Africa's drought- making it personal

Last Friday we had the monthly Hands on Deck meeting here at the hub. This is when news and updates from individuals and communities are shared. George had just returned from a brief trip to the new communities Hands is supporting in Swaziland. The drought has hit these communities very badly, with many children forced to drink water from a stagnant pool where cattle also drink. George described how he and the 2 other people from Hands who had accompanied him, had joined a 9 year old girl one morning on her walk to school. She set off at 4.30am and walked for 2 hours over rocky mountainous paths,as she does every day, without anything to eat or drink before she set off, because there was nothing in her house.

The following Tuesday, UK Hands Board members, and several other long term supporters of Hands, took part in a 24 hour fast, as a first step in discerning how Hands UK should respond to the drought that is devastating vast areas of Africa, and severely affecting the communities Hands supports. Fasting from food and water for a day whilst staying in Africa gave us a very powerful glimpse of what it is to be thirsty in a dry land.

It was a very hot day on Tuesday, as it has been for much of our stay here, and by 11 I was beginning to feel dizzy with thirst. It was an effort to summon up the energy to do anything, and when I started to write a few emails, it was very hard to concentrate. Talking was an effort as my throat was so dry, and by late afternoon all I wanted to do was sleep. I savoured the glass of cold water I drank after sunset, sipping it slowly so that I could enjoy every refreshing mouthful.

I cannot imagine having to walk for 2 hours feeling as thirsty as I did, still less spend a day concentrating on school lessons, before walking for another 2 hours to go home. And yet that is what so many of the children in the communities Hands support have to do every day.

The 9 year old girl and her thirsty walk to school was very much in my thoughts all day on Tuesday, as was her grandmother, who scrambles down a steep slope to the stagnant pool before the cattle get there, and carries water from the pool back to boil so that there is some water for her granddaughter to drink when she gets home from school.

The only difference between that grandmother and me is the accident of where we were each born, which means that I can choose to be thirsty for a day, knowing that there's a refrigerator full of food and cold drinks waiting for me at the end of it.

The information about the drought on the Hands website encourages us to "pray, share, give". Fasting and praying for a day ,or for as long as is feasible ,is a way of making this crisis personal, and taking one or two steps together with the poorest of the poor whom Hands seeks to serve.

There is some very useful information on the Hands at Work website, 
including 2 videos about the drought which can be used in church or for small groups, and some practical steps you can take to support Hands at Work's efforts to respond to the crisis.

Jane Newsome