– by Jake Lyell, ChildFund New Zealand

image of Mercy and Lewis's home

Emali, Kenya is divided by the Nairobi – Mombassa highway. It’s not only a physical boundary, but a geographic one as well. The south side of the road marks the boundary of the blistering, flat planes, home to the Maasai tribe, that receive little if any rain at all during the year. The north side marks the beginning of the hills inhabited by the Kamba tribe, where soil is more fertile and rain a bit more regular. As Maasais, Lewis and his family live on the wrong side of the road. Mothers like Lewis’ have nothing to feed their hungry children except tea with a little soured milk

I’ve lived in Africa long enough to watch some kids grow up. I’ve seen a boy struggle with the effects of HIV through his formative years only to succumb to it at the age of twenty. But I’ve also seen an orphan rise to the top of his class, graduate university and go on to be the owner of a successful business. With so many of the children that I encounter here each day, I can’t help but wonder what will become of them in ten or twenty years.

Emali LandscapeIt takes nearly an hour to reach Lewis' home by Land Rover after a turnoff from the main highway.

It takes nearly an hour to reach Lewis’ home by Land Rover after a turnoff from the main highway. Along the trail we pass ostriches and zebra and a trio of giraffes roaming in the wilderness. Groups of uniformed children sometimes emerge from the thick thorny brush on their commute home from school. A shepherd pushes his thirsty herd down the path in search for water, trailed by a heavy wake of dust. The only thing that I know about Lewis is that he was identified as having both anemia and stunted growth by researches earlier in the year. The cases are abnormally high in this area, and it’s easy to see why. How can anyone even attempt to live off of this land? How is survival here possible?

Lewis and his siblings at their homeThe south side of the road marks the boundary of the blistering, flat planes, home to the Maasai tribe, that receive little if any rain at all during the year. As Maasais, Lewis and his family live on the wrong side of the road.Image of Lewis - identified as having stunted growth and anemia due to malnutrition at an early ageLewis (4) is one of many children in this area identified as having stunted growth and anemia due to malnutrition at an early age. He and his family will be assisted by ChildFund New Zealand's Building Resilience for Two Drought Affected Communities Program.

Normally when I come out to film the story of a family for ChildFund the dynamic is a bit different. Normally I come out after the fact, when the story has already been written, when interventions have been made, and when success has been achieved. But the verdict is still out on Lewis and his mother, his brothers and sisters. They’re unable to grow food for themselves and often have to rely on others’ generosity to get a meal most days. Because of this I expect an uphill battle in the filming process. I expect the first thing Lewis’ mother will do will be to look me sternly in the eye and ask “what’s in this for us, Americano?”

Images of Mercy going to milk their family's cow in Kajiado County, KenyaMercy goes to milks their family's cow. Her family is unable to grow food for themselves and often have to rely on others' generosity to get a meal most days.

But as usual, my expectations are unfounded. We’re greeted by Mercy, Lewis’ mother, with cups of sweet tea and a smile. She sends out an emissary to gather all the available stools from the neighbors so that we can have somewhere to sit. Lewis and his younger sister timidly hide behind their mother’s colorful cape and whisper to one another while the visitors drink in the hospitality.

Mercy and Lewis smile gratefullyWe're greeted by Mercy, Lewis' mother, with cups of sweet tea and a smile.

Mercy does not refuse us and agrees to let me film her family’s story. …at least the first half of it. I’m convinced this story is only partially told. I hope that I can return in a few years time and see the healthy young man that Lewis has become, and to see how his family and neighbors have prospered. I hope to be able to watch as Mercy’s grandchildren sit incredulously to hear her stories of how hard life was back before they were born. I hope that, unlike Lewis, his own children’s greatest worry will be passing their exams, and not about finding their next meal. What’s greater than envisioning this future prosperity is knowing that all of it is well within the realm of possibility.

You can help more people like Lewis, Mercy and their families by donating to our Feed A Hungry Child Appeal. Every $1 you give will have $2 added to it by the New Zealand Aid Programme. Your donation will be TRIPLED! Donate here, or give us a call on 0800 808 822. We’d love to hear from you.

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