For Amal RIP and know that you are loved


The two sides of a coin (not everything is what it seems)

THE TRAGEDY OF SAUDI ARABIA’S WAR was the title of The New York Times article I read on my flight back home from London. I generally enjoy reading political commentaries, but I read this article because it had a devastating picture of a child on the front cover. “Amal Hussain, 7, is wasting away from hunger. The Saudi-led war in Yemen has pushed millions to the brink of starvation,” read the caption.

It is not the kind of thing you would choose to read on a plane, but I sort of felt compelled to. I tried to tell myself I was interested because I work in development cooperation and because it involves food aid. I later realized that this not what caught my eye. Unbeknownst to me, my mind had made connections. Amal reminded me of pictures of children I had seen before — pictures that came out of a country that is not far away from Yemen, historically as well as geographically, and most certainly not far away from my heart — 1980’s Ethiopia.

However, what really drew me to the article was the fact that I recently became a father a year and 8 months ago and that my wife and I are expecting our second child.

When you become a parent — anything about children captures your attention. And this front cover and caption definitely captured mine.

Usually on short flights if travelling without my family — I love to read articles that I think will enrich and or entertain me. Little did I know that this one would break my heart to the core and have me sobbing like I have not for years. Reading over the clouds what is happening to innocent children in Yemen was a ‘grounding’ moment for me. I was truly devastated and felt a genuine heartache.

Now I am going to get a little technical — but bear with me:

Droughts happen everywhere, even in richer countries such as the US (California in recent memory) and Australia. Because of advanced economies and infrastructure — these droughts hardly affect the resilience as well as the availability and prices of food, and if they do, it would be in a minuscule way like missing out on your favourite fruit of the season or it being more expensive. In countries such as Ethiopia — where I work and have helped provide food relief, the consequences can be more severe when farmers are affected by bad harvest. In the best case scenario food prices go up, and people start making up for the shortage by skipping meals to save money — this especially affects poor people as they, more often than not, have no choice. In the worst case scenario — the food supply completely runs out and families are forced to leave their homes and villages in search of food. Imagine this happening in places where markets are not as advanced and infrastructures are not in place. It can be devastating. But the impacts could be minimized. The Ethiopian government, for example, has over the last three decades done a pretty good job, with the help of UN and multilateral agencies, building resilience and preparing for droughts — that is predicting them better and mobilizing food relief quicker and more efficiently.

What is happening in Yemen cannot be blamed on drought but on war. And I don’t want to blame either side specifically for that — but want to point out that people in leadership (on either side though) involved in the war have failed Amal and other children. People in leadership in countries that hold leverage between the actors have also failed the people of Yemen.

The New York Times article explains how food prices have gone up due to the fact that people have been making economically strategic decisions on purpose! Now let me be clear — the article does not say that they did this so as to force food prices to rise but with the purpose of crippling the rebel forces. On the other side — the rebel forces have also not been innocent. However — the collateral damages have been severe and children like Amal have been the ones impacted the most — with millions more at risk of losing their very lives due to starvation.

It’s despicable and disgusting, and as a father, I feel as helpless as I feel heartbroken! Is this the world I want my children to grow up in? A world in which we fight each other and force each other’s hand and let innocent people die.

The article does a fantastic job depicting the plight of the parents and families. As food prices go up, a lot of poor people began rationing their food and resources. What do you do as a parent that cannot afford to buy food? You leave in the hope you will find a place where food is available. In a situation like Yemen where war is raging the risk is too high and you try your best to make it day by day where you are at — as you see your children that once filled your home with their laughter and your heart with joy — slowly lose energy and vitality and ultimately end up with the fate of Amal.

What hurts the most is that the parents have to watch their children go from malnourished to severely malnourished to critically fighting for their life. I can tell you as a parent the worst thing you will ever experience is seeing your child sick and lifeless, and the worst I experienced was my baby boy running a high fever. I cannot imagine the despair, darkness and depravity these parents experience in their ‘man-made’ hell.

Dear readers, we live at crossroads. Never has the human race been so prosperous, yet, never has the inequality been so wide either. Never have we seen such an explosion of technology that is making our lives better and more comfortable but never have we also been so exposed to and felt so close to things happening so far away!

I am helpless but, yet, here I am writing about this — not knowing what I can accomplish.

In her life and now after her death, what I do know is that Amal is loved, by her parents, by people in her village, by people from afar and above all, she is loved by an eternal God that — in this situation might seem so distant — but is closer to her and her parents than many of us would ever know.

He has counted the hair on her head. Before she was born he loved her and knew her. In her mother’s womb as she was developing to be ready for this world — he saw her and smiled at her. As she took her first breath — he breathed over her and was touched by her. As her mother gave birth to her — in what I can say is the most excruciating pain I have ever seen a person — he was holding her and caressing her with his love while holding the hand of the mother. During her suffering, he was there holding her. And at her last breath, his heart must have ached filled with love and sorrow as he saw his beautiful daughter give up her life while he was holding on to her.

I know for a fact that God had plans for her that were good. I know that he equipped her with unique skills that she could only grace the world with. I know that God had a vision and a purpose for her. I know that God valued her more than we ever could.

How do I know? What was the value of Amal God had put on her?

I know because the Bible says that Jesus (the son of God — and part of the trinity God-head) gave up his life for all of us — including Amal. The value of her life was his own! That is her value and the value of each other child dying of our failure to love one another and put our own selfish desires aside.

For those who are responsible, I say this — we all are responsible because we have turned our faces from what is right and just. There will come a time for an eternal justice if we do not ask for forgiveness and turn away from selfishness and evil. If we do, though, this God that values Amal — also values you and is ready to accept your repentance as Jesus received the full wrath of justice 2,000 years ago in your place.

I cry because I feel pain as a father, but I repent because I am responsible for having turned my face away from the deplorable situation in Yemen. I repent and ask Amal for forgiveness, I also ask the God that has valued her with his life for forgiveness.

I might not be able to do much — but I will write about it and have tried to create awareness because Amal is valued and because Amal is loved. If not by us by a God that loved and valued her with his life.

So in my helpless, broken and mourning state — I now turn to you readers and say:
Please don’t turn your face from the terrible destruction happening in Yemen or anywhere else. Please don’t look away from injustice in your community, in your country and places beyond your borders. Let her death and the terrible tragedy in Yemen not keep you silent. Let us not allow fear and evil to win but let Amal rouse us to be loud about injustice and human suffering.

I quote Martin Luther King:

“The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.”

Amal RIP and know that you are loved!