My wife and I are friends with one of Africa’s richest women, at least by her accounting. We were honored to have her over for dinner at our home recently, and to our surprise she reciprocated by inviting us to her home for a lovely dinner with some traditional African specialties. This intelligent and eloquent woman a few years ago was an orphan seemingly destined for poverty when another family, about to emigrate to the US as refugees, was able to bring her along. She told us why she is ow one of the wealthiest African people she knows: it’s because she eats more than just one meal a day, and in fact often has three meals, a rare luxury in her homeland of Burundi. She has a job in the Fox Valley of Wisconsin that pays enough to let her always have food on hand so she is never forced to go hungry and doesn’t have to wander from house to house offering to do housework for food. Even more amazing, she has her own car, a true rarity outside the politician class, making her truly one of the richest people anyone in her African community might know.
She’s ambitious and diligent, holding down two jobs to not only have plenty to eat and maintain a car, but to also save for the future and to help support people from her community in Africa that don’t have the great blessings she enjoys. As we learned about her regular efforts to send money back to Africa, we were really touched and recognized a great opportunity to chip in without the high overhead or corruption risk that some charities bring. We chipped in a small amount, and a couple of weeks later when she had us over for dinner, we learned how that money was transferred to her aunt in Africa and that it fed a group of people for two weeks. She showed us photos of the group and played a beautiful message of thanks from one of them acting as a spokesman, speaking in the national language of Burundi which, while a Bantu language supposedly having many similarities to Swahili, did not seem to have any obvious similarity to the Swahili we have been learning to support our calling something we are experiencing with quite a few people from East Africa. (We’re striving to learn Swahili to support our calling. We have been called in our stake as “ministering specialists” for the local African community, which seems like the best calling ever.) Fortunately, our friend translated.
It’s painful to recognize that in spite of relative peace in many nations and the theoretical chance for prosperity, so many people still struggle with such basics as getting more than one simple meal a day. Many in Africa still go hungry regularly. There is a need for more to be done to overcome corruption (this seems to be the #1 problem that destroys so much for so many) and allow economies to grow. There is a need for more support for education to help young people learn how to prepare for productive jobs. There is a need for charitable efforts to help ensure that more people get basic nutrition and health care.
Reading statistics about poverty is one thing, but it’s quite another to meet people who grew up in that poverty and can testify of its lingering impact on their community, and to see the faces and hear the voices of those who are now or recently have been going hungry.
I feel we may face similar challenges in the US as our own economy has become so fragile due to supply chain issues and the growing ravages of inflation and massive debt. We must never think our comfort is secure, or that three meals a day is something to take for granted because a grocery store is just down the street and we have a stack of credit cards and a nice job. This is a time to both prepare for harder times ahead, and yet to increase our efforts to help those around us, and around the world. From Ukraine to Burundi, there are those facing terrible poverty and gnawing hunger. May we find more ways to help, bypassing failed and corrupted channels, finding ways that actually work and lift others. The Church is doing much in terms of humanitarian aid and service in many nations, but there’s unending need for creativity and inspiration in finding ways we as individuals can do more to help.
I’d appreciate you suggestions on ways you’ve encountered to help, such as trustworthy charities with low overhead. Two that we support are Days for Girls and Empower Playgrounds. Days for Girls provides innovative, low-cost feminine care products to help girls keep going to school instead of missing several days every month, a widespread problem in Africa that greatly limits the ability of women to get the education they need for success. Empower Playgrounds, a charity created by a BYU engineering professor, began as a clever way to provide rechargeable electrical lamps to students in Africa so they could study at night after they complete their after-school chores at home. The power comes from innovative playground equipment such as merry-go-rounds that turn the play of children into electricity for recharging lamps. Empower Playgrounds has expanded and is now also helping to provide computers to schools so students taking courses on computer programs can finally experience how those programs actually work.
Our friend wishes to return to Burundi when the time is right and to make a bigger difference in her community there. She was an orphan, seemingly destined for poverty, until a kind family there brought her with them as they obtained refuge in the United States. She can hardly believe her good fortune in coming to the United States, where she is laying a foundation now that she hopes will help her later do much in Africa. I pray that this very rich woman from Africa will have increased success in making many others rich as well.
I hope that all of us won’t take any meal for granted and will wisely prepare to be able to help our own families and many others in troubled times ahead. Out-of-control debt and rapid printing of currency has been tried in many places, and it never turns out well.