Famine in the Horn of Africa

Back in 2011, there was a famine in the Horn of Africa. The famine killed thousands and disrupted systems in ways that have not yet been fully overcome. And now the region is facing famine once again. A famine is an extreme, widespread scarcity of food. Famines are usually caused by wars or environmental conditions that prohibit the growth of grass and crops, resulting in the death of livestock and eventually people. The famine that Eastern Africa is facing right now is caused by a drought that is killing off the vegetation and plant life.

The Horn of Africa is a peninsular region on the far eastern side of the continent, and includes the nations of Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea, and Ethiopia. The famine right now is particularly bad in Somalia, a nation of 10.8 million people on the eastern edge of the Horn of Africa. In the north, Somalia is just over 20 miles from Yemen across the Gulf of Aden, so the culture is influenced by both East Africa and the Middle East. The environment is hot, and rainfall is normally irregular, though right now it’s pretty much nonexistent.

According to UNICEF (the United Nations Children’s Fund), nearly 1.4 million children in Somalia are expected to be acutely malnourished this year. Obviously one can die from starvation, but malnourishment can also cause stunted growth, physical and mental impairment, and decreased immunities that leave children susceptible to life-threatening illnesses. Famine also causes people to leave their homes in an effort to find a better situation. This migration upsets education and tears families apart.

This situation is devastating and heartbreaking. Famine isn’t caused by laziness or bad choices, it’s just plain bad luck. And try as we might, we can’t bring back the rain. So while opportunities like education and access to capital are usually the best solution for poverty and hunger, in a situation like this people need an emergency handout to bridge the crisis period. Many of the world’s hunger relief organizations are on the case, arriving with food, water, and medical care to see people through this crisis. But the need is huge. UNICEF estimates 1.4 million children will be affected by acute malnutrition this year, but the adults who care for them will face the same challenges, so the actual number affected is probably double that.

There are three things that we can do from here to support Somalis during this crisis:

  1. Pray – Pray for rain to return to the Horn of Africa. Pray for those who are suffering. Pray for the missionaries and non-profits working to bring relief. Pray that donors and volunteers would step up the challenge.
  2. Give – Non-profit organizations have carefully fundraised budgets and planned programs to manage around the world. This crisis is an additional burden on their organizations. I’ve signed up to raise donations for Feed My Starving Children’s Somalia initiative this summer, and you can make a gift or learn more about that here.
  3. Volunteer – No, I’m not suggesting you fly to Somalia. In fact, I would discourage it. They don’t need more mouths to feed right now! But there are things we can do from here. Research organizations working in the country, and help them raise money. Use your social media following to raise awareness of the problem and the organizations working in the region. Some organizations even have ways that you can help hands-on. Here in the Twin Cities, FMSC is having a special packing weekend June 2-5 at the RiverCentre in St Paul to provide for this extra demand on their resources. I’ll be there packing on Sunday evening and Monday afternoon that week. If you’re in the area and would like to sign up to help, you can find that information here.

This draught and famine will eventually pass, but how many lives will be lost in the meantime? Do what you can, starting, and ending, with prayer!

If you know of other organizations working in the area, or other things that we can do to help, please leave a comment!

 

4 Myths about Poverty and Hunger

We all have some preconceived notions about poverty and hunger, but how accurate are those notions? Here are four ideas many of us have about hunger, and a dose of the truth.

  1. Hunger-related deaths are a problem in developing nations, but not in America:
    Though most of the world’s hunger-related deaths are in developing nations, there are Americans suffering and even dying from hunger and hunger-related illness. The actual stats in the U.S are about .58 of every 1000 deaths is caused by hunger. That’s way lower than places like Ethiopia, but in modern, democratic America, it’s still too many.
    And hunger is about more than life and death. Children who do not get proper nutrients can face permanent physical and mental disabilities, stunted growth, and lack the immunities to fight off other things.
  2. SNAP (food stamps) are frequently abused, with recipients using their benefits for junk food, soda, or pet food:
    In fact, SNAP benefits can only be used for approved items. The benefits are preloaded onto a card, and when the card is swiped only the value of approved purchases is charged to the card. SNAP covers milk, cheese, fruits and veggies, grains, meat and eggs, and other necessary food items. It is not good for the purchase of pet foods, soda, baby formula or diapers, or junk foods like chips and cookies.
  3. In America, hunger and poverty are limited to poor areas like Appalachia, the “rust belt,” and Native American Indian reservations:
    While those areas may have more poor and hungry per capita, the truth is that every single county in the United States has some people living below the poverty line and fighting food insecurity. Every.Single.County. The idea that it “doesn’t happen here” is a lie we tell ourselves so that we don’t feel guilty. Know the truth. There is poverty in your county. There are people who rely on the local food bank.
  4. Poverty is caused by unemployment and laziness:
    Yes and no. Obviously not working means not getting paid, and a period of unemployment can dig a hole that takes years to recover from. But one in four American workers brings home wages at or below the poverty line. Low-paying retail, service, and factory jobs are often not enough to make ends meet. These jobs usually don’t come with benefits, either, so an unpaid sick day can be very costly.

