Imagine Mali: a hunger story


Help your students connect with the hungry.
The setup: Read this story when you introduce the Famine, or during your actual Famine event. This will be especially effective for those who are new to the Famine.

Try darkening the room, using candles, or having your group close their eyes as they immerse themselves in a new world: the world of hunger.

Imagine yourself in a dry, hot, dusty landscape. Water sources are few and far between. Many parents don’t have enough food for their children today — and don’t know where tomorrow’s will come from. This is the West African country of Mali, which is struggling under a regional drought and intensifying food crisis.

You’re traveling through the countryside, taking in the world unfolding around you — the twisted baobab trees; the empty, yellowish-gray fields, thirsty for water; the sky, the endless sky.

It seems like your guide, Abraham, is reading your thoughts when he says, “If we only had water, we could grow crops here.”

Near Bamako, the capital city of Mali, you see market stalls with a wide variety of vegetables and fruits — melons, bananas, tomatoes, lettuce, oranges, apples, peanuts, and baobab fruits. But as you drive deeper into the countryside, the variety disappears. Now it’s mainly baobab fruits or powder, and peanuts.

Occasionally you’ll see a butcher by the side of the road, with a single slab of goat meat hanging in the dry, hot air. You can feel the dust prickling in your eyes and your throat.

You ask Abraham what life is like where he lives and works. “Lots of the families there have nothing to eat,” he says, adding that now there are only women and children in many villages. The men have left, desperate to find work somewhere else to help their families.

“How do people get by?” you ask. “Solidarity,” Abraham says. “People help each other in these times. And as things get worse, we start selling our animals. The small ones go first — chickens, for example. Then, gradually the larger ones — the oxen, the donkeys.”

It’s clear that this isn’t the first tough time for local people. It’s just the latest: a drought and food crisis engulfing Mali and other West African countries. Some 3 million people are affected in Mali alone, of whom more than one in three are in need of immediate food assistance.

You look out the window again and catch sight of a little girl stretched out on her belly on a bench with her feet lifted in the air. You smile as you see her playmate tickling her feet, both of them laughing. No matter where you are, kids are kids, you think to yourself.

But are they? A desolate-looking school appears amid the barren landscape, and you wonder: What would it be like to grow up in a place like this? To go to school here?

You find answers when you reach your destination. A mother tells you she can’t send her children to school anymore, because they’re hungry — so hungry that they’re too tired to study or even walk to school.

A father explains that he has sold most of his harvest to pay for school fees for his oldest son, as he really believes in the value of education. But he’s still behind on the payments and has nowhere to turn for help. Worse, he’s had to pull his second son out of school; education for two children is simply unaffordable.

The situation is bad and getting worse. Village elders tell you that last year’s harvest is either gone or dangerously close to gone. Grain prices in some places are more than double last year’s prices.

And the next harvest won’t come for at least eight more months.

“If we are left to cope on our own, we are hopeless,” says an older woman. “Without your help, we are hopeless.”

A mother holds up a bowl of millet paste. “This is what we have left from this morning, and I am not sure this will be enough for all of us for dinner,” she says of her children. “When we sleep at night, we worry about the next day,” adds her husband.

The stories come in many forms, but the message is the same: People don’t know how they will survive, or what they will do.

Which begs the question: What will we do?