The haves and have-nots of childhood

By Geeta Bandi-Phillips, World Vision UK External Relations Manager

When I was a little girl, very often I would go to pick up my friends from their homes after our school lunch break. I would finish my lunch quickly and run to my friend’s homes to sit next to them while they finished their own lunches. I would sit there chatting away and watching them relish their food.

More often than not they ate rice with an onion and a chilli on the side. It was eaten with love and respect. It looked delicious. Somehow it was something we never had at my home. One day, when my grandmother was at work and I was on my own at home, I tried it. I made it look exactly like how it looked when my friends ate it. I locked the door so my grandmother wouldn’t spring on me and sat down to eat. When I had a first mouthful, I could not get it down.

I looked at my plate...it was creamy rice mixed into a kind of soup with salt and water, and an appealing, fresh, purple onion and a plump green chilli on the side. I tried another mouthful and took a bite from the onion and the chilli. It was worse than before. Now my mouth and lips started to burn from the chilli. I drank a glass of water to calm my mouth and lips and took my plate out and threw the food away. I could not understand how something that was relished by so many of my friends and their families could be so unpalatable. I never tried it again after that, however appealing my friends made it look.

As I grew into a tall plump teenager, my friends’ grandmothers would think I was older than I actually was. I would complain to my grandmother; I did not understand why they would be soon mean to me, but she who would ask me to ignore them. I took it as an insult.

Now and then I would hear about a farmer or a daily labourer taking his own life. They mostly drank the pesticides that were readily available to them. Different people gave different reasons for these suicides – ranging from monsoon failure, debt, government policies, public mental health, personal issues or family problems.

All these events that looked so unconnected and random from a distance were so connected and indicative of a bigger picture. It took me a while to make the connection between food, nutrition, food security, and rounded body development. Years later, I understood that a lot of my friends and their parents were stunted; those bowls of rice they so relished were all the food they could afford day in day out...and many days they went without it.

The unfortunate ever-evolving and never-ending story of haves and have-nots was clear as day throughout my childhood, and I am so offended to say that it has not changed much since then either.

As we inch towards setting sustainable goals for international development, the role of governments, private sector, civil society and communities has never been so crucial. No one, I mean no one deserves to go to bed with empty stomach. My friend’s children do not have to endure the same as their parents.

At World Vision, we believe that each child and his or her family have the right to enough nutritious food each day to live a healthy life. All children should be protected against acute and chronic hunger and malnutrition. We believe that reaching the goal of ending extreme poverty and preventable maternal, newborn and child deaths will require ending hunger and achieving food and nutrition security for all.

As Nelson Mandela once said “Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. YOU can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.”

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