World hunger is growing. For many of us who care deeply about ending hunger and the suffering it causes, particularly for children in poverty, this is a profoundly troubling reality.
22 Jun, 2023
The global food crisis is the worst of its kind in 70 years. The lives of 345 million people who face acute food insecurity are in danger.
So what is the best way to tackle hunger? Is it through providing short-term aid or implementing long-term, sustainable solutions? And haven’t development organisations like Compassion been trying to mitigate issues like malnutrition in vulnerable children for years?
Faith Magadi, a disaster resilience expert for Compassion International, recognises why some donors may be wondering why their generosity in years past isn’t enough to keep the trajectory of world hunger moving down. “Why do we need more? We need more because we are serving families in a world that is not the world we had three years ago,” says Faith.
“We are serving in a post-COVID world—a world that is still feeling the effects of COVID-19. We’re now dealing with drought, food insecurity, conflict, political unrest and economic inflation. We need more to support these families to bounce back from multiple stresses.”
But while immediate relief through the donation of finances or food is essential to survival, development experts like Faith also know these gifts alone do not address the underlying causes of hunger.
“If we only feed that family today and we don’t go further and check, ‘Can you support yourselves? Do you have a livelihood?’, it means that, next year, we are still going to be feeding that family,” says Faith.
As for short-term aid versus long-term development, Compassion’s approach uses both simultaneously. Through the generosity of supporters in Australia and beyond, our local church partners are responding to the global food crisis in two ways:
1. Short-term relief: Providing immediate food packages to vulnerable households, including families of Compassion assisted children, local workers and the wider community.
2. Long-term food security: Building resilience in families in poverty through income-generation training, home gardens and improved agricultural technologies so they can provide for their own needs in years to come.
The first order of business: saving lives
When you are face to face with someone who is experiencing hunger and malnutrition, it’s difficult to focus on anything but the provision of food for their immediate needs. Faith and Yona Kapere, a malnutrition specialist for Compassion International, have both experienced this reality firsthand.
During a recent visit to Karamoja, a region of Uganda that is harshly affected by poverty and the global food crisis, Yona recalls that “the need was overwhelming to first save lives, then we can start talking about development.”
“We saw graves of people who have died due to starvation,” says Faith. “One of the ladies we met had three [children] with her under 5 years old, and all these three were malnourished.”
“It's difficult to understand what starvation looks like if you have never starved. I understand that. However, it's equally difficult to sit back and do nothing if there are people who are starving and we have the potential to do something to help them,” says Faith.
For these families, short-term aid like food packs is critical for their survival. Food packs can mean the difference between a child staying home from school to work or continuing their learning. They can mean the difference between an adolescent girl facing marriage in exchange for a dowry or being able to stay with her family. Food packs can mean the difference between life and death, and they are a necessary and compassionate response to global hunger.
But with the cost of food globally continuing its steep ascent, short-term aid alone is not enough to fight hunger for the months and years to come. The causes of hunger are complex and often systemic—an interplay of factors involving changes in climate, conflicts, rising costs and the lingering effects of COVID-19.
Building resilient families creates lasting change
Ivy is the project director of a Compassion centre on the outskirts of Accra, Ghana’s capital city. Food prices in Ghana are jumping higher each month and persistent drought has worsened poverty, particularly among children who were already vulnerable to the threats of trafficking, forced labour and malnutrition.
Ivy knows firsthand that one of the best ways to address hunger in children’s lives is to equip and empower their parents.
“If we pay school fees and hospital bills but there’s no food to eat at home, then we haven’t done our job thoroughly,” says Ivy.
That’s why Ivy and her local church launched a new initiative to train caregivers with income-generating skills. With support from Compassion, the centre purchased an industrial oven. They
engaged a local chef to run a two-month intensive course teaching parents how to bake bread and other foods.
Cordelia, a mother of two, was one of the parents who attended. She’s keenly put her knowledge to use and started a small business selling kebabs.
“I wake up with a sense of fulfilment because I can do something to support my family. It makes me proud,” says Cordelia. “Things are tough and goods are expensive, but at least we have a way out. We aren’t stranded.”
As a holistic child development organisation, Compassion seeks to achieve lasting transformation in a child’s life. Our hope is that participants in our programs will be equipped with the multidimensional skills and tailored support they need to break the cycle of poverty and help their families to do the same.
So when it comes to addressing increasing hunger in children, Compassion’s model of long-term child development is already equipped to tackle the underlying causes.
Supreme Agbovi serves on the Disaster Resilience Advisory team at Compassion International. He explains that in order for development to be sustainable, it must be equipping families in poverty to confidently bounce back whenever a crisis hits.
“Relief is very expensive,” says Supreme. “But resilience, if done right, is cheaper than relief. That is what Compassion wants to do, and that's what we’re appealing to supporters to do—to invest more in resilience-building initiatives so that families will be able to bounce back.”
How Compassion’s long-term development approach fights hunger
There are three main ways that Compassion is investing in long-term development to build the resilience of children and their families facing hunger.
