Yesterday, we fed 1,300 children. . .well, about that many. Let me tell you the story.
This was the fourth feeding program that we have done since I have been here. Each time, the food preparation gets easier and easier, even if the numbers are bigger and bigger. This time, we worked together like a well-oiled machine. We were able to get about 36 boxes filled in about 2 minutes. It was pretty impressive! We were able to pack all 1,300 boxes of food before 11 am. I even had the chance to have a little rest time in the afternoon.
When the O'Leary's showed up (Remember Sydney who raised all that money for feeding orphans? They were the ones who raised the money again for this feeding.), we packed everything into our two vehicles and took off for Kpone. It was a bumpy road getting there and I wasn't sure if the 900 boxes in our car would survive. I kept thinking that I would suddenly be showered with rice if we hit a bump too hard. But, we made it Kpone and the children were so happy to see us.
When we got there, we wanted all the children to sit down. The last two feedings, they pushed up against us so hard that, we couldn't hand out the food very effectively. So, we got the children quiet and seated, but this time, the moms were the ones who really caused the problems. They started telling their kids to push forward to get the food and it caused a big problem. The kids wouldn't stay seated. They kept moving forward. And when we would go to hand out food, the moms would even grab food out of our hands to take for themselves. It was crazy! At the end, I had people stepping on me, pushing me, pulling me, and even pinching me, all to get a box of food.
Then, when the food had finished. We tried to hand out water sachets to the remaining children who had stayed behind. Some of the older boys were mad that they were not able to get food (we tried to limit the distribution to the really young kids this time), they took some of the water sachets from the other kids and started throwing them at us. Mama Theresia got hit twice! That was when we knew it was time to leave.
All of that made me wonder if it was really helpful to serve these children a boxed meal. The mother's in this village had such a poverty-mentality that I am not sure what good we did for them, or if it was more harm than good.
We need to figure out a better way to do this. Has any one of my readers ever had a successful feeding program like this in Africa? I would LOVE some ideas for a better, more organized way of distributing the food. We know that we need to show up much earlier than the children. We'd like to set up lines of some sort, but after today, we're not sure that the mother's would honor those lines. We need some ideas so that each time we do this program, it would be easier on us, and ultimately, more helpful to the children. We don't want anyone getting hurt because someone is pushing to the front to get food.
On another note, yesterday, I finished a book I've been reading for awhile called "Cold Tangerines" (Corinne, I'll email you about it in a bit!). I started a book that Donald Miller recommended on his blog, a book by Max Lucado called "Outlive Your Live". He said it was a must-read and he was right. Even in the first few chapters, I have highlighted and written notes and was reminded about my purpose here and the ways in which I want to leave a legacy.
The book begins with a fable called "Father Benjamin" and I'd like to share it with you here:
"Unfavorable winds blow the ship off course, and when they do, the sailors spot uncharted islands. They see half a dozen mounds rising out of the blue South Seas waters. The captain orders the men to drop anchor and goes ashore. He is a robust man with a barrel chest, full beard, and curous soul.
On the first island he sees nothing but sadness. Underfed children. Tribes in conflict. No farming or food development, no treatment for the sick, and no schools. Just simple, needy people.
The second and following islands reveal more of the same. The captain sighs at what he sees, 'This is no life for these people.' But what can he do?
Then he steps onto the last and largest island. The people are healthy and well fed. Irrigation systems nourish their fields, and roads connect the villages. The children have bright eyes and strong bodies. The captain asks the chief for an explanation. How has this island moved so far ahead of the others?
The chief, who is smaller than the captain but every bit his equal in confidence, gives a quick response: 'Father Benjamin. He educated us in everything from agriculture to health. He built schools and clinics and dug wells.'
The captain asks, 'Can you take me to see him?'
The chief nods and signals for two tribesmen to join him. They guide the captain over a jungle ridge to a simple, expansive medical clinic. It is equipped with clean beds and staffed with trained caretakers. They show the captian the shelves of medicine and introduce him to the staff. The captain, though impressed, sees nothing of Father Benjamin. He repeats his request. 'I would like to see Father Benjamin. Can you take me to where he lives?'
The three natives look puzzled. They confer among themselves. After several minues the chief invites, 'Follow us to the other side of the island.' They walk along the shoreline until they reach a series of fishponds. Canals connect the ponds to the ocean. As the tide rises, fish pass from the ocean into the ponds. The islanders then lower canal gates and trap the fish for harvest.
Again the captain is amazed. He meets the fishermen and workers, gatekeepers and net casters. But he sees nothing of Father Benjamin. He wonders if he is making himself clear.
'I don't see Father Benjamin. Please take me to where he lives.'
The trio talks alone again. After some discussion the chief offers, 'Lets go up the mountain.' They lead the captain up a steep, narrow path. After many twists and turns the path deposits them in front of a grass-roofed chapel. The voice of the chief is soft and earnest. 'He has taught us about God.'
He escorts the captain inside and shows him the altar, a large wooden cross, several rows of benches, and a Bible.
'Is this where Father Benjamin lives? the captain asks.
The men nod and smile.
'May I talk to him?'
Their faces grow suddenly serious. 'Oh, that would be impossible.'
'He died many years ago.'
The bewildered captain stares at the men.
'I asked to see him, and you showed me a clinic, some fish farms, and this chapel. You said nothing of his death.'
'You didn't ask about his death,' the chief explains. 'You asked to see where he lives. We showed you.'"
I love this story and it reminds me of the legacy that I want to leave behind. Even when I was living in Menlo Park and working in EPA, even with my family and my friends, even working in low income areas in Southern California. . .I want to leave behind a legacy that is lasting. I love that working here with City of Refuge, I get to see these sustainable projects take form in our minds--fish farming for the fishermen of the Volta, work for the single mothers through a fair trade company, feeding thousands of children, farming and rain harvesting and solar energy to make the Children's Village that we'll begin building soon a self-sustaining project, taking care of the orphaned, trafficked, and vulnerable children of the North Volta region--all of these things are touches of God upon this land. Father, will you help us, help me, make a lasting legacy in YOUR name!