“It’s not just the physical toll that a drought causes,” states Arnica Rowan, president of the Kelowna-based non-profit Vulnerable Children Society, which supports children and families in Ethiopia. “You see people starving in the news. But a lack of food also challenges people on an emotional and cultural level.”
Currently in central Ethiopia where Vulnerable Children Society operates, there is still food available, but prices have skyrocketed. “I know people who have good, university-educated jobs and are barely putting food, of any kind, on the table,” recounts Rowan. “Ethiopia has a much wider gap between the rich and poor than Canada does. So you can imagine how the millions of people who live in extreme poverty are doing. Not well.”
The physical impacts of drought and the subsequent food crisis hit children and other vulnerable people the hardest. With food being scarce for many families, proper nutrition is no longer possible. Children show up to school not having eaten and can’t concentrate on their studies.
Not being able to provide for their families is an incredible burden for parents, shares Rowan. Watching their children doing without but being unable to purchase the barest necessities shakes a parent’s sense of ability and worth to the core.
“Because all food stuffs are so expensive, many Ethiopians can’t even uphold their basic cultural practices,” states Rowan. Traditionally in Ethiopia, any expected or unexpected guest is greeted with a coffee ceremony, and then fed with as much food as they can handle. “Coffee now is so expensive that many people can’t afford to do a coffee ceremony for their guests, or even offer basic finger food. That means that the drought also has important social and cultural implications.”
Canadian families have many opportunities to help vulnerable African families. Through Vulnerable Children Society, Canadians can donate funds for food relief in four communities in urban and rural Ethiopia. They can also sponsor an individual family and enable them to survive and thrive.
“We are ensuring a hundred families in Ethiopia are making it through this difficult period, and we can use all the help we can get from Canadians” states Rowan. “We also need more sponsors to support more families though the long term.”