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George McGovern

George McGovern

Posted: May 14, 2010 11:03 AM

A Humbling Experience in One of Africa's Largest Slums

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Hunger is something I have fought tirelessly by encouraging a global commitment to school meals and nutrition. I am currently on a 10-day visit to Kenya and Uganda to see United Nations World Food Program (WFP) projects serving the same cause. This visit comes 50 years after President John F. Kennedy appointed me the first director of the U.S. Food for Peace Program.

On Tuesday, I visited the Nairobi slum of Kibera -- the largest slum in East and Central Africa -- with more than 1 million people. Life is hard and most residents struggle daily to put a meal on the table. Many of the children in Kibera are orphans, having lost their parents to HIV/Aids.

I want to share with you a touching experience when I met Lilian Adhiambo, a 22-year-old woman who is HIV positive and lives in Kibera. Lilian, through her HIV-infected child, receives WFP food assistance through a program feeding children who are HIV positive and their families.

With Lilian and her child, I saw the important role that nutrition plays in the management of the disease. Lilian said that with the WFP food, she and her child together with the rest of the family are able to lead a normal life and that she can even engage in small income-generating activities which, however, don't always do very well because of the high levels of poverty in the slums.

Amid the squalor of Kibera, Lilian's house though mud walled and with a dirt floor, was sparkling clean and her sparse furniture was neatly arranged in her small room. The resilience I saw in her humbled me.

I danced with a 10-year-old lady from Stara Rescue Centre, and listened to poetry and songs from children in the centre, which is both a school and haven for destitute and orphaned children.

The poems and songs were about the nutritious lunch they receive daily in school because of WFP and how it helps them concentrate in class and encourages them to stay in school. At that moment, I was proud of the fact that in 2001, together with my senator colleague Robert Dole, we pushed for the McGovern-Dole program which supports WFP's school meals in Kenya.

I firmly believe that school meals are the most important form of assistance that the United States can give in Kenya and other parts of the world. This is because school meals provide both a safety net for hungry children and an incentive to keep them in school so they can learn for a better future.