Friday, September 30, 2011

The Power of Food

This week I learned that our three hungry orphan boys often quell their hunger with a local alcoholic brew made from corn. It costs just pennies for a large bowl; perhaps it's even given to them for free. It fills them, dulls their senses, and allows them to sleep without being aware of the gnawing hunger in their stomachs.
As I have reflected on their feeding situation, I have been forced to really look at my own use and mis-use of food.

How often have I discovered a container of moldy food in my fridge? Why do I allow this to happen? I could blame it on the erratic electricity, but let me look a little closer to home and ask why I didn't care enough about using that food before it spoiled.

For years I have not allowed my children to use the phrase, "I'm starving," when they really mean "I'm hungry." Should we even be allowed to use the phrase "I'm hungry"? Maybe it would be more accurate to say, "I'd like something to eat."

How many times have I said, "There's nothing to eat in this house." No longer can I say such a thing. Even when there's 'nothing' in the house, there is still something.

Today my helper made a big batch of moi-moi (pronounced moy-moy) to take to my children's school for a celebration of Nigerian Independence Day. Moi-moi is basically steamed bean cakes. She took black-eyed peas (beans), 'washed' them until the outer casings came off, added onions, hot peppers, and salt; then blended it all together. She put the liquid in clear plastic bags with a chunk of boiled egg, and then boiled it until it became firm. Moi-moi is really a delicious, filling meal.

I took a bunch of moi-moi to Bezer Home for the three orphan boys and another family that is also hungry. I discreetly gave it to them, and they sat down and ate it in a quiet corner. About ten minutes later, I was shocked when I saw the two oldest boys swinging on the swing set with great fervor. And the youngest was contentedly sitting against the water tank looking at a book from school. This behavior was such a marked contrast to their normal look that it gave me pause. For now, it's really that simple: food brings joy and contentment and strength.

We are currently working on a plan to help the older boy earn some money on a daily basis. Our goal is always to encourage self-sufficiency and not dependency. Obviously with young orphaned children, there is a place for handouts.  One of their older sisters will be joining the sewing program next week. Through that program she will be able to earn money to help herself and her brothers. In the meantime though we'll be bridging the gap.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Problem of Math

I am passionate about basic math knowledge. Last week I gave math tests to all of the children at our school based on the grade they recently completed. All of them scored anywhere from 1-6 grade levels below where they should be. The problem is, they have simply been passed on to the next grade even when they cannot grasp the most basic math concepts at that level.

I have always loved math. I'm sure I had some excellent teachers over the years who cultivated that foundation. We intend to re-build that foundation for our students in our new school. Currently, each student attends two math classes every day. I even wanted it to be three math classes a day, but the teachers squelched that idea. I'm just trying to help the students catch up on math so they don't have to stay in secondary school until they're 25!

I'm grateful for people like my neighbor who volunteer their time to tutor some of our children in math. The one-on-one tutoring in invaluable. I know it has made a difference in this girl's life.

In general, our students have a fear of math. We are hoping we can help them overcome that fear. We have hired three math teachers who have a solid understanding of math concepts. Here's to a great school year of learning the basics and building from there.

Sunday, September 25, 2011


I've really missed this place! I'm sitting here in my home office at 10:30 on a Sunday night. The house is quiet, the electricity is on, and I have some time to pray, "Direct my thoughts, Lord. What should I share?" Well, it's impossible to write about all that's gone on in the past six months so I guess I'll just share a story that's been on my heart for the past week.

We started our school last week. For the first time we invited children from the community to enroll. Prior to this, we have only worked with the orphans and vulnerable children we know through the ministry. Last Monday I took a few minutes to interview each new child to get some basic information.

As I was asking one young boy some questions, I realized that he couldn't really pay attention to me. Perhaps some of it was a language barrier, but I instinctively knew that he was hungry.

I asked his older brother if they had eaten that morning. No.

"When did you last eat?"

"The day before yesterday."

"I'm sure you had pap* for breakfast yesterday." Nope.

"I'm sure you had tea yesterday." Yes.

"I'm sure you had bread with your tea." Nope.

I take a closer look at the boy sitting before me. His brother says he's 9, but he looks 5.

They tell me more of their story:
Dad is dead.
Mom is dead.
Step-mom is dead. (Dad had two wives.)
Their older siblings try to feed them when they can, but food is not steady.

What kind of childhood is this?

The three youngest children have come to our school. They haven't been to school for a number of years. They are 16, 13, and 9, and none of them can read. That will be the first item on our agenda--after we fill their bellies.

*corn is soaked for 3 days, using fresh water every day, then ground, and then cooked into a porridge.