1. Improving agricultural technologies
Many of our program countries severely affected by the global food crisis are also facing severe climate shocks, including prolonged drought and frequent extreme weather events. For communities that rely on agriculture as a primary source of income, inconsistent rainfall and inadequate farming techniques are devastating for their harvests.
Using the generous donations of supporters around the world, Compassion has been working with our local church partners to develop climate-smart agricultural technologies to help these families. These technologies include the provision of short duration seeds to make the most of rainfall when it comes, improved farming equipment to increase yield, irrigation systems and solar-powered boreholes to reduce reliance on rainfall and more.
One devoted father who has benefitted from this agricultural support is Sedjorka in Togo. As a farmer, Sedjorka relies on his harvest to fund all his children’s needs: food, healthcare, education and clothing as well as supplies for next season’s crops. So when his crops began to fail, his children bore the consequences.
Thankfully, Sedjorka’s local church offered him and other families an empowering solution. In partnership with Compassion and a Togolese agricultural institute, the families were trained in more productive crop management techniques. With knowledge on how to select the right seeds, choose the best location to grow and time to sow, the farmers’ production increased by an average of 18 per cent.
These gains are benefitting more than just families like Sedjorka’s. With ample food for their own needs, the farmers gifted a supply of corn, okra and rice to their local church as a gesture of gratitude for their help. These supplies can then be used to prepare meals for Compassion-assisted children and to donate to other families in need.
2. Income-generation training
In non-farming communities, our local church partners are delivering income-generation training to families. “This is where families are trained and supported with some income to begin trade activities,” explains Supreme. “We've also introduced savings groups so they can build their capacity. They're provided with startup income so they can trade and save for their future.”
The flexibility of Compassion’s program means that local partners have the freedom to deliver income-generation training in ways that are relevant for their community context and environment. For 9-year-old Vincent, a Compassion assisted child in Kenya, the most appropriate income-generation activity for his family is beekeeping.
Kenya is currently facing its worst drought in 40 years—four consecutive rainy seasons have failed throughout the Horn of Africa. To build the resilience of local families like Vincent’s during seasons of unpredictable rainfall, local church partners have planted drought tolerant trees in community nurseries. The seedlings, which have also been selected for their strong suitability to honey production, are being distributed to families to plant near their hives to encourage bee activity and pollination.
As the seedlings grow and honey production is underway, these families are also being equipped with apiary management techniques to improve their honey harvests and business skills to maximise their potential income.
“The church introduced Papa to a new type of beehive. Papa says the new hive has almost doubled the honey from each harvest,” says Vincent. “Papa will get a good price for his honey each month, even during the drought and hard economic times. That makes him very happy!”
3. Prioritising new mothers and babies
Mothers and young children are in critical need of support when a hunger crisis strikes. Pregnant and lactating mothers experiencing malnourishment not only face threat to their own lives, but to those of their infants as well.
The earlier the intervention in a baby’s life, the greater their chances of survival and healthy childhood development.
“When a mother is malnourished, she's likely to give birth to a low-birth-weight baby,” explains Yona. “When that baby is born, the chances of falling sick are high because of their low birth weight. This makes them more prone to sickness and disease well into their adolescent years. And unless that cycle is broken, we face ongoing malnutrition, disease and poverty.”
Compassion’s Mums and Babies program is an integral part of our overall long-term child development approach. Through supporters’ generosity, vulnerable mothers—who are pregnant or who have an infant under age 1—can be registered in the Mums and Babies program at their local church partner. Here, both mother and baby receive crucial ante and postnatal care needed for a safe delivery and strong start to life together.
For mothers in poverty like Pegwendé in Burkina Faso, participation in Mums and Babies has been lifesaving. Her baby Elisé was rapidly growing smaller, not bigger, in the fragile first months of his life. “Elisé was weak and thin as I couldn’t eat nutritious meals and breastfeed him well,” says Pegwendé.
Once she and Elisé joined their local Mums and Babies program, the family started to receive monthly baskets of food, growth monitoring, regular medical checkups and more. Within 30 days of tailored support, Elisé gained one kilogram and grew 20 centimetres in length.
But local workers knew that short-term food relief would only go so far in supporting this family to break free from poverty. So they offered Pegwendé and 44 other parents the opportunity learn how to make and sell soap to earn an income. Pegwendé has now moved from begging on the streets to running a small business. "Our family’s burden has been removed thanks to Mums and Babies. We have been saved from starvation and a lack of financial resources,” she says.
You can help fight hunger today and in the years to come
Your donation will help provide families with both short-term aid and long-term solutions to fight hunger. Join the global neighbourhood in responding with compassion to the global food crisis.
Words by Rachel Howlett. Local stories and reporting by Faith Magadi, Supreme Agbovi, Yona Kapere, Rachael Cudjoe-Yevu, Kevin Ouma, Gabriella Samaty and Jehojakim Sangare.
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