Hunger and heartbreak

This post will make you sad. But I hope you’ll understand that the people you see on tv are real; they just didn’t win the birthplace lottery like we did.

During our first week at KYGN, we received a poignant lesson in food insecurity. Students who come to Kilimanjaro Young Girls in Need are living with extreme poverty. They were not going to school prior to being enrolled, because they couldn’t afford the fees for tuition, uniforms, transportation and other costs to attend public school.

Everyone morning after the second period, all kids receive a cup of porridge and a banana. The bananas are the type that Canadians children would thumb down, but these kids gobble them up because they see them as the sweet, ripe fruit that they are.

Porridge is given to children during break time

Porridge is given to children during break time

Al and I have been helping to distribute the bananas and porridge, because you end up dirty and the buckets of porridge are heavy. We enjoy taking the load off the female cook, and helping the teachers to stay clean just makes you feel good. We need to conserve water when washing our clothes, but we don’t have to worry about it running out.

The first time we doled out the porridge, we put slightly too much in the cups. This meant that about 10 kids at the end of the line had no porridge. We then ran out of bananas because there wasn’t enough.

Some of these kids only get a bit of rice, or maybe some vegetables at home. Their bodies desperately need the caloric intake they get at school.

You can imagine how horrible Al and I felt. There were three kids at the end of the line who had neither porridge nor a banana – they were going to have nothing to eat.

We had brought some apples for our snack, so we handed them to the kids. Their faces burst into big smiles, because apparently apples are a delicacy their families can’t afford. Suddenly they went from sadness to joyfulness to be at the end of the line.

To better understand the difference the school is making for the children’s nutrition, we began weighing them this week and checking their height. They were off school for about a month, so we wanted to know who had lost weight, as well as whether there were signs of abuse. It’s not uncommon for children to be beaten with sticks by parents who don’t know any better. We’ll know the results later on.

The girls have continued working with the two Kindergarten classes, and Al and I have been hopping from one class to another when a teacher is working specifically on English.

Al even spent some time with a machete cutting down massive prickle bushes that were creeping into the dala dala as it passed by. We were worried that someone was going to have their faced ripped if the side of the van passed too close.

In my last English class on Friday my lesson ended early, so I had the children sing English songs that we both knew. Then I sang songs that they had never heard (hilarious!). After that was done, I asked them to sing songs in English that I didn’t know.

Kilimanjaro looms at the back of the schoolyard

Kilimanjaro looms at the back of the schoolyard

The first song was about Kilimanjaro and the pride Tanzanians feel in the mountain. The next was something about a camel and the refrain was about shaking their “booty”. It seemed slightly inappropriate but super funny to see them all do it.

Then the last song went something like this:
I remember to take care of myself, I remember to take care of
People are being killed by HIV, I remember to take care of myself
You remember to take of yourself, you remember to take care of
People are being killed by HIV, you remember to take care of yourself
We remember to take care of ourselves, we remember to take care of
People are being killed by HIV, we remember to take care of ourselves

I’ve forgotten the tune so the words are not quite right, but you get the picture. Can you imagine a group of Grade Three students singing a song like that in Canada?

You’re going to hear a lot about famine in Ethiopia and Somalia in the next few weeks. You will continue to hear about deaths from HIV in Africa. If you want to do something to help, give to a large international organization like the Canadian Red Cross, or research and find a legitimate, smaller organization.

KYGN also takes donations and I’ve hyper-linked their website (the charity is based in the UK and I’ve met the people handling that aspect). If you could see how bright and resilient these kids are, and how hard their teachers work, you would have no hesitation!

11 Comments on “Hunger and heartbreak

  1. It is one thing to see things like this on TV, but another to experience them ‘hands on’. What an experience for all of you to read, sing, and talk to them in English. They must love being around all you, no doubt the children will miss you when you leave. We truly don’t always remember how blessed we are to live in Canada.

  2. Oh Heather, what a great read and wonderful what you, Al and the girls are doing in helping out and teaching the young girls. They are all such adorable looking children! An eye opener that we shouldn’t complain of what we have in this great country of ours! Many lessons to be learned!
    Thank you.

  3. Such a wonderful and heartbreaking post. Thanks for sharing this, Heather. What a journey you’re on…

  4. Very powerful story Heather. A great reminder that being born in Canada is a privilege we should never take for granted.

  5. Thank you Heather for the very moving account of the pre-semi famine in that part of Africa things are going to get worse. It is a horrible thought to think about. We are only about 80 years removed from that kind of a situation in our hemisphere.
    Grandpa Domenico was VERY serious when he quoted his dad saying to him and his siblings”Make sure that you drink a lot of water during the day because water will give you a feeling of fullness and somewhat alleviate the hunger pangs “CIRCA1920 to1935.
    Aunt Maria in Hrasta says that during the Comunist takeover. 1945 to1955 they suffered “black hunger” total lack of food.
    Even now the refugees from Syria are suffering similar problems.There is one town inSyria that has been without ANY KIND of food for three months… Absolute starvation.
    I am glad that the granddaughter are realizing IN PERSON what hunger is all about.Listening to an old man talking is not the same.
    By theend of the year past we will have received 4000 to 6000 refugees. Depending on who you are listening GP.

    • When the girls get back, you should tell them about their family history. I think it would have meaning for them after their time in Africa. They will have a reference point from the work at the school, as well as visiting Croatia. I think it’s important for them to know! 🙂

      – Heather

  6. It’s is so sad to read about the plight of those children, but on the bright side they are getting some help. But I can help wonder what happens to then when they have finished school. And like you say, Ethiopia and Somalia are also in dire straits. It’s a world wide problem, to which I see no end. It can be very depressing. We have many refugees coming in from Syria. We are expecting 25.000. And to see them struggling and dying before they get to a safe haven is disheartening. But that in it’s self is another story.
    Your time there is going by so fast, but I’m sure that all you all doing there will leave a big impact on the children , and they will remember you always. And give them cause to aspire to a better life.

    • The school’s plans are to keep expanding the grades until they have a full complement of elementary students. After that happens, the kids should be able to enroll in secondary school. Hopefully there will be funds to support them when they get to that level. If they can complete their education, they have a real shot at getting a good job that will get them out of the poverty cycle – especially if they can master English. Here’s hoping…

      – Heather

  7. One more thought.

    I want to thank you for this story Heather. As I write this I can’t help but be mindful of the warm, beautiful home that surrounds me. On a day to day basis I sometimes worry about things that happen in my life….I remember being told that things can always be worse…you should be grateful for what you have. Reading this story I realize that, yes, it can be worse and I should be truly thankful in having the luck to be born in this wonderful country…which allows me to have these worries. If things were different these worries would be a dream, as I would be just trying to survive day to day. Makes me feel a bit ashamed of myself. Thanks for reminding me of what is truly important in my life. I will work on letting these unimportant things go.

    Hugs all around to you and your family.

  8. I wish you could share your story with people in this province complaining about the economy. Compared to these people, we really don’t have much to complain about, do we?

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