Is there a moment in the year that brings us together like Christmas? Almost regardless of religious preference, age or socio-economic background, Christmas reaches through time and space and gathers us to itself.
Arguably, that coming together feels impossibly fraught. The practicalities of food, gifts, cards and tricky guests can take precedence over the imperfect reality that year after year, we brush differences aside, pause from our distractions and come together. And while the cast and scenery might change as the years roll on, the impetus to mark the moment remains.
But in that meeting lies tension and difficult questions. How can we eat, drink and be merry when our neighbours across the road and around the world struggle to get by? The festive spirit cajoles us to give charitably to those who are struggling to weather life’s storms.
However, our giving at Christmas is unusual: not in its response to need but in its lack of planning. We’re happy to throw a few quid to charity and persuade ourselves that when our conscience is salved the problem is solved. But that’s not how we live the other areas of our life. We know that when life is difficult, there are no easy answers. This is as true in our own communities as it is in communities across the world.
Hunger is not a simple problem. In sub-Saharan Africa, it’s driven by issues like climate change and conflict. In March 2017, 50 per cent of the population of South Sudan faced famine. Harvests were disrupted, food and fuel prices rose, and the economy collapsed.
People are still severely hungry: eating wild foods like water lily roots, and drinking unsafe water to survive. This crisis comes after more than three years of conflict, which has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths and the displacement of 3 million people. Conflict and instability, sexual abuse, executions and other human rights abuses, continue amid severe humanitarian needs.
Aluel, a mother of four, runs a small business selling tea and bread at the market in the north of South Sudan. On a good day, she can make £8. On a bad day – which happens more often than not – she makes nothing. On those days, they would eat one meal which would at times consist of wild leaves.
The current inflation rate in South Sudan is at 800 per cent, making the money she earns barely enough to help her family meet their basic needs.
Christian Aid can and does tackle the complexities of hunger. We are working with families throughout sub-Saharan Africa, providing life-saving support and long-term solutions to the food crisis.
“Before Christian Aid intervened, life had become very difficult. As a family, we urgently needed help,” said Aluel.
With the support of the unconditional cash vouchers from Christian Aid, which allowed her to access food items from the market for a month, Aluel began to see a difference. She saw the health of her children improve drastically as they started eating three meals a day.
Christian Aid provides cash vouchers to people struggling with acute malnutrition so they can buy food in local markets to help their families recover.
But we don’t stop there. We stay to see the roots of hope take hold by guiding communities towards improved nutritional practices for infant children, diverse food production and better access to safe water for all.
This Christmas, don’t just give and forget. Give a little and make a commitment to find out how to make life better for your neighbours across the street and around the world. Don’t just give money; give your time, energy, buying power and political will to find out what needs to change to ensure that all of us can live with dignity and equality. Life isn’t simple. But there is so much more to celebrate when we work together to make it better for all.
If you would like to make a real and lasting change to the lives of families like Aluel’s in South Sudan this Christmas, please log on to caid.org.uk/ChristmasAppeal.
Twice the impact! For every pound you give, the UK government will give a pound more.* That’s double the support for people living in poverty.
* Donations made to the Christmas appeal between 6 November 2017 and 5 February 2018 will be matched up to £2.7 million. We will use your donations for projects such as those featured. The UK Government’s match will fund our work in South Sudan.
Leanne Clelland, Communications Officer with Christian Aid Scotland.