Laura Torgerson is a Southwest Advisory Board member at the US Fund. She recently completed her Masters Degree in Health Communications from Boston University, with an interest in pursuing work in the public health arena. She lives in Houston with her husband and two daughters.
With two million children at risk of dying from malnutrition, disease and dehydration in Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya and other Horn of Africa countries from the worst drought in 60 years, many of us struggle with how to make a difference in such a massive crisis. We can wrap our arms around a donation to provide shelter, food or medicine for one child, but the enormity of this current situation often results in no one doing anything. We become overwhelmed.
|Somalia – Children and women queue for a food distribution, in the Badbado camp in Mogadishu, the capital. The camp, established three weeks ago, shelters almost 30,000 people who have been displaced from rural areas more affected by the drought.|
Friends mention how their own kids react when they see pictures of these children. It is understandable considering that a malnourished child is usually frightfully obvious: skeletal thinness along with a bloated tummy, dry and cracked skin, sore joints and soft bones, disoriented and irritable. They are susceptible to anemia, diarrhea, night blindness and goiter. It is a real life horror show.
As my husband and I talked about making another donation to UNICEF, we were horrified to learn of the decisions that mothers have to make as they leave their houses and possessions to find food or to flee to safety. Many must make a choice between which child to save – which one is stronger, healthier and more likely to survive the long journey. Children are left to die on the side of roads. Parents are dying, leaving kids to walk on alone.
It is simply inconceivable. No parent should ever have to choose between their children.
My own children are five and seven, and due to my involvement with UNICEF, they have been exposed to the hardships children around the world face. We show them pictures of these kids, they read the letters from the children we sponsor, we tell them about what life is like for so many in impoverished countries.
And then, when we are occasionally exasperated by their behavior, we give them “the speech” about how lucky they are to have a home-cooked meal or that millions of children do not get to go to school so they can work in the fields, collect water or simply because their parents cannot afford to pay the fees. (Not always the most mature approach considering sometimes I forget how blessed I am.)
|Laura’s daughters showing their support for UNICEF.|
In the end do my kids really get it? Gosh, I hope not. I worry that if a young child truly knew the horrors of the world, the desperation of a mother, the atrocities inflicted on innocent lives that it just might kill their spirit and crush their hopes.
Yet, I do think they are beginning to understand how fortunate they are to have a nice house, good school, plenty of food to eat, a bed to sleep on and toys to play with. Never mind the piano lessons, soccer leagues and art classes. We continue taking them to shelters to drop off toys they no longer play with and clothes that are too small. They contribute their allowance – sometimes reluctantly – to buy new shoes for kids who have none or buy coats for others in the winter. They rake leaves or vacuum the carpet to earn money to give away. They continually surprise us by rising to the occasion and taking action.
This could be because we present it as helping one boy or one girl, or one family, versus trying to rescue an entire village. But, I think the main reason is they have hope and the belief they can make a difference in someone else’s life. This is not naÃ¯ve or ignorant but the spirit of what makes our country amazing.
The United States continues to be the most generous country in the world, and I believe part of that stems from the desire or dream to make a difference. Every one of us has the power to change a life. And while our country is struggling in our own way with debt, political infighting and high unemployment, we are removed from the horrors of starvation, disease, war and a true struggle for survival. So now, we all need to take action. $10 = 10 days of food for a child in the Horn of Africa.
22,000 children under the age of five die every day from preventable diseases. We believe that number should be zero. Do you believe it, too?