African adventures inspire pair

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Unsponsored children in the northern Ugandan town of Gulu hanging around, watching Justin and Jen Landis during their 2007 visit. (Photo courtesy JUSTIN LANDIS)

Editor’s note: This is the third of three stories about a local initiative, Feel the Hunger Day, to raise awareness of world hunger.

SANDPOINT — Many people in Sandpoint are now counting down the days until “Feel the Hunger Day” this Wednesday, Dec. 8, when they will eat just half a cup of rice all day to raise awareness of world hunger. Some might well be apprehensive, knowing that it won’t be easy and that they will go to bed hungry. But they will at least be able to look forward to a lot more food the next day, unlike the children encountered by Sandpoint locals Justin and Jen Landis on a visit to Uganda in 2007, for whom being hungry is a daily reality.

After a chance meeting with representatives from the International Children’s Network (ICN) at a fundraiser, the Landises were touched by the work the organization was doing and wanted to get involved.

“We liked the ICN model: helping at-risk children to get an education and break the cycle of poverty — giving them a leg up, not just a handout,” says Justin Landis.

During their visit to Uganda with ICN, the couple went to six different schools run by the network in the capital city, Kampala, and in nearby rural areas. Only children who were sponsored were able to go to school.

“For these children, school didn’t just mean education, but food and clothing, too,” says Justin Landis. “They got two bowls of rice a day — probably the only food they would get, and a school uniform — some of the only clothes they had.”

Despite the hunger that these children were living with every day, they didn’t seem to have a high level of desperation, the couple noticed.

“This is their reality, they are used to it,” says Justin Landis. “But being used to something doesn’t make it right.”

The couple believes that sponsorship is a great way to help fight poverty and hunger, and as a result of their trip, they chose to sponsor two children from Uganda. The first was a 9-year-old girl named Florence, who they met at a school in Kampala, and with whom Jen Landis, in particular, felt a strong bond.

The second was a 1-year-old boy, Matsiko Daniel, who they met at one of the clinics that ICN also runs in Uganda.

“Matsiko Daniel’s dad brought him to the clinic, dangling him by one arm, and just dumped him there like a sack of potatoes,” says Justin. “He was emaciated and almost completely unresponsive; only his eyes were moving.”

The little boy had been badly neglected by his unstable parents, possible substance abusers. Thanks to being sponsored, Matsiko Daniel (Matsiko meaning “hope” in the local language) was given a new start, as Justin Landis saw for himself when he returned to Uganda a year later: “The organization had found a lady in the area for him to live with, and I could see he had really bonded with his new ‘mom’ and he was looking healthy.”

Justin and Jen Landis found it hard not to want to help all the children they encountered in Africa.

“At the schools we saw other kids who weren’t sponsored, and they looked even gaunter, and less well taken care of. It made us realize we weren’t seeing the whole problem,” says Justin Landis. “There’s a tension — between wanting to do what you can, and feeling that there’s so much you can’t do. But sponsorship is something we can do consistently — we want to stay with Florence and Matsiko Daniel as they grow up and hopefully go to university.”

Keen supporters of Feel the Hunger Day, the Landises feel that it is an excellent way for people in Sandpoint and elsewhere to get involved in the issue of world hunger.

“Even to see hunger and poverty like we did is not to experience it,” says Justin Landis. “We don’t all need to go to Africa, but we DO all need to have our eyes open to the needs around us and take advantage of the opportunities we have to help. There’s plenty we can do locally, too.”

To sign up for Feel the Hunger Day, find out how you can blog about your feelings on Dec. 8, and read about other ways to help in the fight against hunger, visit www.feelthehunger.org.

To find out more about ICN, visit www.icnchildren.net.

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