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Priscah’s blog: Too hungry for school

A mother and child supported by SOS Children
A mother and child supported by SOS Children

Priscah Wachera is an SOS social worker who runs the SOS Family Strengthening Programme in and around Mombasa, Kenya, which helps children to stay together with their biological families. In this blog entry, she describes how the food crisis in the county has affected families on the programme and how SOS Children are helping them to cope in difficult times.

“The electrical power in Mombasa has been rationed since last week. For us, that means lights out between half past six and half past nine every evening.
Children must find ways to do their homework in the dark, refrigerators stop cooling and people can’t get any information about further effects of the drought, neither from the internet nor television.

Mombasa lies in the South of Kenya and is nowhere near as badly affected by the drought as the North is. But what does “not as bad” mean when you’re living on the edge already? Food prices have skyrocketed all over the country. Flour for a simple Ugali (porridge), costs more than double, the same goes for maize or even kerosene, which is used mainly by the poor as a cooking fuel.

Yesterday I paid a visit to Jane, a grandmother who takes care of her many grandchildren. Her grandchildren had just returned from school and were eating lunch, but there was simply not enough food. When the family got up from the table, they were all still hungry.

It’s all the more sad since Jane had been doing really well: she had been successfully running a small business selling cooked maize and was planning to expand to include fish and vegetables. She had already found a small lot from which to sell the food and had even developed a business plan. Now she says she has had to raise her resale prices because her supplies cost so much more, so clients have been buying a lot less.

Many of the families we support have opened similar small businesses over the last few years – and they all have the same problem. At the end of the day, all their profits go into buying food for their families, and still it simply isn’t enough! In the schools, teachers say that more and more children have stopped coming to school because they are simply too hungry, too drained of energy.

What can we do? In principle, the ultimate goal is to empower people to fend for themselves rather than simply give them what they need. But what would you do if somebody were starving and needed your help?

We have decided to help families like Jane’s; the ones who have been hardest hit by the price hike, and give them the food they need. But we know that we can’t help everyone in this way, or else we’ll have burnt up our entire budget in three months!

I am grateful that people understand this. Time and time again, people will approach me and tell me how grateful they are for our help and how happy they are at how far they’ve come, in spite of everything. The joy of hearing people say things like that is more than I can describe!”

SOS Children have launched an Emergency Relief Programme to help those affected by the famine in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia with food, water, medical care and vaccinations. Find out more about our work, and how you can help.