply of maize cannot keep pace with the advancing drought and consecutive failed rains.

“I am feeling hungry when there is no maize in the stock,” says Monica. “We sleep without [eating] anything…they [the children] just sleep [until] I go and look for anything they can put in their stomach.”

The weary children scattered around her emphasize her point. “Nobody wakes up and plays,” she adds.

A prayer for help

"I pray always: 'God, help me to get something which my children will eat!" says Monica.“I feel so bad. I am worried,” says Monica. “I think, ‘Will they die? What will happen?’”

Monica says that hunger deprives her of the energy she needs to be a watchful, caring mother. “I’m not able to do anything, even go to the river,” she says.

Wracked by anxiety and too fatigued to do much else, Monica can only pray. “I pray always,” she says. “God, help me to get something which my children will eat!”

Learn more

Read the latest updates on the food crisis and famine in the Horn of Africa on the World Vision Blog.

Four ways you can help

Monica’s family is just one story among millions who are affected by severe drought and famine in the Horn of Africa. Pray for the right amount of rain to come at the right time, and for enough emergency help to arrive in the meantime.

Make a one-time gift to our Horn of Africa Food Crisis Fund. Your donation will multiply up to five times in impact to help deliver things like emergency food aid, clean water, agricultural support, medical assistance, and more to those whose lives are at risk from this crisis.

Contact your lawmakers today. Ask them to prioritize the needs of those suffering from hunger as they consider the U.S. federal budget.

Consider signing up your students or youth group to participate in the 30 Hour Famine. They’ll learn about global hunger and experience what it’s like to go without food for 30 hours — all while raising funds to help feed and care for hungry children in places like the Horn of Africa.