If you’ve been paying attention to the news about the famine currently killing people in the Horn of Africa, you’re among the barely fifty-percent of Americans who have even heard about this crisis. You’ve probably also grown accustomed to the following responses when people find out about this and similar humanitarian crises (heck, maybe you’ve even had some of these reactions yourself):
“I’m sure things are rough in Africa right now, but we have our own problems that we need to take care of here.” Or maybe you’ve heard someone say, “I’m all for helping other people, but why do we keep giving assistance to Africa when nothing changes?” As I have been following the sparse news on the drought and famine crisis now wreaking havoc across the Horn of Africa I follow the coverage, I read the articles — and then I inevitably scroll down to the comments section.
Those articles that describe food aid sent to Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia are often riddled with strongly worded, sometimes vitriolic, opinions. Despite knowing blog comments are often be an abyss of disturbing and infuriating words, I’ve been shocked by what I read. Almost all of the comments went to the tune of those above.
So, why? Why should we give to what seems like a black hole for donations? Why should we continue to give when it seems it hardly makes a dent?
One simple reason is that a difference can be made. In fact, you can make a difference right now. Reports as recently as this fall estimated that 13 million people were affected by the crisis, and 750,000 were at risk of starvation. While tens of thousands have already died, that initial estimate of at-risk people has dropped to 250,000 thanks to the role the U.S. government, in partnership with dozens of non-governmental organizations — including several faith based organizations like World Vision and Catholic Relief Services — have played in meeting the massive human need provoked by this crisis.
The other reason you should care is a simple matter of perspective.
When I lived in Nepal, I quickly learned that people address friends, acquaintances and strangers the way they do family members. When speaking to an elderly woman, you call her amma (mother). A man who is older than you is dai (older brother). A young girl is nani (my daughter). It doesn’t matter if you’ve never met them; they are people and that makes them family.
My six year old niece affirmed this perspective when she told us about a dream she had. She said she dreamed that God spoke to her and said, “Everyone in the world is your family.” It’s a simple, beautiful idea. All of us are God’s children. I am my brother’s keeper. And believing this changes everything.
Why do we give? Because God’s family is not limited to a national border. Because if your mother is suffering from hunger, you feed her. And if your sister has walked miles through arid land and risked violence and rape as your niece slowly dies of starvation on her back, you do everything you can to relieve that suffering. Everything.
Amidst the brokenness of the world, it is difficult to know where to start. The problems we face together often seem endless and overwhelming, and I don’t have the answers. But I do know that if everyone in the world is my family, then my brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, children and parents in the Horn of Africa are starving. Why do we give? Because they are our family. And we must.