It’s sad and unfortunate that I can mention suicide anywhere in the world, and know that people in any culture will understand.
At Food for the Hungry, we sometimes hear sad news about suicides of children in our programs – yes, children. With tears and prayers, we record the children’s names on a memorial wall in our Phoenix, AZ office. We know that child sponsors like you also weep and pray.
On World Suicide Prevention Day, you may wonder how you could do more than simply react to a tragic death.
I’ve visited more than a dozen of FH’s field countries. Most of the children I meet smile, laugh, and play with me. But I have seen others who cower in a corner of the schoolyard. Their slumped posture and sad eyes tell me that they carry heavy burdens on their hearts.
Burden of hopelessness
I’ve shed tears over a teen from Mozambique, a girl close to the age of my sponsored child, who took her life while her mother and prospective groom finished the details on her arranged marriage.
I’ve prayed over news about boy from Bangladesh, who threw himself under a train because the family was in such deep debt to loan sharks.
I’ve held the hands of countless mothers and fathers in Bolivia, Philippines, Haiti, and elsewhere, who cried in pain. They were scared they were failing their children and begged for help. And I prayed, “Lord, please don’t let their despair lead to suicide.”
Preventing suicide with truth and hope
But for all the pain I’ve seen, I’ve also witnessed new light dawning in the eyes and smiles of people worldwide. I have seen how truth and hope can be the first steps to thwart despair.
The TRUTH is, we often need help. Mental illness is real and is nothing to be ashamed of. If we name it, we can fight it. FH’s role in that fight has been seeking out the hurting people hidden from view. They may live in villages reached only by footpath. Or they may be lost among hundreds of thousands living in tents after a disaster.
- After the monster 2004 Asian tsunami, FH fielded trained teams that went from tent to tent, family to family, providing counseling when needed. Our team often found people who needed more than we could give, and arranged for follow-up.
- In Haiti, after the 2010 quake, FH’s Child Friendly Spaces gave children a place to play and learn. We also screened the children for psychological distress. When I visited Haiti in 2010 and 2011, I watched FH staff lead these children in fun games. But I also watched loving staffers ask children how they were doing, and really listening to their answers.
Hope instead of suicide
HOPE is a powerful transformer. You may not be able to hold hands with those in anguish and pray, as I’ve had the privilege of doing. But you can fan flames of hope.
In a recent article about the effectiveness of child sponsorship programs, FH’s President Gary Edmonds commented how FH’s sponsors brought hope to communities, through their monthly donations:
“We have found that where there is child sponsorship…actually, hope rises. Sponsored children have a growth in [their] sense of self-worth. They have a sense that they can make a difference in their community and in their own lives.”
With a name like “Food for the Hungry,” you may assume that FH’s primary purpose is distributing food. We do that, if needed, for short periods of time. When you sponsor a child, you put real people on the ground, in a child’s daily life, who can help children and their parents see a brighter future.
Hear me clearly: There’s no easy answer for preventing suicide. I don’t pretend to be an expert and don’t want to present these comments as a quick fix. I do believe, however, that we Christians can avoid the trap the world sets, of believing it’s an unconquerable problem.