I hope this gives you a better understanding of the realities of poverty and hunger in America today. What surprised you?

Organization Profile: Kiva Microfinance

Thank you for your patience as I have been up to my eyeballs in kitchen remodel and then traveling for Easter weekend. My part of the kitchen remodel (painting the cabinetry) is done, and it’s in the hands of the pros who will soon be installing the countertops and the new sink and faucet. I can’t wait to have it all done!

Over the years I’ve mentioned the power of microfinance in creating long-term change for people living in poverty. The lack of access to relatively small amounts of capital stunts an individual’s ability to build for the future. But I don’t just talk about microfinance; I actually participate in the process.

I currently have a portfolio of four microfinance loans through Kiva. Kiva is a four star-rated non-profit organization that connects private lenders to small borrowers around the world. With an investment of $25 or more, you can become part of a team that helps poor or underrepresented people get the capital they need to start or expand their businesses. The loans vary in amount, as do the borrowers’ projects, but the lenders always chip in at $25 per person. Kiva gives you the tools to choose your borrowers by gender, location, group or individual, and by investment type (education, agriculture, production, etc.). You can narrow down the results and then read through the borrowers’ stories until you find one with which you connect. Some loan projects even have matching funds available, so your $25 can go twice as far!

The borrowers have a repayment schedule, just like a loan from your local bank or credit union, and they pay a little interest. Kiva claims their repayment rate is 97.1%, and the individual stories come with a risk rating to help you chose your project. So far all of my loans (with the exception of the one I made just this week) have started to make repayments.

I make a new loan twice a year, at Christmas and at my birthday. My goal is to build a portfolio of loans large enough that I can continue making my bi-annual loans using only the repayment capital from the old loans. It’s really exciting to read the stories of the potential borrowers and to have the opportunity to support their dreams and a better future for their families. I currently have four loans open, and they include male, female, and group borrowers on several continents. Two of my loans helped small farmers add bee keeping to their family farms – a benefit for the environment as well as the farmers’ futures. One of my loans is right here in the US, helping a small business owner invest in her company. The fourth loan helped a group purchase raw materials for their peanut butter business (my son chose that one!).

I always evaluate a potential project by the long-term sustainability it will provide for the borrower. For example, I would pick a project that helped a farmer get equipment before I would pick a project that provided wholesale goods that would be here and gone. Not that wholesale goods is a bad investment, but I want my investment to keep on giving year after year, making it possible for the borrowers to do more for many years to come. Some of the donors like giving to loans for women in countries where women are denied access. Some donors have a heart for a particular country and make loans in those places.

Participating in a microfinance loan is a low-risk investment. If a loan goes unpaid, you just made a $25 donation – no big loss. But if it gets repaid and you continue to reinvest the money, your $25 could have a tremendous impact for generations to come.

Service Project Playlist 2017

A few years ago, when Food Shelf Friday was new, I did a fun post about songs I like to listen to during service projects. The list was a bit small, and today I was thinking of more great tunes to energize and inspire while serving others, so I decided to brush it up and bring it back. Enjoy!

1. “Do Something” by Mathew West: I love the opening part when he’s complaining about all the trouble in the world and he says, “God, why don’t you do something?” God’s answer? “I did. I created YOU!” It’s an awesome reminder that God put us on this earth to be a blessing to others!

2. “Hands and Feet” by Audio Adrenaline: An oldie, but a goodie (2001, but I could swear it’s A LOT older). Audio A still appeals to this recovering grunge gen-Xer.

3. “Kings and Queens” by Audio Adrenaline: (not the original or newest version of the band, but the brief period when Kevin Max Smith from DC Talk was the frontman). This song is powerful, both lyrically and in presentation. The music video is fun too. It has the band and some Haitian kids having a snowball fight of sorts with color war powder.

4. “Shine” by the Newsboys: Another ’90s classic! It’s upbeat and joyful, and it talks about being a witness by the life-changing joy that springs from your relationship with God.

