One thing I appreciate in talking to someone who’s from Nigeria is that it [Nigeria] is a very fascinating country, a very beautiful country, but it’s also a very wealthy country. It has the potential to take care of its own needs. Now there are a lot of challenges facing the country, corruption and development, et cetera, but when you look at East Africa, it has very fertile land. Ethiopia, Djibouti, Eritrea, Kenya, Somalia – these should be the breadbasket of the region.
And that’s where the story, I don’t think, gets out enough. We see so many aid agencies rushing into East Africa, and they’re gonna rush out again. This has been the fourth drought in 10 years in this region. Food aid isn’t sufficient.
Huge transport ships, flights, the cost of shipping the food in this way is stunningly high. It takes about $1 to feed a person for a day, which is very little, but that’s the reality of what it takes in the camps to feed someone. When bringing in a bore-hole, the drilling costs about $100,000 and the outfitting for piping and whatnot for irrigation costs about another $100,000–so, $200,000. You spread that over the reality that most of those boreholes work in communities of about 25,000-plus people, you’re looking at $3 to transform someone’s life forever.
So the cost to feed someone in the short-term versus the cost to create food security through agricultural development…there’s no comparison.
But so often donor nations and individuals feel compelled, and rightfully so, to give at a time of crisis. The challenge—where the moral challenge is—is for people to give when the crisis isn’t at its peak. It’s to give the rest of the time to prevent human suffering because everyone who gives – governments and individuals – want to do the greatest good with their money to help as many people as possible.
So giving today is critical. So is giving in November-December when it’s [famine is] at its peak, but giving in a year from now, not forgetting the region, that’s the great moral challenge that’s facing East Africa.
How do you suggest we do not forget?
I say this for November-December, when it’s gonna be at it’s peak. We know that, the studies overwhelmingly that predict that. That’s the time when most people in North America and Europe celebrate either Christmas or Hannukah, or various holidays. This year we have to make a commitment that the holidays are not only about ourselves or our families but also about reaching out to those less fortunate particularly because we know images we’ll be facing as we sit down to our Christmas dinners: images of famine in a part of the world where famine should be in the history books.
So I think, sadly, we won’t have to be reminded, because we will be surrounded by those images this holiday season. But the real challenge is next summer. When the drought is no longer in the headlines, when we have to make a moral commitment.
- We have to mark our calendars.
- As families, we have to decide to have conversations.
- Students should decide to do something in their schools as a fundraiser a year from now.
By next September, we should decide to make a commitment to reaching out to long-term development. Interestingly, a very significant part of our budget comes from children who do little fundraisers in their schools. It’s making that moral commitment to ourselves and making a promise that we mark in our calendars that’s just as important as a holiday, that we make to our friends and teachers and to remind schools, families, and companies to make a 12-month commitment to East Africa. Not just today, but for a full year.
Today provide food, and then tomorrow, provide people with sustenance so that they never have to do this again.
What would you suggest is the best way to help right now and the best way to help next summer?
At this point, the greatest need is funds for food and supplies. To come physically into the field, unless individuals have experience in this area, the intentions are good, but the greater impact could be spending time in Europe or North America and raising awareness.
And then, a year from now, if they’re interested in volunteering in these regions, we as an organization welcome about 2,000 volunteers a year. In East Africa alone we welcome about 1,000 volunteers a year. Look at our website for ways to get involved.
But right now, whether you’re supporting Free the Children or any other organization that has a long-term commitment in East Africa, it doesn’t matter which group because every group is doing good work.
It doesn’t matter who you choose as long as you choose to make that support.
So the two moral pleas I would make:
- For those who want to volunteer, please wait for a year. That’s when they’re gonna have the best impact. Our website has other ways they can volunteer if they want to get involved.
- And two, please support today, and support in six months. Free the Children has very clear and simple instructions.
Twelve months from now, we need to look at what it takes for people to feed themselves once and for all.