The sun was beaming down on us. Some were clearly starting to feel tired, hungry, and thirsty.
“Are we there yet?” joked a young man a few feet ahead of me.
“Apple cider?” asked a man standing behind a table set up along the road just for us. “We have cookies, too. Take what you’d like!”
We were less than two miles into a six-mile CROP Hunger Walk in Arlington, VA. Sponsored by Church World Service (CWS), about 2,000 CROP Hunger Walks are organized each year by local groups in communities across the United States to raise awareness about hunger at home and around the world. I was honored to have been invited to help kick off the walk and participate with about 100 others who were taking time out of their Saturday morning to demonstrate a commitment to ending the plight of those suffering from hunger.
While we enjoyed our break and reviewed the map of our route, we paused to reflect on the sobering reality that our experience walking six miles on that beautiful, crisp autumn morning was in stark contrast to that of millions around the world.
In the Horn of Africa, for example, the worst drought the world has seen in 60 years has devastated farmlands and uprooted families. In Somalia, decades of internal conflict and instability, combined with unrelenting drought, have led to famine. Nearly 700,000 Somalis have fled to camps in Kenya and Ethiopia — some walking up to 100 miles in search of food, water, and medicine. Almost half of the children arriving at the camps are acutely malnourished and all are in need of emergency assistance.
It does not have to be this way. As I noted in my brief remarks to CROP Hunger Walk participants a few weeks ago and in a follow-up interview with CWS, drought does not have to lead to famine. We have the knowledge and tools to help prevent famine from occurring in the first place; countries can emerge out of hunger and poverty. Through Feed the Future, the U.S. global hunger and food security initiative, we are working to support agriculture-led growth and catalyze economic opportunities. Our efforts recognize the importance of providing food aid and other humanitarian assistance during crises to save lives and protect livelihoods. They also integrate nutrition interventions to ensure that our investments lead both to improved agriculture and to better health so that we can ultimately help create the conditions where emergency aid is no longer needed.
Unfortunately, the reality today is this: More than 13.3 million people are in crisis in the Horn of Africa. That’s a staggering number. But we, using our collective voice and action, can make a difference. By raising awareness within our communities – be it by participating in community walks, hosting house parties, posting blogs, or simply forwarding the facts to friends and family – we can all make an impact. We are the relief. Getting the word out is the first step. We may have miles to go, but together we can go the distance to help alleviate poverty, hunger, and suffering.