Three-year old Dindi didn’t understand why he was always hungry. He was just a small boy who didn’t know much about the world.
The watery bowl of porridge he ate once a day never quite made the gnawing pain in his stomach stop. But he knew nothing different. All of his short life had been spent living in a thatched hut with a dirt floor and an animal skin covering the door. He shared the small home with his brother, sister, and mother. He had no memories of his father. “The sickness” had taken him before Dindi was born.
The toddler had never been farther than a few steps from his mother. He was used to following her everywhere she went or riding in the pouch on her back. She walked for miles in the hot sun to bring back fresh water. She struggled to find peasant work to support her children. She gathered wood and built a fire in the wee hours of the morning. But now she couldn’t even get off her bed mat.
He kept his eyes focused on his mother’s face. And though he tried to be brave and not whimper, from time to time a lone tear would make its way down Dindi’s cheek before he hurriedly brushed it away.
Soon the exhausted little boy’s eyes started to droop. He snuggled closer to his mother’s side. He slowly drifted asleep with his tiny hand resting on her thin arm. Those last glimpses of her through heavy eyelids would be the last time Dindi would see his mother alive.
— Excerpt from Children of Hope by Noel Brewer Yeatts and Vernon Brewer
When Dindi awoke, he was utterly alone . . .
Dindi’s story is one of millions in a land overwhelmed by HIV/AIDS and extreme poverty. This is the Africa I was first introduced to and one that completely shook me to the core.
At first I saw the same Africa we all have seen. One whose problems seem endless and never appear to improve. Story after story proved my assumptions to be true . . . until I met a group of children whose voices reminded me of the difference hope can make.
As we arrived, children ran to greet us—children whose families have been torn apart by poverty, AIDS and a 20-year civil war. They were smiling, laughing, and offering handshakes and hugs. Each boy and girl is special and unique. They are children who, without our support, would not have the opportunity to attend school—a place where they also receive at least one nutritious meal a day. This is a privilege for them and not something they take for granted.
I watched them play a game in their red and green school uniforms that looked somewhat familiar, like “Duck, Duck, Goose” with an African twist. Then the children formed a large circle and began to chant a poem together. I had to listen carefully to understand what they were saying, but once I did, my heart stopped. This is what they called out over and over again:
Who is a child?
A child is a person below eighteen.
What do they need?
Love, care, comfort.
They are young and innocent.
Give them protection.
They need protection.
When I see this picture, I can still hear them . . . Give them protection. They need protection.
You see, children of extreme poverty need protection from so much.
Poverty means loss of freedom, loss of dignity, and loss of control over the fundamental course of your life. Poverty has been compared to “living like a dog, because it makes you so hungry you scavenge, so thirsty you foam at the mouth, so needy you will do anything to make a buck . . . even sell your body in prostitution.”1
It is out of this dirty, messy, life—a life that many of us can barely understand—that children are orphaned, discarded and abandoned.
Katwe is one of the most notorious slums in all of Uganda. This area has been devastated by the effects of war, conflict, disease and poverty. The results are innocent children who are abandoned when they are most vulnerable. Whether they are left orphaned after their parents die, or deserted by parents who can no longer bear the burden of raising a child . . . these children are desperate and alone.
But just on the outskirts of Katwe, a flicker of hope can be seen. Our new Operation Baby Rescue center is truly changing the lives of many of these children. Our rescue team in Uganda receives these unwanted babies—naked , sick, and malnourished. They find them in dark alleys, on trash heaps . . . just lying on the side of the road . . . and some are placed on their doorstep.
But after receiving the loving care of our house mothers, including medical care and nutritious food, most of these children make a full recovery.
And this is just the beginning. You see, the future of any nation lies with its children.
Our commitment is to impact the next generation and help them to become the future leaders of their countries. But we have to save their lives first. That is why the rescue program is such an integral part of the holistic approach that World Help is taking in our African programs. We are committed to providing physical help and spiritual hope—help for today and hope for tomorrow. It is this kind of help that leads to transformed lives.
When we think of Africa, we cannot be overwhelmed by the massive needs of this continent. We must be inspired by the one child whose life we can change.
An African proverb says, “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The next best time is today.”
Today, more than ever, we have an incredible opportunity to change the face of an entire continent . . . from despair to hope.
One day soon, when we think of Africa, we will no longer think of those images of starving children covered in flies. Instead, we will think of an empowered people who are pulling themselves out of poverty to change their future. We will think of hope.
It’s the new story of Africa and I want to be a part of it. Will you join me?
1 Black Death: AIDS in Africa, Susan Hunter