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It is overwhelming.
My hyper-edited story is this. I enter a typical Mbuti Pygmy village and ask, “Where is your food?” They say, “We have no food” (this looks to be very true as I look at the bloated bellies of malnourished, infected, crying Pygmy toddlers). I ask, “Why do you have no food? People all around you have food and you have the same good, fertile land. Why don’t you cut the bush, till the soil, plant and harvest like your neighbors?” They respond, “We don’t have any machetes” (or hoes or seed, etc).
So, the logical step I have learned is to: arrive with machetes; let them cut the overgrown bush; retrieve the machetes (not so easy); loan hoes to let them till the soil; retrieve the hoes (not so easy); loan little hoes and give them seed to plant; retrieve the little hoes. Usually, this plan works, I return with most of my tools and most of the seed is planted (not eaten if closely supervised) and Pygmies eat the harvest.
But, after doing this for a while and spending much time in a village, I get to know these people and learn that:
Most of the children are not going to school;
Many of the men are drinking and beating (and sometimes killing) their wives;
Many women are drinking during pregnancy resulting in fetal alcohol syndrome;
There are no latrines,
No one washes their hands after they defecate all over the camp and elsewhere,
Every single Pygmy in the village has diarrhea and intestinal parasites and other diseases
Malaria is common and usually goes untreated resulting in death among infants,
Some young Pygmies have severe complications from untreated malaria and malnutrition.
So, so what do we do know? This is the challenge. Building latrines and teaching sanitation and hygiene saves lives and reduces suffering. Digging wells and installing pumps for clean water is truly life saving. Buying medicine or connecting Pygmies to medicine or a clinic – especially malaria medicine – surely saves lives. Agriculture done right feeds many Pygmies who would otherwise not eat.
But, after spending everything you have to do all of this, I ask myself, “Why am I doing this?” Answer: Because, “Whatever you have done to the least of these My brothers and sisters you have done to Me.” And “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”)
These scriptures keep me going but this question keeps changing what I do. “Is the best thing I can do?” The answer is usually, “No. There is always a better way.”
What is the BEST, most EFFECTIVE way to bring sustainable, long term change to Pygmies?
The best answer (so far) is a program called, “Positive Change”.