When I read audiobooks, sometimes a passage goes by and I find myself driving along, thinking “did I really hear what I think I heard?” That was the case in a passage of Dreams of Joy by Lisa See when the protagonists are traveling from Shanghai into the countryside, to rescue a family member from starvation during the Great Chinese Famine. As Pearl drives along, she and her companion discover a field where people are in holes. The people are alive, but they can’t get out of the holes (they have been left to die). At first Pearl sees just one person, and she is starting to think of how she can rescue the person. Then she sees that the field is filled with others in the same situation. She is resigned to the fact that she can help no one as her companion Z.G. reminds her that they are on their way to rescue their own flesh and blood.
Like Pearl, when I learned from OxFam America of the desperate situation in the Sahel, and the need to put this situation back in the minds of people, I wondered what I could say or do that would make a difference to even one person in the Sahel. The difference between Pearl’s situation and mine is that she existed in a work of fiction (although the famine was very real); the people of the Sahel are at the epicenter of a crisis and their situation is very, very “non fiction” and we do not have to leave them behind to die.
The Sahel is a region of West Africa, spanning the southern border of the Sahara Desert, where drought and rising food prices have put an estimated 18 million people at risk of hunger. This number is very likely to increase in coming weeks.
Harvests were poor last year, and drought this year threatens to exacerbate a situation that is already dire. People forage for wild food and search anthills for bits of grain.
“The situation is difficult here. There’s a problem of rain. It’s been irregular,” said Founé Danfakha, a 60-year-old grandmother of four from Bembou, Senegal, who grows rice, maize, and groundnuts to feed her entire household. “If there’s not enough rain, there won’t be a harvest. And if there is no seed, there’ll be no harvest.”
1 million children are at risk of acute malnutrition. Parents are forced to sell essential tools and livestock in order to feed their families.What can you and I do to help any of these 18 million people? There are several things.
Donate online via this link. Oxfam America always aims to use your gift to help build lasting solutions to poverty (as opposed to short term fixes).
Spread the word about this issue. Even if you can’t donate right now, you can raise awareness; that can make a difference too. This infographic presents the facts really well. These facts speak for themselves; they go beyond numbers and stats about this crisis; they speak to my heart and emotions.
Support community development When I tweeted on Friday about my plans to blog about the Sahel this weekend, @martinpenner suggested this:
I must admit, I have a lot to learn about what can be done to increase community resiliency. It is mentioned in this informative and compelling article by Nathalie Bonvin as a key strategy to impacting this problem. Gotta say, Martin, learning more is on my to-do list!
Teach your children. Those of you who know me personally know that I am a big believer in “showing” children the issues that exist in our world rather than only “telling” them. I have only been able to travel internationally to see poverty (and the most incredible people) first hand, but that week taught my teenager (and me) more than any book ever could. Show your children what you can; encourage them to care. Few of us can travel; everyone can watch a YouTube video:
Spread the word. In our age of social media connectedness, it is easy to forget that the old fashioned method (conversing) works just as well. That was the case for me yesterday when I was telling people about preparing for this blog. Face to face — mom to mom — friend to friend — sometimes the most elegant way to ignite interest is to invite someone to learn along with you by saying, “I’m learning about the Sahel – have you or your child heard of it?”
There are several graphics here that can be shared via Facebook and Twitter.
Speaking of spreading the word, celebrities are investing their time and fame to help remediate the funding lag that exists. These celebrities include Kristin Davisand Djimon Hounsou.
I agree with Hounsou: “To some of us, this problem is a world away and is easy to ignore, but I implore you to pay attention.”
Visit Djimon Hounsou’s personal fundraising/awareness page here.