Beyond survival in the world’s poorest country

The Berchmans family by their home

Mutabazi and Esperance lost one of their children to hunger; their two surviving children are Nijember (age 5) and Uwizayimana Janvier (age 2).

The International Food Policy Research Institute released its 2012 Global Hunger Index in October, and Burundi, Africa, received the dubious distinction of being the world’s poorest country.

The report combines three indicators to rank world poverty by country. Those indicators are the percent of the population:

  • Who are undernourished;
  • Are under weight as young children; and
  • Who die before age 5.

The Global Hunger Index reports Burundi’s situation as “extremely alarming.” But there are pockets of improvement, thanks to the partnership between non-governmental organizations (NGOs) like Food for the Hungry (FH) and the churches, leaders and families in the churches were we serve.

What’s it like living in the world’s poorest country?

Mutabazi and Esperance have experienced the “extremely alarming” situation first hand.

The young couple had three children – until the oldest died from hunger. Before FH began distributing food in their community, the family never knew where their next meal would come from. They tried to eat at least once a day, but that didn’t always happen.

“It was very hard to see my children asking for something to eat and not being able to get it,” remembered Esperance. Imagine her anguish as she held her dying child – it was the only thing she could do to comfort him. “I was afraid that another child could die before my eyes,” she said.

FH began distributing food in the family’s community after the country had experienced a 12-year civil war that left hundreds of thousands of people homeless and desperate for food. But that was only enough to help families survive until harvest season. Unfortunately, many had no farming implements, seeds or land.

Farming in Burundi

FH enabled farmers to grow enough food to both eat and sell by distributing farming implements and seeds and by helping communities work together to grow improved crops.

So, the next step was to begin development projects that would help the people move beyond survival to food security.

FH’s longer-term goal was to enable farmers like Mutabazi to not only grow enough food to feed their families, but also to increase their incomes.

We encouraged them to work together in agricultural cooperatives to learn and teach each other new techniques. We helped them grow more nutritious food – and crops that would be more drought-resistant.

In spite of delayed rainfall, the farmers in this area are harvesting more produce – five times more beans and 12 times more maize … and more is expected. They’re now able to feed themselves and their livestock as well as sell what’s left over.

We taught the mothers how to better care for their children and how to cook more nutritious meals.

Woman and her child show off their cow in Burundi

Some people received cows for both food and incomes.

In some areas, FH was able to provide livestock, such as cows, to help feed the families and to create a source of income.

The area where Mutabazi and Esperance live has done so well that one of the communities is now able to take over their own development, thanks to a program model that encourages sustainable development.

“I grieve for my son, 8 years old, who died because of hunger,” said Mutabazi. “All of my children were going to die before this distribution,” said Mutabazi.

“God bless your organization,” said Esperance. “I don’t know how we can thank you, God only knows.”

There is much left to do to help people in Burundi move beyond survival to food security, but, as FH founder Larry Ward said so often, “They die one at a time; we can help them one at a time.”

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About Karen Randau

A native of the southwestern U.S., Karen uses her blog posts to put into action her passion for helping people be all that God intended them to be. She is able to do this through her role in the Food for the Hungry communications department of the Global Service Center in Phoenix in two ways. First, she helps people understand the plight faced by impoverished people in developing nations. Second, she brings light to the successful ways Food for the Hungry is helping people.

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