I have just returned home from a 10 day trip to Burkina Faso, Africa. I saw hunger, disease, hope, joy, generosity. I felt hot, dusty, thirsty, loved, appreciated, encouraged, hospitality, inspired. I was filled with heart-breaking experiences that consumed my heart with compassion. I wish I could put it into one simple post and tell you what what all this means. But I cannot.
The Burkinabe people have contagious smiles, give thanks generously, share abundantly, yet live heartbreaking stories. We can look at pictures of bloated bellies. We can notice the meals consisting of rice or corn and if lucky, some cabbage. We can hear that people live on less than $2 a day. We can read here that Burkina Faso is the third most miserable place to live in the world. We can see pictures of rotting teeth in children. We can see pictures of the dry, cracked ground and think we know what that would feel like. Even as I walked the dusty roads, the view I had was only part of their story.
There are stories that go with these scenes. Stories that are hard to hear. Stories that I don’t know if I would fully have grasped had I not met these people, hugged these people, touched these people, lived among these people first hand. I know I would have thought I understood.
You see, we think we understand poverty. Our people can collect unemployment, receive food stamps, visit a food pantry, stay in a warming shelter, stand on a corner, etc. The people of Burkina Faso don’t even understand poverty…because what they live is extreme poverty.
Here’s just one story…and for me, it was enough.
There was a family that did not have enough food to last until the next harvest. The father knew they would not survive: with the amount of food they had left, they would all die. But he also knew that with one less mouth to feed, the rest of the family could survive.
What to do? (Here’s where you might want to sit down).
The father knew that if he died, the family would have no means to feed themselves at all. He was the farmer, the cultivator, the gardener and brought home what meager offerings his field would provide. Without him, they would all go hungry and die.
The mother was the one who spent six hours a day just preparing dinner for her family, on top of bringing the water and/or nursing the baby. Without her they would all go hungry and all die.
The father had to make a choice. He could sacrifice one of his children so that the rest could survive or let everyone die. He sat down his children.
I don’t have to finish this for you to know what choice was made. It’s too hard for me to even type right now. That’s not poverty. That’s extreme poverty.
I thought I understood poverty. But I really had. no. clue.