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Malnutrition is Real

This headline jumped out at me today when I looked at the All Africa site: "Annual 'Lean Season' Set to Strangle Sahel". Every year people plant their millet and pray for adequate rains to bring full abundant heads of grain. But even when the rainy season has been good, the harvest is never enough to get an entire family through the year until the next harvest. In a good year the grain may last until May. That means that no "free" (that is food they grew themselves and didn't have to buy) food is available from May until October. Not only is no food available, but those are also the months when they expend the most energy doing hard physical labor in their fields.

The article says "'Every year is a crisis year for the poorest people of the Sahel,' said Mustapha Darboe, World Food Porgramme Regional Director for West Africa. 'For too long this has been widely considered to be normal and acceptable. It is not. People should not be chronically short of their daily needs in the 21st century.'

"'Last year's crisis in the region, especially in Niger, was a wake-up call to everyone; invisible hunger and unchecked poverty kill people in West Africa,' he said."

The article goes on to say, "No country in the Sahel faces a more difficult lean season than Niger, where last year's crisis has left a deep scar, pushing thousands of the poorest further into poverty and debt."

Every year is difficult, but Niger has not had a chance to recover from last year's severe famine. These pictures of malnourished children (from are not an uncommon sight in Niger. Consider this. In Niger, according to the United Nations' Human Devlopment Index, 34% of the population is undernourished, 40% of children under five are underweight, and 17% of newborns are born underweight. 61.4% of the population lives on $1.00 a day and 85.3% lives on $2.00 a day.

This little girl by the flower pot is our neighbor. She is not grossly malnourished, but she is underweight. Her hair is dry and brittle and often yellowish in color. In this picture she is 5 years old and about the size of a 3 year old here in the US. Fortunately we're able to help her family with food or she would probably be severely malnourished. She's as cute as can be and I miss her!

Contrast this to the US where 15.3% of the children ages 6-11 are overweight and 15.5% of adolescents ages 12-19 are overweight. Here the headlines read "Overweight Kids: Schools Take Action", "Bullying Keeps Overweight Kids from Exercise", "Helping Your Overweight Child", "BlubberBusters: Overweight Kids site", and "Overweight children: Healthy Lifestyle Tips".

I'm not trying to lay a guilt trip on anybody. But I know as well as anybody about the abundance of food here in the US. I feel guilty myself when I think of how much I've spent on chocolate candy, my weakness and a real source of enjoyment. What if instead of buying chips and candy we don't need we sent that money to Samaritan's Purse ( , Compassion International ( , or World Vision ( Could I challenge you with that?

By the way, many of my Nigerien friends would think Americans are beautiful. They aspire to be fat and think it's beautiful because it is a sign of being rich enough to eat bountifully. They often tell me that if they were me they would make Yaaye (John) buy them a big bag of rice so they could get fat. One lady told me she thinks I'm pretty because I have big hips!! How do you like that for honesty?

But, seriously, it is hard for us to go from the poorest country in the world to one of the richest and soon we'll be going from one of the richest back to the poorest. And we'll be arriving during the lean time. We'll go from seeing overweight Americans to undernourished Nigeriens. We'll have hungry people at our door every day. We daily live with a certain amount of guilt when faced wtih the dichotomy of what we have and what our neighbors have (or should I say don't have). When you look at the pictures I've posted today, can you help but weep? Like I said, I'm not trying to put a guilt trip on you, but I don't want you to forget the rest of the world as we live in a prosperous one.

It is a land with large, properous cities that you did not build.

The houses will be richly stocked with goods you did not produce.

You will draw water from cisterns you did not dig,

and you will eat from vineyards and olive trees you did not plant.

When you have eaten your fill in this land,

be careful not to forget the LORD,

which rescued you from slavery....

Deuteronomy 6:10-12 NLT