The Face of Hunger

This piece was originally posted just under 2 years ago when I began blogging. At a time of year when my refrigerator is full, and making or buying special sweets and savouries is daily on my ‘to do’ list, I find it’s easy to lose perspective; to fret about what I can’t afford instead of recognize all that I have, and all that I need to realize about those who go without. So with that in mind I wanted to post it again. Thank you for reading.

I was not  familiar with the face of hunger. 

While I am aware of this as a problem, my personal experience with it is limited.  Somehow the problem of hunger had worked its way to a corner of my brain that registers “Real but not understandable” in a robotic voice.  I grew up in the developing world and children with bloated stomachs and tiny legs were common.  As can often happen when one is a child and sees their world through a child’s eyes, adult experience is needed to bring better understanding and perspective.  It was in this context that I saw the face of hunger with new eyes, with transformed vision.

It was in Pakistan 2 years ago – the beginning of week two of my trip to take part in flood relief with internally displaced persons.  This particular village had just been re-inhabited   You could see the line from the flood waters on the mud and brick homes about three feet from the ground.  The crumbling bricks promised the need for a complete rebuilding of the homes to make them safe.  Animatedly, the women told us their story:  “The water came!  We knew we had to leave – we took whatever we could and walked 5 days to Khanpur.  We couldn’t walk at night because of the robbers.  Look!  Look over there!  You can see that the water is still here! We lost so much.  We just returned a couple of days ago.”

It was another story of loss and displacement.

This day it would be a tail-gate clinic.  This put ‘tail-gating’ in a new context and forever changed the idea for me.  We opened the back of the van and arranged the portable pharmacy as best we could and began the clinic.

There seemed more than the usual number of malnourished children on this day.  We were giving out Plumpy’Nut, the miracle pint of goodness guaranteed to make a dent in malnutrition, like it was candy.  “Two tablespoons, morning and evening”  “Buh chumcha isubh, isham.”  We had it memorized so when the doctor needed the community health worker/interpreter we could function alone with no need for interpretation.

The face of hunger came half way through the morning in the person of a young mom, emaciated with her dark eyes sunken into a lovely face, a baby clinging to her breast sucking furiously, desperate for a drop of milk.  The breast was completely dry, there was no milk.  The baby’s face and body so thin, wide-eyed, not even energy to cry.  I stepped back, hardly believing what I saw.  My heart caught in my throat and I felt a wave of nausea.  The baby couldn’t have been more than 4 or 5 kilos but by his length I knew this was not a new-born.  Maybe seven or eight months old.  The mom was desperate.  This was not a malnourished child – this was a child that was starving accompanied by a hungry mother. Plumpy’Nut was not going to work its miracle this time.  This baby needed an act of God and admission to the mission hospital. The mom was holding her baby with a depth of love that words would fail to describe.  Cradled in her arms, her eyes pleaded for help and a miracle.

I don’t know if the miracle ever came.  The nature of our work was moving to different areas with medical needs every day.  There was a need to move forward no matter how difficult the situation; we couldn’t afford to be paralyzed by emotions that would prevent us from helping other people with other needs at other villages. During those minutes we did exactly what we should have, what we could have.  Vitamins, Plumpy’nut, instructions to the mom, a letter to authorize admission to the mission hospital, all with the un-spoken thought “It’s not enough, I know it isn’t enough”

This was the face of hunger. I had seen it, touched it, wept for it. Now stamped in my brain, marked on my heart, I would never forget, could never forget.

The robotic part of my brain had been re-programmed with human emotion to cry out to God to feed and comfort the face of hunger.  My response to “care for the widow and the orphans” would be forever adjusted.

“Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress” James 1:27
During this time of year, when hearts and pocketbooks are more open, might I suggest a couple of organizations to donate to that work specifically to provide either food directly or to develop projects that affect the local economy, ultimately offering long-term solutions to the problem of hunger. 
  • Food for the Hungry – With a mission to “To walk with churches, leaders and families in overcoming all forms of human poverty by living in healthy relationship with God and His creation.” this organization is well-run and innovative in its approach to world hunger.
  • Central Asia Harvest Project, Kazakhstan – this project “seeks to improve the quality of life for small-scale fruit farmers of eastern Kazakhstan through a farmer to farmer training program and development assistance designed to improve farming methods and livelihoods.” I’ll be doing a longer post on this organization in the next week.
*The picture shown is not a picture of the child mentioned in the post. While this child is malnourished, she was treatable with Plumpy’nut and vitamins.  

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Third Culture Kid - Grew up in Pakistan, lived and worked in Pakistan and Egypt as an adult. Moved to the United States and learning to live away from curry, Urdu, Arabic and the Pyramids.

6 thoughts on “The Face of Hunger

  1. Thank you, Marilyn, for remembering all we have (and reminding others, too).
    I made my own experiences with the faces of hunger: those sad and dull eyes in the hollows of an ancient-looking face with a tiny, emaciated (or bloated) body. It made me cry the first few times I was handed a child by a parent with the expectation that I have a wonder cure to save their child. Still, after months of working in a malnutrition project and coordinating treatment to 4000 severely malnourished children, I can not help but feel the pain. Even now, almost a year after my return from the Sahel, I continue to feel the weight of global injustice that underlies the fate of millions of malnourished children.
    There are well-intended treatment programs supported by international humanitarian organizations. I worked with Doctors Without Borders/MSF and found their work innovative and empowering for the populations they support. In our case, aggressively reaching out to recognize malnutrition in its early stages (rather than wait for the parents to bring their dying children) made an enormous difference in reducing the suffering.
    Here is a link to my story of hope based on my mission in Chad:

    But in the end, it is up to me, to us in the affluent part of the world to take less on a global scale (live simpler lives with a much small footprint). Only then will giving have a sustainable effect in the long term!

    In peace,



    1. I love this comment – thank you so much for reading and your words. The conclusion you come to at the end is exactly what I believe as well. I look forward to reading the post that you linked. Thank you.


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