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Loving My Neighbors

A life-changing trip showed me they live in West Africa as well as down my block.

I was sitting in the bleachers, watching my daughter Grace play soccer, when my cell phone rang. I assumed it was one of my four other kids checking in.

"Mom, come quick!" It was my daughter Sarah. "I've fallen down the stairs, and there's blood everywhere. I need to see a doctor!"

After asking a friend to take Grace home, I dashed to pick up Sarah and rush her to the doctor. Within an hour, he stopped the bleeding and closed the gash with a neat row of 20 stitches.

As we drove to the pharmacy for antibiotics, I thought about how different my response to a medical emergency had been from that of another mom I'd met just four days earlier. Haoua Seine, who lives in the West African country of Niger, had brought her small son to see me as I visited sponsored children in Talladje, a World Vision development project on the outskirts of Niamey, the capital city.

The boy had a poultice that looked like mashed potatoes stuck to his foot.

"What happened to this little boy?" I asked.

"He fell into the fire," one of the community workers explained.

"Has he seen a doctor? His wound looks badly infected."

"No, his mother's using traditional medicines."

No cell phone plea for help, no frantic drive to the doctor's office. Just a mixture of herbs and the uncertain hope her son would get better.

As I walked around the medical tent, I realized that despite our differences, these young mothers and I share much in common—love for our children, hopes and dreams for their future.

In Niger—a country ranking dead last on the United Nations' Human Development Index— children don't have necessities American mothers take for granted: clean water, education, medical care, adequate food. Located on the edge of the Sahara Desert, the earth's poorest nation depends on the rainy season for survival. But in 2004, it ended early, and with it ended the hope of producing an adequate harvest. On top of drought, a massive locust infestation destroyed what little crops survived. People sold their land and livestock to purchase food. However, in the face of shortages, the price of grain in the marketplace jumped 170 percent, well above what most people could afford. Men moved far from their villages in search of work, and women waited at home without food for their hungry children. The crisis left nearly 800,000 children facing starvation, and more than three million people in critical need of food.

Because my husband works for World Vision, I occasionally travel to countries where the ministry operates to improve the quality of life for impoverished children. But until visiting Niger, I'd never seen starvation.

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