Over the last 18 months, the local church has brought much needed hope to vulnerable children and families facing the global food crisis. We have come so far and achieved so much together. However, the crisis is not over.
18 Sep, 2023
“The situation in Karamoja was very bad because there were many deaths in the region. It was not merely hunger—it became famine,” says Esther, a partnership facilitator for Compassion Uganda.
The global food crisis has affected the lives of 345 million people around the world. In Karamoja, Uganda, the situation is particularly severe. Esther oversees many churches in the region and has seen firsthand the devastation caused by food insecurity. “There was fear because people were in danger,” she says. “Of course, the most affected were the elderly and the children.”
Intensifying global events like conflict, increased costs, climate issues and the aftermath of COVID-19 have all contributed to rising food insecurity among the world’s most vulnerable populations. Children have been particularly affected. As food prices climb, so do hunger and malnutrition in young children. According to UNICEF, A child in poverty begins to suffer from severe wasting every 60 seconds, according to UNICEF.
The impact of childhood malnutrition is catastrophic and leads to growth stunting and wasting, poor academic performance and intellectual development, increased prevalence of attention deficit disorders, diabetes, cardiovascular problems and cancer later in life, child marriage (as girls are offered in exchange for dowries), child labour (as children leave school early to support their families) and even premature death.
For children living in poverty, the impact of the global food crisis makes their already vulnerable situation even more precarious.
Surrounded by sprawling mountains covered with green, beautiful lakes and breathtaking sunsets, the Karamoja region of Uganda is rich in natural beauty. However, violent cattle raids and conflict, unstable weather patterns and the rising cost of food has contributed to making this largely agriculture region the hardest hit by the global food crisis.
Vicky is nine years old and lives in Karamoja, along with her three siblings: Judith (14), Abel (12) and Eric (6). She is part of a child-led home, which means there are no adults or caregivers to support these children.
After their mother passed away from HIV in 2022, they were left to fend for themselves. Their father has not always been present and now works 200 km away in a different part of the country. They seldom see him.
“When it’s time for burying my mum, my daddy, he did not come. I don’t even know where he is,” says 12-year-old Abel.
On average, families in Karamoja can only afford to eat one meal a day. Vicky and her siblings are no exception. But Vicky was registered at the local child development centre when she was 4 years old. Through their partnership with Compassion, local churches in Karamoja have been able to help vulnerable families like Vicky’s during the food crisis.
“The church is helping the community through the food crisis. We teach them about food security. We give out food relief,” says local pastor, Reverend Francis. “We also do a savings group where we cluster the community in groups of 30 and encourage them to start saving. They begin saving money on a weekly basis and we teach them financial discipline, accounting and the financial principles of investing.”
Initiatives like the savings group help families in this region to steward the little income they can generate in a way that is sustainable and helps to meet their basic needs like food and medicine. While the food crisis has devastated many children and families in the region, the local church brings hope. And this hope goes beyond just Karamoja.
Compassion’s local-first response to the global food crisis, through partnerships with over 8,500 local churches across four continents, has helped to answer hunger with hope around the world.
In Togo, another country severely affected by the global food crisis, pregnant Marie and Christophe, were left struggling to pay medical bills and couldn’t find food to feed their family. As a last resort, Christophe travelled to a distant village to do labour, but four weeks later, he was found dead.
Devastated by the loss of her beloved husband, but with no other choice, Marie worked carrying loads to the market and handwashing clothes. Yet, as her pregnancy progressed, she couldn’t afford a single antenatal check. “All my income was used for my children’s food. There was nothing left for me,” she says.
One day at the market, Marie met someone who told her about a local Compassion child development centre. She went straight there and immediately received food and hygiene packs.
“Those food kits saved me and my children. Suffering from hunger is the hardest thing in this world,” says Marie.
After the birth of her baby girl, the centre provided Marie with corn and bean seeds, as well as fertiliser, to empower her to generate food for her family. She recently brought in her first harvest to feed her children. “Without the assistance and support of the centre, I’m sure I would have died. No doubt,” she says. “They taught me not to lose hope.”
Stories of impact like Vicky’s in Uganda and Marie’s in Togo are only possible because of your generosity. Through your support, Compassion’s local church partners have been empowered to be an answer to their communities in a time of desperate need.
With your support, $3,540,990 was raised in the 2023 financial year, providing 70,819 food packs that also included, where appropriate, agricultural training initiatives.
Short-term aid has helped meet vulnerable families’ immediate nutritional needs through food packages, while longer-term solutions have helped equip families with seeds, fertiliser, livestock and agricultural training to stop ongoing hunger. This local-first response equips local people who have the most knowledge and contextual expertise to bring solutions to their community. The local church has decades of established community trust and is best positioned to assist in this crisis—it has been there before, will be there during and will remain long after the crisis.
“Through the intervention that Compassion made through the local church, families are smiling again.” says Esther, speaking of impact in Karamoja.
That smile can now be seen on the faces of Vicky and her siblings. With the love and support of the local church, the care of the staff at the child development centre and the generosity of Vicky’s sponsor, the siblings are becoming self-reliant. They have been able to purchase cooking oil, wheat flour and baking powder among other ingredients to sustain their bread-making business. With encouragement from the local church, they have also taken the initiative to cultivate the land behind their compound into a small garden. The children grow maize, beans and pumpkins that they harvest for food and sell to generate an income.
The future looks bright for Vicky and her siblings as they step forward with the support of the global Compassion neighbourhood.
While there are many more stories of impact from children and families around the world, the severity of the global food crisis means the work is far from over.
“As humanitarians, we are facing the greatest challenge we’ve ever seen. We need the global community to act swiftly, smartly, and compassionately to reverse course and turn the tide on hunger,” says World Food Programme Executive Director, Cindy McCain.
The challenges faced by our global neighbours are still having a devastating impact on millions around the world. With the conflict between Russian and Ukraine showing no signs of slowing down, food prices remain elevated even after decreasing from their record highs in early 2022. Russia and Ukraine are two of the world’s largest exporters of wheat and other crucial crops, and as they enter a second year of conflict, many vulnerable countries around the world still face heightened food insecurity.
While much has been done and many lives have been impacted in a number of countries around the world, for so many facing the reality of food insecurity, hope is still hard to come by. In Galatians 6:9, Paul encourages us to “not grow weary in doing good” and, while our global neighbours still face unthinkable hardships due to hunger, we need to keep answering hunger with hope. There are many lives yet to be impacted by the hope of Christ, many churches yet to be empowered through the love of neighbours and many children yet to be released from poverty in Jesus’ name.
Words by Sidhara Udalagama, with field reporting by Akpene Gabriella Samaty.
Answer Hunger With Hope
345 million people are facing acute food insecurity. You can answer hunger with hope.