The Desperate Way One Mom Fights Her Children's Hunger Pains


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This piece was originally published on and has been reprinted with permission. 

Forget scorned women: Hell hath no fury like a hungry toddler. If I’m just a little late in serving my 2-year-old his meals, I can expect a tantrum or two. At the very least, he’ll run to our pantry, wave his chubby arms in the air and declare, “I want to pick” — as in, “pick food.” Fortunately for him, the pantry is full of snacks and treats to fill his tummy.

But many kids both here in the U.S. and around the world aren’t as lucky.

Headline after headline tells the story of children going hungry as a result of poverty, war, or some heart-wrenching combination of the two. I see so many of these stories every day that I’m afraid I’ve become almost numb to them.

Still, this month, one stood out. The World Food Programme, a U.N. program that provides food assistance in 75 countries, published a story about a Syrian refugee living in Lebanon. Her name is Fatmeh and she struggles to afford food for her two children, one of whom has a heart condition that requires expensive medication.

“When we can’t afford both medicine and food, I tie scarves around my boys’ bellies at night so they don’t wake up crying from stomach aches because they are hungry,” Fatmeh said.

That sentence wrecked me.

The idea of tying a scarf around your waist to prevent hunger pains is an old wives’ tale and provides temporary relief at best, according to a World Food Programme spokeswoman. It’s likely harmless, she said, but it’s not something WFP advises people to do either. I consulted a family physician stationed in a third world country and she, too, expressed skepticism about the practice, saying the scarf would have to be incredibly tight to have any effect.

But if I was in Fatmeh’s place, I’d probably follow the old wives tale anyway. If I had no food to give my children, yes, I’d cling hard to the possibility that a scarf might offer them some relief.

I’d cling to anything that might dry my babies’ tears at night.

I never want to know that feeling of powerlessness and desperation. No one should. Yet the WFP’s overstretched budget — the world is seeing an “unprecedented” number of humanitarian emergenciesThe Guardian reports — means that moms like Fatmeh contend with this reality on a daily basis. Fatmeh’s family, who fled their home after shelling ravaged their city, survived their first year as refugees with the help of WFP aid. But by 2013, money for tens of thousands of refugees ran out.

It wasn’t until this past April that the family received word that they’d be eligible for aid again but they won’t be getting much — just $13.50 per month, loaded electronically on to food cards, per person (less than $60 per month for Fatmeh’s family of four). In better days, refugees received as much as $27 per person.

Fatmeh, who’s had to beg for money and perform what WFP called “exploitative labour for low wages,” said she’s given up hope of ever living normally again.

“I know the world has forgotten us too; we’re too much of a burden,” she said. “They’ve given up on us too.”

We have not forgotten you, Fatmeh. And after reading your words, I don’t think we ever will.

For more information, or to donate to the World Food Programme, click here.


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