A Green Famine

A Green Famine

By: Sidney Muisyo, Compassion Kenya Communications Specialist   |   Posted: March 10, 2005

Compassion relief efforts have saved the lives of famine-affected families living in 50 Compassion-assisted communities. Among them are Jane Njeri and her two sponsored children, Deborah and Solomon, who live in the Nderu community. A subsistence farmer, Jane hopes for rain so she can help feed her family. 

"Even though everything appears green and the farms hold promise of a harvest, we dare not hope. We have seen this before," says Harun Githinji, a social worker at AIC Nderu Child Development Center (KE-720) in Nderu, Kenya.

Githinji is referring to the irony that although his community's farmlands are green with growing crops, many people will go without food.

It is a familiar paradox for the 3.3 million Kenyans struggling with famine because of ongoing drought conditions.

The Green Famine

In the last two planting seasons, the situation has become almost a cruel joke of Mother Nature's. Here's what happens:

The rain clouds gather, heralding the seasonal rainfalls. The fields are plowed and crops planted. The rains come to soak a dry, thirsty land and within a matter of days the land is green with sprouting crops.

People begin hoping that, at long last, these rainfalls will hold. Spirits are high and hope sustains the hungry. "It will not be long now," the people say to themselves.

Dashed Hope

Then the sun arrives, incessant and unfeeling. In just a matter of weeks it scorches whatever hope the people had, withering crops straining to grow. Residents of Nderu begin again to walk with drooping shoulders.

Many wonder if they have been fools for not saving their planting seeds for food instead of trusting them to the earth. But how can any farmer not hopefully plant seeds when it is time? Many of the farmers are in debt. Their seed money was borrowed in the hope of a harvest.

Even more devastating than the dashed hope of planting season is the toll the famine takes on farmers and their families.

"It has been extremely difficult, especially for the children," says Githinji. "Our Saturday programs begin at 9 a.m. but by 11 the children lose their concentration. The younger ones simply begin crying." All because of hunger.

"Most of the time when our children complain of illness the only medicine they need is food. Once they eat, their sickness goes away," he adds.

Compassion Touches a Mother's Heart

Jane Njeri knows all about this "disease of hunger." A subsistence farmer, the 33-year-old mother has two children, Solomon and Debra. Jane's husband is a casual worker. Recently he lost his latest job milking cows.

In their already precarious situation, the rain failure has been a catastrophe for the family. During the famine Jane's children were malnourished. Their growth was stunted. Their hair, lacking the proper nutrients, was tinted reddish-brown, rather than a shiny black color. But Jane is trying her best.

"We planted maize and beans during the early November rains," she says the day I made a visit to her home. "But I am already very worried about what will happen if it doesn't rain in the next few days."

Outside the sun is high in a blue sky beating down on the green earth. It is unlikely that Jane's wish for rain will be granted in the next few days.

"When we received the food rations from the project, I considered myself highly favored by God," she says. "Compassion ..." she begins, then overcome with feeling, she stops. I turn my face so she cannot see my tears welling up as she begins to speak.

"Because of Compassion's goodness, my life and that of my family has improved." Jane explains, tears glistening on her black cheeks.

Outside of Jane's mud-walled house is her little farm plot. Her crops are already withering under the blistering heat. If only she had two days of rainfall. She could salvage some of the beans. If only.

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