by Scott Cotter
While many of us are feeling the squeeze of higher prices, sponsored families supported by Children International now find themselves facing a real crisis.
Many already teeter between calamity and survival. To stay afloat, they often master the fine art of eking out an income in jobless communities through persistence, hard work and ingenuity. They've summoned the courage to keep going, and to work harder for just pennies a day.
Sponsorship helps by covering the cost of many basic necessities so families can focus their resources where they're needed most. But with every cent being stretched to the limit, the food crisis has pushed many over the line. Some remove children from school so they can work and provide additional income. They may forego medicine or health care for the sick, resort to collecting water from contaminated (and free) sources, or simply go hungry.
As this crisis unfolds, we're taking a closer look at those most affected - the poorest of the poor - and examining how rising prices are taking a toll.
The Bisa Family: Tabaco, Philippines
Ailene feels all alone.
Just a few months ago, lightning struck and killed her husband, Ronnie, as he fished to put food on the table and earn a living. In his absence, Ailene is raising three daughters - Ronilyn, Maria and Melody, ages 13, 8 and 4 - all by herself.
"We're still not used to my husband being gone," she utters. "My youngest keeps asking when he'll come back. I still can't believe how we're able to survive."
Scared - and terribly lonely - she has turned to the only things she knows for the survival of her family...laundry and weaving. The result of her hard work and mountains of worry is less than $5 a week. It's enough to buy a little fish, some rice and bread and a few vegetables; there's never anything left over for other necessities.
"We still haven't reached the point where my daughters have nothing to eat at all," she offers, "but we have experienced missing some meals. It doesn't matter if I don't eat as long as my daughters don't go hungry."
Ailene's two youngest, Marie and Melody, are sponsored and have recently been diagnosed with malnutrition. They're enrolled in Children International's feeding program in Tabaco, and Ailene says the school supplies and tuition, medical care and clothing helps alleviate some of the financial strain. Still, she adds, the future seems uncertain at best. "In the coming weeks, I'm not sure what will happen."
The Chisala Family: Lusaka, Zambia
The winds whip up a small dust cloud that tumbles across the patch of bare earth in front of the Chisala home before carrying it down the road and off toward other block dwellings scattered here and there.
It's lunchtime, yet in the compounds it is eerily quiet. Not a single person can be seen outside tending to a charcoal cook stove preparing something for lunch. There is no capenta (staple fish), there is no mealie meal (corn meal), not even a few withered vegetables to prepare.
Paul Chisala stands looking at the lifeless road and squints against the searing midday sun. Quietly, he laments the situation. "I can no longer buy a 25 kg bag of mealie meal because I can no longer afford it."
The Chisala family isn't alone. While rising food prices - as much as 75 percent - have devastated families around the globe, sub-Saharan Africa may be ground zero for this crisis.
Families already in trouble because of overwhelming unemployment, rampant disease and an undervalued currency survive on next to nothing. The average income in the communities Children International serves is just $20 a month.
The outcome is easy to see. Paul says his daughter, Kareen, 10, often goes to school hungry because they have nothing to feed her. Or, she refuses to go because her hunger leaves her feeling weak and unable to study.
"I have tried to look for a job, but there are no jobs," Paul reveals. "All I manage to get are part-time jobs. There are times when I go for two months without any work. I end up begging for food from my brother, who is a soldier."
Children International is attempting to alleviate the problems by supporting community schools where children can get breakfast before starting the day. This not only helps prevent more malnutrition and helps children concentrate, it gives families more incentive to make sure their children - children like Kareen -go to class.
The Lozot Family: Guatemala City, Guatemala
Olivia Lozot is known as "The Garbage Lady," an unflattering nickname she shrugs off without a thought.
Her family, she and her four children, eat and earn a living from what others throw away. "I have always worked," explains Olivia. "But now that I have small children, I can't get a job."
The family lives in one of Guatemala City's many slums, amidst a backdrop of gang warfare, drugs and depression. They have no electricity, running water or everyday comforts beyond two small beds. For a mother of four who can't read or write, there are few opportunities.
That's why Olivia makes her own. And her children, Ana, 15, Donal, 11, Marcos, 3, and Jesus, 1, are often there by her side. They look for nylons, glass bottles and aluminum cans ... anything they can sell.
"When we go to the dumpster," says Olivia, "I carry extra clothes because the smell of garbage gets in their clothes."
Although Olivia can't read or write, she wants her children to attend school. Donal attends school for children who work, going in the morning before he joins his mother and siblings in the garbage around noon. Ana, however, refuses to go, choosing instead to dig in the trash all day and care for her younger siblings.
"Sometimes, I feel sad and desperate," confesses Olivia. "I tell the children when there is food they can eat but when there isn't they must tolerate it."
Still, despite the difficulties, Olivia wants her children to someday realize a better life ... something that has always eluded her.
Children International's sponsorship program helps by reducing her expenses for school supplies, clothing, health and dental care and other basic needs. But as prices for basic necessities go up - especially for food - the money she could use to help them improve their future also remains elusive.
As prices for food and other staples continue to send shockwaves throughout the global economy, families most affected - those earning just a few dollars a day - will have to learn how to cope. Many will work even harder than they do now. While others will simply be forced to do without.
Sponsorship is one answer, helping reduce the expenses families face for many of their most basic necessities. And your additional support can help assist families in critical need. Please call now or visit this link to make a donation to help ease the struggle families face during this food crisis.
About Children International:
Children International is a nonprofit, humanitarian organization that works to ease the burdens of poverty on children through one-to-one child sponsorship. Our programs and services provide health, educational, material and emotional assistance to impoverished children and families in 11 countries around the world.