This World Refugee Day, I'm remembering my trip to Afghanistan. It was a poignant visit for me, because it's when I met Aysha.
I had walked past room after room in a maternity hospital filled with 10 to 20 women, each all in various stages of labour and delivery. Aysha, a 15-year-old woman, had just delivered her first baby, a daughter she named Anita. As she waited in recovery we spent some time talking. She asked me if I liked the name she had chosen and I asked her what she hoped for Anita's future. She said that she hoped Anita could be a doctor.
Aysha and baby Anita (Photo: Lindsay Gladding)
It may seem a bit cliché for us to want our children to become doctors, yet what an incredible aspiration for this young mother in Afghanistan to even dream for her daughter. How, when there seems so little reason to hope, when the odds are stacked against you, do you find the strength or even the courage to dream big? It truly is awe-inspiring. It is that dream that has the potential to change everything.
Different place, same dreams
Through encounters like this one with Aysha, I have seen firsthand that all mothers have the same dreams for their children. We want them to be safe, happy and successful, and that hope doesn't change even if your circumstances are difficult. If anything, it may even become more important.
I'm reminded of Aysha's dream as I think about the current crisis that spans across Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Yemen and their neighbouring countries. More than 20 million people are in desperate need of assistance because of prolonged drought and violent conflict in these four countries alone. Finding solutions to a lack of food and water, and outbreaks of disease like cholera, are pressing needs.
If I try to imagine what it would feel like to be a mom in Somalia right now, my heart breaks.
And although she is from a different continent, I know that Aysha, and even mothers here in Canada, share so much with mothers struggling every day to keep their children alive across Africa. Aysha shares a resilience, a fighting spirit, and the will to help her child thrive.
What if it was me?
If I try to imagine what it would feel like to be a mom in Somalia right now, my heart breaks. I might be struggling to feed my child, not knowing if I would be able to find the next meal, or even worse, watching my child slowly starve to death in front of me with nothing I could do. It is unacceptable, it is unjust and is a symptom of a very broken world. No child should be born into this world only to die because there was no food to keep her alive.
This Somali mother has taken in other family members who have nowhere else to go, and nothing to eat. There are now 19 people living in her home. (Photo: Max Moser)
As a Canadian, I have never feared that I could not feed my nine-year-old son. And even if the worst did happen, there are safety nets like food banks, neighbours, churches and community groups to help me get by. This is not the case for millions of Somali women.
As a result of this unprecedented hunger crisis and the conflict in South Sudan, children are arriving at refugee settlements alone. Every single day World Vision is registering 100 unaccompanied children in a refugee camp in Uganda. The kind of desperation that pushes parents to send their children, alone, to what they hope is a better future is unimaginable. We have been witnessing this for months across the Middle East as result of the crisis in Syria. I had hoped we would not see it again. The sacrifice these parents make is staggering.
I can help moms like me
And it demands a response. Those of us living in Canada have hit the jackpot: We live in one of the most beautiful, peaceful countries in the world. Simply by being born here I have been given opportunities that I feel give me a responsibility to do good, to make even a small dent in the injustices I see, especially for other moms.
I have seen how even the smallest donation can make an impact for a mom impacted by hunger and conflict in Africa. Your help is enabling World Vision's local humanitarian workers to literally save lives by providing food, livelihood support, health and hygiene services, and protection and education for children.
This family in South Sudan has benefited from World Vision food programs. (Photo: Max Moser)
Not so very different
Through my humanitarian work, I have learned that people all around the world are not that different from each other, or from us. The hopes and dreams I have for my son here in Canada are not all that different from the hopes and dreams other parents have for their children, even in places like Afghanistan and Somalia. Everywhere I go, speaking to other parents about our children brings a sense of joy and wonder that unites us. We want our children to grow up healthy and happy, to have lives better than the ones we have lived.
The author in a maternity ward in Afghanistan. (Photo: Lindsay Gladding)
I'm doing the best I can to ensure that my son grows up to be empathic and sensitive to the needs of those around him. I'm proud to say that he is already challenging me to do more. It's pretty obvious to him that if we have enough, we should share with those who don't. To him, it's "Why wouldn't we?" rather than, "Why should I bother?"
So, on World Refugee Day, I'm encouraging you to donate to the African hunger crisis. Right now, is a unique opportunity: The Government of Canada will match your donations until the end of June, making your donation go even further. Think of the parents and children just like you who need a helping hand, and ask yourself, "Why not?"
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