5. “Wherever We Go” by the Newsboys: Another great upbeat song about the joy and power of knowing the Lord. It’s ok to have fun as you serve the Lord and others!

6. “Give me Your Eyes” by Brandon Heath: Nothing inspires compassion like seeing the world through Jesus’s eyes. I don’t know about you, but I often miss opportunities to help others because I don’t think of it until it’s too late. So this song is like my prayer that I would see things how Jesus sees them: to notice needs and be moved to help.

7. “Fix my Eyes” by For King and Country: This is one of my favorite songs. It’s upbeat and powerful. The chorus lists wonderful acts of service that we all know we should be doing if we’re actively living out faith the way Jesus taught, and then it closes with the clincher, “…above it all – Fix my eyes on YOU!” I love that reminder; it’s easy to burn out trying to be good or do good things when you take your eyes off God and see only the world’s troubles.

8. “Evidence” by Citizen Way: I love the message of this song! “It’s not a flag on a field, not a sign in my yard. Not a cause that I join, not a phrase on a coin, it’s the change in my heart…” Love, acted out, is the true evidence of what we believe.

9. “What are You Waiting For” by Natalie Grant: Sometimes helping others is hard, and affecting real change can feel practically hopeless. But you do have the power to make a difference, so what are you waiting for?

10. “Live it Well” by Switchfoot: This is a new song, and a current favorite of mine. It’s a great anthem about the drive to make your life count and make a positive impact on the world. My favorite part is the bridge, where they sing, “I got one life and one love. I got one voice, but maybe that’s enough. ‘Cause with one heartbeat and two hands to give, I got one shot and one life to live.”

All of these songs can be found on iTunes, Spotify, or YouTube, so check it out! If you have additional ideas, share them in the comments!

Hunger Heroes: Helping Kids Serve their City

I am so sorry that this is late. I wrote it on Thursday then completely forgot to post it on Friday. Better late than never! -K

 

When J was little, he was a big fan of Spiderman and other superheroes. My boy may be big now (16! We’re looking at colleges! Yikes!), but this week I got him to go with me to the Lego Batman Movie. It was fun to relive that part of his childhood together, and we got a kick out of the little kids in the theater and their running commentary during the show!  Kids love superheroes – the costumes and capes, the gadgets and automobiles, the super powers – what’s not to love!?! If your kids are superhero nuts, it can be a great tool to teach them about serving others and how they can be a “hunger hero” in your community.

  1. Superheroes are all about the serve: Ask your kids why Batman protects Gotham City, or why Superman watches over Metropolis. They’ll tell you that their heroes just want to help people. We all have the power to do good and help others – even without a cape. Have your kids brainstorm about ways they can be a hero in their community.
    Random acts of kindness
    – Sharing with friends
    – Picking up litter
    – Helping friends and neighbors
    – Helping out around the house
    – Serving at community events
    – Much more!
  2. Superheroes have the tools: From supernatural powers to high tech gadgets, superheroes are equipped with the tools they need to do the job! Talk to your kids about what tools you need to serve your community. Maybe it’s carrying a bag on your next trip to the park so you have a way to collect litter. Maybe it’s preparing blessing bags, or printing out the food shelf scavenger hunt sheet before your next shopping trip. Being prepared creates awareness of the needs around us and empowers us to help when opportunities arise.

    A few years ago J and I created blessing bags, and while they were great if I was in my car, they didn’t do me much good when I was walking down the street. So I started carrying Subway gift cards in my wallet so I would always have something to offer a stranger who approached me for help. Instead of fumbling around digging for a few bucks in cash (which I probably don’t have on hand), I pop out a card and hand it over. I picked Subway because they’re EVERYWHERE, they don’t serve alcohol, and their food is filling and nutritious. And gift cards take up very little room in my wallet or phone case, so I can always have them on hand.

  3. Superheroes protect their secret identity: The mask and secret identity are standard practice for comic book heroes. The supers are not about praise or fame, but prefer to remain a mystery, popping in to save the day then retiring to a private life. Believe it or not, this is actually biblical! Matthew 6:2 says, “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.” The Bible commands us over and over to help those in need, but we’re not to make it a show. It’s not about us, it’s about making life better for someone else, and showing them the love of Jesus through our actions. Talk about this with your kids. You can even reinforce this lesson by letting your little heroes wear their masks when dropping off food shelf donations or helping around the house.

 

I hope this gives you some fun ways that you can talk to your kids about being a “hunger hero” and serving their community just like their favorite masked men and women!  If you have additional thoughts, feel free to leave a comment!