EDITOR’S NOTE: Many Southern Baptist churches will observe their annual World Hunger Sunday on Oct. 10. For resources to promote the World Hunger Fund, visit www.worldhungerfund.com.
SWEETWATERS, South Africa (BP)–Hlengiwe is but 14 years old, yet she is the head of her household, taking care of her seven younger brothers, sisters and cousins. Her parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles are all dead from AIDS.
Weekly food parcels provided by Southern Baptists through their World Hunger Fund (WHF) help feed Hlengiwe and her family.
Nearby, Sibosisal refuses to admit he has AIDS, even though his body is rapidly wasting away. He can barely care for himself and will soon die. Weekly WHF food parcels also are helping to keep Sibosisal alive.
The devastating effects of HIV/AIDS hit well over 50 percent of the population of Sweetwaters, South Africa, where Hlengiwe and Sibosisal live. Sweetwaters is located in KwaZulu-Natal province, which has the country’s highest HIV infection rate, according to the South African Department of Health.
The powerful forces of famine, earthquake and flooding leave hundreds of thousands — even millions — of people hungry, said Mark Hatfield, who with his wife Susan directs work in Sub-Saharan Africa for Baptist Global Response (BGR), an international relief and development organization that helps administer the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund throughout the globe.
“Attention is not often focused, however, on small communities like Sweetwaters, where, because of the HIV crisis, hunger is felt just as deeply,” Hatfield noted.
As part of Southern Baptists’ response to the HIV/AIDS crisis, BGR works alongside Tabitha Ministries, a local Christian organization near Sweetwaters, to provide food to more than 6,000 individuals affected by the disease.
“BGR has been able to partner with organizations like Tabitha Ministries to provide food parcels that supplement the nutrition levels of child-headed households, those on anti-retroviral treatments and those suffering with full-blown AIDS,” Hatfield said.
“We are able to supply these nutritional food parcels because of the generous and sacrificial donations of Southern Baptists,” Hatfield added. “All the food products in the parcels are purchased with funds provided through the World Hunger Fund.”
The World Hunger Fund is mainly supported by an annual offering in Southern Baptist churches each October. This year, World Hunger Sunday is Oct. 10.
People in southern Africa, one of the regions hardest hit by HIV/AIDS, don’t talk about the disease, they talk about hunger, said James Morris, former director of the United Nations World Food Programme, in a report on the relationship between hunger and AIDS. Morris said food plays a critical role in providing people with nutrition that can help them “fight off the infection, regain strength and live productively.” Malnutrition breaks down people’s immune systems and makes them more prone to disease, including AIDS.
“Ending AIDS is not a battle we will win with medicine alone. We need proper nutrition, education and clean water,” Morris said.
“One of the things that you see in areas of poverty is that there is no margin in anyone’s life to be able to survive a crisis,” Hatfield said. “HIV is a huge crisis that is magnified in areas already dealing with poverty, where it turns into this miserable experience that many times leads to a very painful and horrible death.”
In Sweetwaters, the World Hunger Fund provides eight tons of food per month to “desperate people, most of whom need the sustenance merely to survive,” Hatfield said. “The food parcels are a supplemental amount of food going into a home. It is not everything that they need — there is no way we could provide all that right now — but it is a supplement and it is a help.”
The parcels contain basic foodstuffs like corn meal, rice, beans, canned fish, salt, sugar and tea. Each household also is given fresh produce grown in greenhouses supplied by BGR. As they distribute food, volunteers with Tabitha Ministries tell members of each household about God’s love for them and the full, meaningful life He created them to enjoy.
For those with advanced AIDS who cannot eat solid food, a nutritious soup is made from vegetables grown in the greenhouses. These are combined with a dehydrated soup base and distributed by Tabitha Ministries’ caregivers.
“This is truly a biblical ministry, feeding the widows and orphans and assisting the sick and destitute who are in need,” Hatfield said.
Charles Braddix is a writer and photographer for the International Mission Board. You can contribute to the World Hunger Fund through your local Southern Baptist church or state Baptist convention. Learn ways to promote the World Hunger Fund in your church and community at www.worldhungerfund.com.