As pediatricians, my husband and I have committed our lives to caring for children physically, emotionally and spiritually. We have practiced medicine together for 25 years but after caring for babies with heart defects, children with diabetes, teens with eating disorders and depression, each of us felt that we wanted to do more. But what was that more, we wondered?
We have always loved serving the poor in our town but the truth is, poverty in the U.S. is very different from poverty in third world countries. Our poor have food, televisions, usually a cell phone or two and poor kids can go to school. The poor in third world countries don’t have adequate food, schools or even clothes. As pediatricians, we wondered how we could impact the lives of the poorest of the poor children in areas where no one wanted to go. That’s when we found Food for the Hungry.
Last May, my husband and I along with our 23 year old son stuffed clothes in our back packs and headed to Bolivia to investigate the work of FH. We flew 36 hours to Bolivia then got into a truck that took us 6 hours by dirt road deep into the Andes mountains. We spent the night in a “town” and then awoke the next morning to drive 6 more hours over the steep mountains to meet children sponsored in FH’s Little Ones program. As we drove, I had my doubts. How can one organization make a difference in the lives of children who are so removed from any semblance of civilization and who live on mountainside cliffs? I wondered.
When our trucks stopped, we hiked to clusters of “homes.” One woman I’ll call Lilia beamed when she saw us. She wanted to show off her fish pond that FH taught her to build. She no longer worried about the health of her four children who had previously eaten only potatoes and corn. When I met Lilia, she grabbed my hands and smiled into my face. Then, through two translators she asked me if I loved her Jesus. When I told her yes, I asked her how she knew Him. Did she have a bible? I could certainly send her one. She shook her head. No need, she conveyed- she couldn’t read. But then she smiled again and said that her children would teach her to read after they finished school. Where was that school? I asked. She pointed down the dirt path. Every day they walked several miles to a school that FH helped start!
Then there was beautiful “Tamara” on the other side of the mountains. When we arrived, she spread a brightly colored shawl on a piece of wood beside her home so that we had a clean place to sit. Her “home” was one room with no windows. She showed us her raised bed of green lettuce, spinach, radishes and carrots. Then she took us to fields to meet her husband. Before FH came to her she said, she worried her children might die from malnutrition because they only knew how to grow corn and potatoes and these wouldn’t meet their nutritional needs.
When we left, she motioned for us to wait. Then, she picked ears of corn and insisted that we take them home to eat. I fought back tears. We came to give something to her that cost us hardly anything but we left with her most precious gifts.
Every day, we met one grateful parent after another. These mothers and fathers knew that without FH, their children might die. But now their children weren’t going to die because someone from FH came month after month, year after year to teach them how to plant, raise cows or fish, build schools and made sure their children received immunizations. No one came and simply dropped off food for them. It was far more personal. Every mother and father with a child sponsored through Little Ones was mentored through a meticulous web of mentorship. Each parent living on the side of a mountain was mentored by an FH person from a village and that person was mentored by an FH person from a city.
My dream is to extend this mentorship network from Bolivia to the U.S. How about you and I create a network of American parents mentoring those in Bolivia helping babies in the Little Ones program? How beautiful it would be to link arms with FH workers in Bolivian cities encouraging those who drive to villages each month to mentor those hiking over the Andes every month?
My questions about saving children’s lives in the farthest reaches of the Andes were more than fully answered as I saw the FH men and women work. But there’s one more thing. My husband and I left Bolivia with our hearts filled with hope but our 23 year old son left, I believe, a changed man. Serving the least of the least, he saw, takes on fresh meaning when true sacrifice is involved. No one could tell him this, he had to experience it for himself. And that he did through the eyes of the FH staff scattered throughout the Andes mountains.
Maybe you don’t feel the need to help a child (but I hope you do.) But how about doing it for the sake of your children? You might not be able to take them to Bolivia, but you can make them see beyond their own small worlds and help a child eat more than potatoes and corn. And I can tell you as a pediatrician, that teaching your children to give is one of the greatest gifts you can give them.
For just $35/month you can change a life. Can you join with me to help these children and their families this holiday season? As a Thank you for sponsoring a child through Food for the Hungry I am giving away 1 year unlimited access to my course “The 12 Principles of Raising Great Kids”, a $149 value absolutely FREE (for a limited time).