Thailand (MNN/Compassion) — Today is World Food Day. Worldwide, nearly 800 million people are facing malnutrition. That’s more than twice the entire population of the United States.
It’s not that there isn’t enough food being produced. In fact, according to the United Nations Environment Programme, about 1.3 billion tons of food are wasted every year. That’s about 255 million pounds of food thrown away every day.
Yet hundreds of millions of people are suffering from not having enough to eat. Sub-Saharan Africa is the region with the highest dominance of malnutrition: one in four Africans are going hungry, according to the United Nations Food Programme. But with about 552 million people undernourished, Asia is the #1 continent where there is hunger.
Often times, hunger and poverty are linked together. It’s almost like poverty gets in the way of provision. But in Thailand and Myanmar, Compassion International has been working over the last few years to put a stop to both.
How? By growing tea leaves.
In this area, job opportunities are lacking. Many Myanmar parents of children in the Compassion program are forced to cross the border over to Thailand and work low-paying jobs in tea fields.
Due to the violence and restrictions which controlled the country for years, many people haven’t planted in years.
But last year, a de-escalation of tension and a loosening of restrictions led villagers to wanting to grow crops for themselves once again.
Compassion took action, and a Complimentary Intervention (CIV) was requested to purchase some starting tea bushes for the villagers to plant. Pastor Aphisit, a partner with Compassion, explains, “We provided each family enough tea bushes to cover just under an acre per family.” As part of the program, each family contributed a third of an acre’s worth of plants as well.
Once each tree is harvested, it yields as much as $1,000 a year for each family. But it takes a lot of patience. It takes three years for tea leaves to finally be ready. Right now, Compassion-sponsored families are in their second year.
Pastor Aphisit says in order to keep tea leaves growing strong and healthy, the best thing to do is leave the plants alone.
“For the first three years, you have to let the forest grow up around the tea plants. The grass and bushes trap moisture and protect the young, fragile tea plants from our harsh summers.”
For three years, all the tea planters will see is jungle, not tea. But inside, somewhere, the plants are being protected and nurtured by the dense brush.
Similarly, only poverty may be obvious, but now there are roots of hope in the hearts of hundreds of children and families who have passed through the churches here, who are nurturing and protecting them through the most fragile times of their lives.
Soon it will be time to celebrate, when the planters can rejoice in the tea plants that are uncovered. And we’ll rejoice with this community of refugees who won’t have to run any more. The community can finally put down their own roots.
But that’s just one community who will reap a harvest. This World Food Day, pray and provide for those who are really struggling: sponsor vulnerable children around the world. Also this Sunday, join your church in acknowledging the hungry.