Hellen and her family sit outside their homeHellen and her children sit outside their home (Photo: Jake Lyell)

Every morning Hellen sweeps the kitchen in her hut and then draws water from the shared water tank. She takes the water home to wash dishes and cook cornmeal porridge for her children.

After feeding her children what will be their only meal of the day, Hellen goes out to the fields. Life in rural Luangwa is based around subsistence farming. Most years, Hellen grows maize and pumpkins. She gathers groundnuts (peanuts) and beans too. Despite her hard work this year, she has nothing to show for it.  

The worst drought to hit Zambia in 35 years brought only patchy rain, not enough to last a growing season. With each rainfall came hope, but each time that hope was extinguished.

“When we planted the first maize, it went dry again and the maize had not grown and all the maize died. We planted again. It also died because the rain went. We planted again, the third time, and the maize germinated very well. But when it was just putting small cobs, the rains went. That’s how all the maize was destroyed. We never harvested. I didn’t feel good because I didn’t harvest anything.”

Now Hellen works for others in their fields for a little money. Often just enough to buy a small bucket of maize to feed her children. Her children eat the cornmeal, made from the maize, with pumpkin leaves. Other food is difficult to find.

“We had groundnuts once last month, I can’t remember the day. We ate beans last week – on Friday.”

Hellen and her children eat once a dayHellen and her children eat only once a day (Photo: Jake Lyell)

Selling her goats is another way Hellen raises money to buy a bucket of maize.  She has sold four goats, only five remain. If she sells them all she’ll be left with nothing for the coming weeks and months. But Hellen has to feed her children today, she has to do what she can.

“No matter what I do, we only eat once per day.” 

Her children, including a one-year-old she took in when his mother became sick and died, are always hungry.

“The children must go to sleep without food. This is a problem, for a child should have energy to go to school. A child must have food to eat, then proceed with energy to school.”

All around her in Luangwa, Hellen sees her neighbours and friends struggling to feed themselves. Sickness and death stalk families.

“This is the worst I have seen it. In the past we could harvest but this year we got nothing because of the drought.”

Her fears are greatest for her children.

“I’m worried about the hunger my children are facing now. I’m worried that they may not survive with this shortage of food. They will die.”

Hellen looks out over the fields and the dried out stalks of maizeHellen fears for the her children's survival (Photo: Jake Lyell)

Hellen wants nothing more than to see her children eating until their stomachs are full. She longs for the day the rains come so she can grow her crops. Like any mother, she has dreams for her children’s future beyond survival.

“My expectations in the future for my children are that when they are educated they also take care of their friends, that’s what I expect.”

Taking care of others is important to Hellen. She didn’t hesitate to take in a sick child to raise as her own. She tries everything she can to ensure her children can eat. But she cannot do this alone.

“I ask the people in other countries not to leave us like this. They should please help us in the problem we are facing.”


Hellen and the children of Luangwa need your help before it’s too late. Just $24 can feed a family for two months ($96 for the whole eight months). Your donation will take care of the most vulnerable children and families in Luangwa.

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