In the early 2000s, Food for the Hungry sent me to the Ethiopia-Somalia border. There, children of nomadic herders were starving to death due to massive drought. We’d provided basic food to the families, but it wasn’t enough.
After two days’ travel by car from the capital, we arrived at a herder camp where we knew there was great need. Some of the community women approached me as soon as I exited the car.
They were angry that their babies were dying. They were angry that they couldn’t help their children. Some were tearful, while others spoke loudly and forcefully. They punctuated their messages with clenched fists. I could see the stress in the muscles of their necks and jawlines as they talked.
Their anger didn’t threaten me, but rather it made me sad. I could see they were at the end of their ropes.
Later, I walked through the collection of shelters, made of sticks and blankets, where the herders lived. Despite the large, loud welcoming committee, the community was eerily quiet. No one walked around, no one gathered to talk. I commented on this to the aid worker walking with me.
“In these communities, when one person receives something, you’re expected to share,” she told me. “It’s a huge part of our culture. But now, people don’t want to share because they have so little. Or they’re ashamed they have nothing to share.”
So they were hiding from view, she continued, avoiding contact and relationship-building. This impending famine fractured their sense of community.
Why Food Is Just a Start
We all know how food is a gateway to improved relationships. Studies show how families that eat together produce happier, healthier children, for example.
Certainly gifts of food are a start to meeting basic needs. When you know where your next meal is coming from, you have energy to connect with others. But rebuilding a community that’s taken repeated blows takes time, effort, and plenty of prayer.
That’s why FH provides ways to build community, alongside our food distributions. For example, our gift catalog food basket helps Bolivian families who’ve had emergencies. Often, neighbors don’t know there are issues. Parents may feel shame that they can’t feed their children and will withdraw from community activities.
But community volunteers, teachers, and our staff may see that children are sleeping in school because they’re not eating well. Or a child’s weight will drop dangerously low. The gift of the food basket is a small thing, but it tells the parents they aren’t alone in their problems.
And that can be the start of relationships that help the family re-enter community life.
You can be part of the chain that provides families with food in the coming months, by providing emergency food baskets to Bolivian families. Help them know that they have value, and are part of a bigger, loving family.