The Cry of a Hungry Child

Written by Lisa Dalley

I wake up early and spend some quiet time with God, but I know this morning is different than any other I had spent so far in Malawi. I am going to visit Chinku Community, a community quite a far distance away. I hesitate – “Is it too far? Maybe I am not up to going out today.” I make excuses. My quiet time reflects my hesitation, and I ask God, “Why am I feeling this way? I love going to community. Taking public transport and motorcycles are adventures to me. Why am I hesitating?” As tears well in my eyes, I know God has something different for me today. I do not know what to pray, but I know the Holy Spirit is praying – groaning on my behalf because I do not have words to express how I am feeling. I just have a sense my heart will be broken more; that God would be going deeper in me.

As the time approaches to leave for Chinkhu, I am teary and hesitant, unsure but willing. The transit is an adventure as always. Scenery is beautiful – just enough rain has fallen to make the grass green and the wildflowers grow. As I look deeper into the fields, however, the maize stalks are small, the ears of maize hardly growing. This drought – a green drought – has led to so much need. The community is quiet; children are sitting and hardly moving with the look of hunger in their eyes. My heart starts to pound, and I know this is what God has brought me here to see. That glazed over look of despair in a child’s eyes. Drawn faces. Lethargic bodies. This is hunger season.

I knew about this difficult time, we had just done a food relief program in this community for our children and families. But it is the other children and families I now see. The ones who are not benefitting from our program. The ones waiting to be chosen, waiting to be noticed. These are the children God is showing me today. As we drive along, the sun is hot and the clouds are threatening rain, but soon the clouds disappear without producing any moisture for the earth. We arrive at the second Care Point in Chinkhu.

I walk through the maize field, along a short path to our nursery program. I enter a small room, again with broken windows and dreary surroundings. Some children, teachers, and Care Workers are present. They smile, and we try our best to communicate – we laugh mostly at my inadequate ‘Chichewa’ I am learning. They attempt to teach me a few words, and I do the same. We sit together mostly in silence, but we are together. I try my utmost to not show my tears, my despair, my sadness at this situation. It is hard, so I bring out distractions – a few coloring papers, some crayons, balloons and bubbles. We work together to make this day a special one for our kids. We play with balloons, we make silly hats, we laugh and sing, and they show me their dance. I record it on my phone. It makes them smile, even for a few moments.

The food is ready. The children wash their hands and line up. A plate is handed to them – portions are small because food is expensive. The only way to make sure all the children get something to eat is to lessen the portions. My heart breaks.

Our time is running short; our drivers are anxious to head back. They need more customers today to feed their own families tonight. Soon we are off, back on the road – a moment to wave goodbye, catch a smile, see that our visit has changed their routine and given them opportunity to do something different. I look through the review mirror, their smiles fade. My heart breaks.

We have a long journey back, and as the motorcycle goes around a bend, I hear it – a child crying. The cry every mother knows – the cry of a hungry child. My chest is heavy, I can’t catch my breath, tears run down my face. I cannot hold them back any longer. My driver is oblivious to the cry, one he hears so often he no longer notices. My heart breaks.

Join us in lifting the burden of the widespread drought and food crisis on Africa’s most vulnerable. Learn more about Hands at Work’s response to the drought crisis.

Lisa and Brian Dalley have been serving with Hands at Work for over 10 years, both through Hands Canada and Hands at Work in Africa. They are currently living in Zambia, and have recently spent some time in Malawi.

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