At the end of June, I had the opportunity to travel to a developing country for the first time since hearing about the Global Food Crisis. I spent the week in Tanzania visiting Compassion child development centers and learning firsthand the impact the food crisis is having. I asked the people I met if the rising cost of food is making life more difficult for them.
While most people I spoke with have noticed an increase in food prices in their local markets, no one seemed too adversely affected by the trend. That was until I met four women, all beneficiaries of our AIDS Initiative.
I met these women at the child development center their children attend. When I first walked in and greeted the women, all of them looked away. They found it more comfortable to stare at the floor as we shook hands. This type of nonverbal communication is common for people living in abject poverty as they have been so marginalized by society that any sense of self-worth has long since left them.
After our introductions, the women sat quietly, softly responding to our questions and continuing to avoid eye contact. Slowly their body language changed, and they eventually started to make eye contact.
As they began to open up one woman asked that we turn on a TV to drown out our conversation for anyone within hearing distance beyond our small group. Each of the women then proceeded to share that they were infected with HIV/AIDS and feared being stigmatized if their friends found out. When asked about the increase in food prices, one woman told of being hospitalized and that her family was unable to afford food for her.
In many developing countries hospitals do not provide food. The only food patients receive is what their families bring them. For people living with HIV/AIDS, lack of food weakens their already-compromised health and often makes sticking to their antiretroviral drug therapy even more difficult.
So, is the Global Food Crisis truly global, and is it really a crisis?
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Based on media reports, information provided by a number of Compassion’s field offices and my experience in Tanzania, the increase in food prices is global. Every country is affected in some way.
Yet the crisis is not global. The crisis is country and region specific for the most part — affecting only certain areas. Even in countries currently able to manage the increase in food prices, the slightest rise in cost is devastating to some families.
For the woman I met in Tanzania, the increased cost of food meant her children could feed themselves or they could feed their mother in her illness. That’s a burden no child should have to carry. Sadly, I fear this story is not unique.
The growing cost of food is forcing people living in poverty to decide who eats and who does not, assuming they are fortunate enough to be able to buy food at all.
What would you have done?