Feeding Children in Mali

I read a book recently called Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts–Becoming the Person You Want to Be.  The book was just okay, but it contained a chilling story that I don’t want to forget.

The book was written by a motivational speaker, and a master of the story and anecdote.  We apparently volunteered in the Third World, and relayed this story about his time in Mali, and of a picture he keeps in his office to remind himself of what he has.

The picture shows the 35-year-old me kneeling next to a Red Cross professional in the Sahara Desert. Behind her is a line of children between the ages of two and sixteen.

The food supply in Mali was extremely limited, so the Red Cross was introducing triage. Any available food would be handed out to children between the ages of two and sixteen on the chilling assumption that children under two would almost certainly die and those over sixteen might survive on their own.

The woman from the Red Cross was measuring children’s arms to determine who ate, who didn’t. If their arms were too large, they were “not hungry enough” and given no food. If their arms were too small, they were beyond saving and also given no food. If their arms were in the midrange, they were given a small portion of the available food.

Id’ need a sociopath’s personality to be unmoved by the experience. But as I returned home to my “normal” life, there was a good chance the memory, no matter how searing, would gradually recede in power. Except I have this photo.

The picture triggers gratitude, as if the 1984 me is coaching today’s me.

I try to comprehend the idea of denying a starving two-year-old food because they will die anyway, and I simply can’t. While I do not second-guess the people on the ground in that situation, and I just can’t wrap my head around a choice like that.

Much like the author kept a picture of the event to remember it, I took a photo of this page in the book, and transcribed it here so that I might too remember.