Are we too used to people starving?

NEWS: The nightmare that is Peter Slipper

NEWS: The nightmare that is Peter Slipper

I arrived in Africa at 3am, after a journey involving four airplanes and thirty hours. It was dark, unbearably hot, and my passport was confiscated at the airport by armed guys who did not speak English. Tears.

World Vision Australia had asked me to do this five-day trip as part of their blogger ambassadorship program, specifically to bring attention to the food crisis in Niger.

“Hmph .. isn’t there always a food crisis in Africa?”

That was the jaded reaction I’d get from people before I left Australia. Do people care anymore? Are we used to people starving? Niger is one of the poorest and hottest countries in the world, Niger is in deep crisis. No crops, lack of food and money, and with little hope .. there are refugees of entire families and villages on the move. Desperate. Imagine leaving everything you have ever known .. only to travel a far distance and arrive in a worse place?

A few hours after I arrived, I found myself in a makeshift camp with Korean mumblogger Kim and German radio announcer Steffi. We were brought together to spread the word back to our respective countries. The camp was hideous. Dreadful. It haunts me, now that I am safely back home. These children with ragged feet and conjunctivitis, scraps of clothes, hardly any food. Yet heralding our arrival like we were some kind of heroes. I was not a hero, had nothing for them except to bear witness to them. Had to put my sunglasses on so they couldn’t see me cry.

Every day was a whirlwind of driving hours to far-off remote and traditional villages. The landscape was biblical. We witnessed World Vision-funded medical programs literally saving lives every day, with health check-ups on pregnant women and babies. Malnourished children hungrily eating their Plumpy Nut; never has somebody eating seemed like such a heartbreaking and intimate thing.

We drove to blooming vegetable gardens that had been implemented by seeds and work from World Vision. We visited villages with new wells providing them with clean drinking water for the first time in their lives, all funded by World Vision. People don’t get sick, from water now.

To stand in these places, to see the actual physical results of donors money … was an incredible and heartening experience. Australians have a lot to answer for, over there. We are among the most generous donors in the world, and we have done GOOD.

Each day I would write on my blog the things I had seen and experienced .. the response was astonishing and made me cry. Again. People were sponsoring children as a direct result of reading my posts. People were opening their hearts and wallets, giving one-off donations, talking to their children, asking what help could they do.

I’m home now, struggling a bit with the things I have seen as I sit back in my big house with my ridiculous four-wheel drive. I keep thinking about the dusty camp on the first day … wondering if the children have eaten today. My children eat every day.

I’ll most likely be an advocate for World Vision for the rest of my life. They do good work, in the world. It’s as hard and as simple as that.

Eden Riley is a mother and writer in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney. She blogs at Edenland and is on twitter as @edenland

World Vision Australia are at and on twitter as @WorldVisionAus

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