Stories: Children, Communities, Futures

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As the world moves to fight the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of children in Africa are going hungry as a locust plague destroys crops.

Swarms of desert locusts have been wreaking havoc on tens of thousands of hectares of farmland and pastures in Kenya, since arriving from Somalia and Ethiopia in December 2019.

It is the largest locust invasion in Kenya in 25 years. Farming families have been left devastated, struggling to feed their children and earn a living.

Five-year-old Mary, who lives in a disadvantaged community in Samburu County, says she is hungry “most of the time” because of the plague.

Since the locust invasion the lunchtime meals served at her school are no longer enough to keep her full throughout the day. Teachers and school co-ordinators have been forced to reduce the size of lunches because of fears of further food shortages as a result of the swarms of locusts destroying farmland.

Goat’s milk, a highly nutritious drink for children, has also become scarce in schools, increasing the risk of young students like Mary becoming malnourished.

At home, Mary’s situation is no better. Her parents rely on the sale of aloe vera plants to feed their five children and ensure they can go to school.

But the locust plague in recent months has destroyed their aloe vera crops, says Mary’s father Paul.

“With aloe vera we would be able to make US$1 daily and use it to buy some food for the children, but now we have nothing,” Paul says. “Life is really tough.”

When ChildFund supporter Mandy Eagle met her sponsored children in Kenya, there were tears of joy and gratitude.

“I didn’t know what to expect when I was over there,” the NSW resident says, “but I cried a lot.

“I cried mainly because of the love. When you get there you realise they’ve got nothing apart from their family. They’re lucky to have clothes on their back and they walk kilometres and kilometres in the dust to go to school.”

It had been 11 years since Mandy first started supporting ChildFund when she decided to meet Jane, Naisoi and Seleyian, three of the four children she sponsored through the organisation.

Mandy had been writing to the girls for many years, but visiting them was a chance for her to develop a greater understanding of who they were, their lives, and their hopes and dreams. For Mandy, it was a “life-enhancing and enriching” experience.

A warm welcome

She took away many “precious moments” from her sponsor visit, but there is one in particular that she will never forget: seven-year-old Jane’s joy and gratitude after discovering her sponsor had brought her dolls from Australia. 

“Jane ran directly over to me and wrapped her arms around me and gave me the biggest and most loving hug I’ve ever had,” Mandy says.

“This still brings tears to my eyes. It was in such contrast to how complacent our kids in the West get when given such simple gifts.”

Jane and her family lived in a tiny home in Nairobi’s slums. The family had put in a lot of effort to make Mandy feel welcome, cleaning the place before she arrived and decorating the walls with lace tablecloth.

“They had this little corrugated room where six people slept, ate, did everything,” Mandy says. “The trouble they went to, to make the room as lovely, clean and presentable as possible was beautiful.”