Eating Simply To Save A Life

After experiencing how it changed her own family at home, a Lahash sponsor sees firsthand the profound impact of Rice & Beans Month for another family on the other side of the world.

In the small town of Shinyanga, Tanzania, children are most often seen playing soccer or other games, helping with chores, or walking to and from school. As a little boy, Philipo wanted to do all those things too, but sickle cell disease left him weak and in pain. The combination of this genetic condition and chronic malnutrition were slowly stealing his childhood, leaving him on the sidelines while the other kids played.

His mother, Margaret, knew her son needed more help than she could give him. Her days were consumed with seeking out odd jobs just to pay rent for their single-room house and get at least one meal a day on their table. With a husband whose influence in the family was more harmful than helpful, Margaret alone bore the burden of their safety and survival. The sicker Philipo became, the more she worried that her efforts to keep him alive would fail.

Path Of Hope Children’s Ministry was started by a local church in Shinyanga specifically to help families like Margaret’s. Education rates in the region are low, malnourishment is high, and many children are not receiving vital medical care. For many years, Path Of Hope has partnered with Lahash to help these vulnerable kids receive the holistic care they so urgently need.

In early 2018, Philipo was accepted into the Lahash Child Sponsorship Program, and it wasn’t long before Garrett and Stacy Nelson from Portland, Oregon, were matched with Philipo as his sponsors. This helped with his medical care and school fees, and surrounded Philipo’s whole family with care and support like they had never known. And little by little, Philipo started making his comeback.

Garrett, Stacy, and their son Emrick prayed for Philipo often and treasured every update they received. When they heard about Lahash’s annual Rice & Beans Month event, they were excited to join in and connect with Philipo even more. During the month, they ate simple dinners of rice and beans every night in solidarity with Philipo’s family, and then donated the money they saved on groceries. “It was so cool to get to explain to Emrick why we were doing this,” Stacy said. “He goes grocery shopping with me every Monday, so we talked through our choices together. He understood that if we decided not to buy a five-dollar item that he wanted to put in the cart, we could give that money toward Rice & Beans Month. He’s only four so he didn’t love eating rice and beans every time, but he is as invested as Garrett and I are in Philipo’s life.”

As their bond with Philipo deepened, so did Stacy’s desire to meet him. When the opportunity came up to travel with Lahash, she embraced it without hesitation. Stacy and Philipo met for the first time at church in Shinyanga. The service was held outside under a large tree, and Philipo was up in front singing and dancing with the church choir!

Stacy and the Lahash team made their way to Philipo’s house later that afternoon, only to find that Philipo had grown impatient waiting for her arrival and headed out into the neighborhood to look for her. His mother, Margaret, was just as excited for the visit, and glowed as she greeted Stacy with complete open-hearted joy. Throwing her arms around Stacy, she welcomed her over and over again, even saying that she felt so happy she could fly!

Margaret’s heart soon poured out through words that tumbled like a river. She talked about how sick Philipo had been, his belly distended from malnutrition and his eyes looking so sad. She remembered days that he could hardly move due to weakness and pain. From the time she found out that Philipo had been sponsored by Stacy’s family, she prayed that she would be able to meet them one day and thank them. Margaret was honest about the hardships of their life, and yet expressed so much gratitude for God’s faithfulness and Philipo’s recovery.

Over the years, Path Of Hope had used funds from Rice & Beans Month for a lot of creative projects including vegetable gardens, rainwater harvesting, and purchasing a plot of land for agricultural development. But at Philipo’s house, the Lahash team got an up-close look at how Rice & Beans Month was helping to save the life of one specific child. Staff member Donald Nyakyema explained how they earmark a portion of the funds received from Rice & Beans Month to supplement the nutrition of kids in the program who have sickle cell disease or HIV. These kids receive a special nutrient-dense high-protein porridge, along with eggs and any additional food that fits into the budget. It’s helping them gain weight, fight against illness and infection, and take their medications consistently without discomfort.

“We have seen a lot of impact for our kids who are receiving this extra nutrition,” Donald was happy to share. “Since Philipo has been receiving this nutrition, his health has improved a lot. He smiles all the time, he feels very strong, he can go to school every day, he can come to the church and to the sponsorship program. And he’s so much happier! So we want say thank you to all the families who are supporting us through Rice & Beans Month, may God bless you.”

While at Philipo’s home, Stacy got to help cook a simple meal and enjoy it with the family. “Philipo’s disease is always going to be a challenge,” she realized after spending time with them. “I’m really grateful for this nutrition program supported by Rice & Beans Month because Philipo will probably always be on the receiving end of it. Seeing him eating and playing makes me so happy, but also makes me aware that his health will be like a roller coaster his whole life. Stable nutrition is going to be key for him to be healthy and successful.”

The Nelson family joined Rice & Beans Month to connect more deeply with Philipo, but until Stacy’s trip to Tanzania, they didn’t realize just how life-altering the benefits were for this little boy they loved so much. By eating in solidarity with Philipo, they helped restore his health and strength. Through Rice & Beans Month, God answered the prayers of a young mother desperate to save her son, and expanded a family’s love big enough to stretch around the world.

Philipo is ten now, and still small for his age. But his big personality easily draws attention his way, and he’s quick to pose, dance, or flash a grin. The playful sparkle in his eyes has a magnetic effect on his friends. No longer stuck on the sidelines of life, it’s easy to envision a bright future for Philipo, especially with Lahash, Path Of Hope, and the Nelsons to cheer him on.

There are families like Philipo’s at each Lahash partnership across East Africa who are working hard to overcome incredible obstacles to their health and well-being. They are often hungry due to food insecurity, and they are also hungry for hope. Hungry to know that a compassionate global community cares about their struggles. Rice & Beans Month makes our care and concern for these families as tangible as the items in our grocery carts and the food on our plates.

As you decide how to engage in Rice & Beans Month this year, be encouraged by a participant who has now experienced it from both sides of the world. “I’ve seen the impact firsthand,” Stacy shares. “Whether it’s one meal a day or one meal a week, you can change lives! The money you save on your grocery bill directly affects the kids’ health, their ability to focus in school, and really their entire family. Please, no matter how much you participate, join us for Rice & Beans Month! It will absolutely change your life while you’re changing the lives of the children in East Africa.”