The starving children


Most of us can remember a dinner time “food fight” in which our mother’s final salvo was, “You had better finish eating your dinner because there are children starving in China!” Of course we dared not point out the absurdity of this argument by suggesting that we pack up our uneaten food and send it to the Chinese children.

Still, despite the power struggle over dinner time dynamics, mentioning the starving children of the world had its value in bringing a larger global consciousness to us kids. That’s not a bad thing for today’s children — especially those who are chronic complainers. When they recognize the troubles experienced by children in other parts of the world, they gain a perspective that balances their expectations of entitlement.

One way to do this is to use world news to expand their world view. For example, the story of the 12 soccer players and their coach who are stranded miles inside a cave in Thailand can give them, and us, a new perspective. One can only imagine the distress they are under — and especially the stress their families were under when their children were separated from them and they had no idea if they were alive or dead. When the team was discovered alive, there was much joy, but at the same time there was concern because of how malnourished the children were and how difficult it will be to lead them to safety. We can invite our children to pray for these soccer players and give God gratitude for our own safety and the abundance we have.

Of course there are some others stories that would be disturbing to our young children. In fact I can hardly bring myself to consider the plight of so many children worldwide who suffer greatly. The latest horror coming to light are the 5,000 children dead or hurt and the 400,000 malnourished children as a result of the war in Yemen. (When such large numbers are mentioned, I think of a quote attributed to Josef Stalin, “One death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic.”)

At first this story escaped my attention because it was happening in Yemen. This is one of many countries we didn’t study in school when I was a kid. We heard of Thailand — the musical “The King and I” was set there. But Yemen? Who ever heard of Yemen? Secondly, when reading the headlines of the hundreds of thousands of casualties of a war I hadn’t heard of, I wasn’t sure I wanted to know about something I couldn’t do anything about. I like happy news, not depressing, overwhelming evil news.

The kids in Thailand were caught up in an accidental flood. The kids in Yemen are suffering because of man-made evil. I’m rooting for the dozen soccer players in a cave. I want to turn away from the 400,000 starving to death in the desert. Something is off balance in me. I certainly am praying for a peaceful resolution of the war in Yemen and that the children will be saved by the humanitarian efforts that are poised to help — if only the violence stops. And I wish I could do more than write about it.

Our mothers were right to alert us to the plight of starving children. Alas, this many years later, the plight remains.


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Pastor of St. Bernard's since 2013 and known for his engaging homilies and community presence, Father Ralph Sommer is also a treasured columnist for the Levittown Tribune.


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