(Vatican Radio) Across East Africa, millions of families face starvation because of drought, lack of food, and civil war. The UN has described this as the largest humanitarian crisis in more than 70 years.
The Disasters Emergency Committee, of which the Catholic Development Charity CAFOD is a member, has launched an appeal to provide urgent supplies to the 16 million people facing severe hunger in South Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya.
The CAFOD East Africa Crisis Appeal also aims to target more than 800,000 children under five who are severely malnourished.
Nana Anto-Awuakye, head of world news at CAFOD UK, told Linda Bordoni of her recent visit to Northern Kenya to monitor the work done by CAFOD’s Church partners in response to the devastating drought that is affecting around 2.7 million people there.
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Nana Anto-Awuakye says that the figure itself may seem quite meaningless to many, however when one is in the field and meeting community members that tell the story of their survival it is really dramatic.
“In Isiolo we saw how our Church partners – Caritas Isiolo – are responding to that need by distributing food vouchers; we met the women that told me that they had literally given their children a cup of water for the day – no food – and we spoke to a headmaster who told of a little girl who fainted in class because she hadn’t eaten for two days” she said.
The people of the area, she said, are faced every day with the terrible question of how they are going to feed their children and keep them alive.
Anto-Awuakye says that in particular the women were expressing their gratitude and saying: “Caritas didn’t forget us; we are not near the road, we are not near the town, we are far away, but Caritas didn’t forget us…”
She said the impact of the food voucher scheme was visible and explained it works because the vulnerable members of the community are identified by their own community and then they receive a food voucher which means they can access food within the local community and most important, it all stays with the community and they can “simply feed their families”.
During her visit to the region, Anto-Awuakye says she saw on her twitter feed Pope Francis’ commitment to give money to support the East Africa crisis and in particular the situation in South Sudan and Somalia.
I saw two distinct faces of solidarity: “I saw the solidarity of CAFOD supporters across England and Wales who donated for the East Africa Crisis Appeal raising, to date, almost 4 million pounds; and on the other side I saw the solidarity of the community itself and its committment to take care of each other and also of the Church partners doing all they can to get vital aid to people in need” .
Anto-Awuakye also speaks of the importance of raising awareness ‘back home’ and says the team travelled with a celebrity ambassador – Emma Rigby – a young actress.
“Having her with us in the field, to see for herself the work of our Caritas aid workers on the ground was really impactful because she could see for herself how CAFOD – through CAFOD supporters giving to the appeal were making it possible – she could also see the difference that was being made and in her position as a well-known actress she could get the message out by being interviewed by local and national media.
She points out that this is ever more urgent as the story, that was very prevalent in February and March, has dropped off the media agenda: “but whether we are 3 or 6 months on from when that news of the crisis was broken, it is still very much ongoing and so is the need for continuing support.
Anto-Awuakye said there is much we too can do to support the people of the stricken region, starting with prayers: “continue to pray for them as the effects of the drought continue to hit”.
“The community there – she said - gets together to pray and you can see from their faces and from the look in their eyes, that their hope and their faith are very much alive”.