The Tuesday after Memorial Day: the grills are retired until next weekend, and we’re stuffed full of burgers, dogs, and potato salad. Since a lot of us may be starting to feel sorry for ourselves (back to work, no time for food adventures until the weekend,blah,blah,blah), I thought this would be the perfect time to post about a very small, local, yet global, food event that will make you realize just how good you are really doing this week.
Back on April 18th, our very cool church, The United Church of Christ in Toms River, hosted an informational and celebrational event for a little-known organization called Sylvia’s Children. It’s a non-profit organization that supports the Mbiriizi Primary School in Masaka, Uganda, Africa. Currently, there are 1,002 children in the school — ages 3 to 14 — of which 236 are orphans (15 million children in Uganda under the age of 18 are orphaned by AIDS). Sylvia Allen, the “adopted grandmother” of these children, spoke of how she was living her dream of traveling around the world-when she came across this small school of beautiful children. She immediately felt drawn to them and their teachers, who were desperately trying to give them the best care possible despite the extremely difficult conditions and poverty.
But instead of pity, Sylvia realized the power to change things and make a difference started with her- thus, “Sylvia’s Children” was born. Unlike many missions and charities, Sylvia talked of creating a system of aid that preserves Ugandan culture and has an eye toward self-sufficiency (by the year 2012); as she said, “I am longing for the day when I can visit and they will say, ‘Thank you very much, but we just don’t need you anymore.’ ” In addition to building a clean water well, a dormitory, a library, a corn mill, and a playground (in memory of Kasozi Moses, who died of heart failure related to AIDS at age 11, for the lack of the money for medical care), they are currently working on a building program, a sewing entrepreneurship, a health clinic, a revenue-producing chicken farm, and a crafts co-op.
It was amazing to see how many lives could be changed for the better with just a small amount of time, money and attention. So, in celebration, we were treated to traditional African music, dance, storytelling, and food. We feasted on stews with lentils and cassava, tender goat meat (so rich, tender and good!), matoke (a wonderful, starchy dish made with green plantains), millet flat bread and rice. Much of the spice and flavor comes from Arab and Asian (Indian) influences, and is just as flavorful and aromatic. If you ever come across an African ethnic restaurant in your area, we highly recommend that you jump at the chance to try it (and please tell us!).
As it often is, food is the link that joins peoples thousands of miles apart together; tasting another culture is the fastest way that I know of that reminds we humans that we are all connected. And I think that John, myself, and our kids (well, Julian, anyway) left that day with a better understanding of the world outside of our cozy home, and our responsibilities to help other humans in pain (without asking them to bend to our culture in return).
And after all, isn’t that what food ultimately means to us-love?