How Do We Show Solidarity?

Dr.Niamh Clune
Published on: August 2012
Dust bites. Red storms strip all before them. Grains of sand are sharp, gritty, punishing. Winds come suddenly, filling the sky with feminine pink. The hazy colour has the thrust of pestilence, steals your breath, fills your lungs and blasts your eyes.

The blistering orb strips clean your bones, X-rays skin's thin veneer. There is nowhere to hide from sun such as this. The Sahelian sun is different to the one under which I live.

I love rain.

I could not live there. I did live there once in a mud hut with a grass roof. I fended off scorpions and hunting spiders. I slept beneath a mosquito net. Nevertheless, mosquitos found my bleached skin and sunk their proboscides into my flesh passing malaria into my blood.

I survived. Well, I would! I had access to medicine and a hospital that took good care of me. I could escape, fly away to another sun, to rain, verdant fields, supermarket food.

I never understand people complaining about the weather.

Where I was in Sahel, people were tall, black and straight as ebony sticks, and stood out in sharp relief against the barren landscape. In that terrain, even colour is forced to fight for existence. White is colourless.

People who live there are experienced in coping with three year drought cycles, in the expectation of having one good year. In 2002, after global dimming was discovered, a Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) report suggested that the drought was probably caused by air pollution generated in Eurasia and in North America, which changed the properties of clouds over the Atlantic ocean disturbing the monsoons. Tropical rains shifted southwards.
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The drought in Sahel has been in effect since the 1970's. African seed is as hardy as the people it feeds. Droplets of rain wake them from four year dormancy. But not even that seed can withstand neglect such as this.

Sahel is a belt spanning Africa from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea. The Sahel forms a transition between the Sahara desert in the north and the Sudanian Savannas in the south. Sahil ???? literally means 'shore, coast' and is derived from the vegetation that grows there and which, delineates sand from savanna. The people are pastoral, eking an existence from growing a few crops. Recurring drought undermines natural, traditional coping mechanisms. Locals no longer have sufficient animal herds to trade for food during their 'poorer' years. It is too long since the rains came. They have been unable to rebuild herds. Animals die of starvation too.

I realise that musicians and artists have traditionally stepped up to fill empty, African coffers. Such gestures are born of a desire not to feel helpless in the face of overwhelming helplessness and senseless tragedy. How do we allow even one child to die of starvation?

How do we show solidarity for those confronting starvation, displacement, disease and death? How do we show solidarity for children who will never grow properly, whose bones will be deformed because of malnutrition, whose future will be stolen by starvation, whose budding intelligence will be arrested, nipped in the bud, denied by intervening circumstance?

How do we show solidarity to children whose immune systems will be weakened by starvation, allowing the ravages of disease to inflict early death?

How do we show solidarity for mothers, too weak themselves to bury a child. The hungry desert claims carcasses.

How do we show solidarity for children left orphaned, whose mothers, baked by midday sun, starved and parched, grind grain to earn useless husks with which to feed their starving children?

How do we show solidarity for a mother who, on dying breath, reaches for the child she will leave behind to whisper love's last comfort?

Do we tell the children of Sahel that the world cares, or are we too wrapped up in our own business to spare a thought for them?

Do we, in the face of all the horrible things presently occurring in the world, maintain our Humanity and show compassion when many of us are struggling ourselves to sustain a livelihood?
We do what we can. We use what is God-given and free. We use our talent. Children cannot eat words. Blinded by starvation, they cannot see pictures. I wondered at the incongruity of this. Talent has value. It raises awareness. It inspires giving in others. As the Founder and CEO of Plum Tree Books, I put out a call across social media for artists, poets, writers and photographers to join me in a Song Of Sahel.

Myself and a group of fellow writers aim to bring creative voices together from across the world to participate in an on-line event hosted on 15th September. Poems, songs, story, photographs, art and music are being donated to raise our humble contribution-in-spirit the crisis facing Sahel. This anthology will be published on Amazon in a new, multimedia kindle.

Proceeds of sales go to SOS Sahel. Response to the call for submission has been uplifting. The poetry, art and music received so far is beautiful and inspiring.
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