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A tale of two unemployments

July 26, 2011

By Mindy Mizell

Horn of Africa Drought Map, courtesy 2space.net

Map of areas in the Horn of Africa affected by drought, courtesy 2space.net.

I am only half way through my 17-hour flight from New York to Kenya and I’ve already had my fill of movies, music and gossip magazines. Now as most of the plane is asleep in the dark and I watch the animated map agonizingly track our long journey east, I can’t help but sit  and think.

While it’s somewhat exciting to be en route to my first emergency response as a communications officer for World Vision, I also know my impending arrival in the Horn of Africa isn’t about me. I am about to arrive in a region of the world where an estimated 11.5 million+ people are suffering in the worst drought in 60 years and enduring extreme hardship in the first official famine declared in two decades.

Yet, until now I too would have also categorized myself as one of those who have endured “hardship.”  When the U.S. economy went into recession in 2009, my husband lost his full-time job as a news producer in DC. Meantime, my own work as a freelance correspondent started to dry up. With our income suddenly slashed to nearly 25%, we were forced to make some tough decisions and opted to relocate nearer to family in Oklahoma where we could find jobs. We didn’t anticipate that 11 months later my husband would find himself unemployed again and would spend most of last year looking for another job.

Yet having just spent the past several hours of this flight scouring through a three-ring binder full of famine debriefs, I am astounded by the stark difference between my version of hardship and what I will likely witness.

When my husband and I suffered two rounds of back-to-back unemployments in a rocky economic climate in the U.S., I never once worried I would have to skip meals. I never had to go to sleep at night with my throat dry from lack of water. We always had a roof over our heads and enough in savings to sustain us for the short-term. Worst case scenario — we feared moving in with family in another part of the country. But my greatest day-to-day concern was really whether we could continue paying the bills.

Now, with both of us in new full-time jobs in New York, I am struck at how incredibly blessed we were all along.

In Somalia, not only are families unable to grow crops to make money, but they don’t have food or water to live on.

Many parents are having to pull their kids out of school to look for food or are attempting to relocate on foot to border countries knowing they run the risk of not making it there at all. Their greatest fear isn’t whether they can continue paying the electrical or cable bill but whether their children will survive the next few months. They are having to worry about contracting deadly diseases like cholera, malaria or measles!

It makes me wonder … what if my husband and I had battled job loss in Africa these past two years? We wouldn’t have had unemployment benefits to sustain us. Health insurance? Wouldn’t exist.  As for families to fall back on … ours would likely have been facing their own hardships too. And imagine having to tell your kids that they have to walk from DC to NYC in a 104-degree heatwave with no water bottles and no Power Bars … and by the way, we may run into some armed men who want to kill us. It boggles my mind.

My definition of “hardship” is slowly being transformed. I am starting to realize how these past few years could have been so much harder. And this lengthy plane ride? Yes, things could definitely be much, much worse.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. August 2, 2011 5:33 pm

    I wish you all the best. I am also planning to leave my comfort zone, here in Glasgow, Scotland and head to East Africa with Islamic Relief.
    You are so true in your words and feelings. We take so much for granted living in a developed country and most times are so ungrateful to Almighty for all his blessing upon us all.
    Keep up the good work and have a safe trip.
    Regards
    Habib
    http://Www.habibmalik.com

  2. August 3, 2011 6:59 pm

    Mindy, thanks for putting things into perspective!

    (P.S. Some Twitter & Facebook share buttons on this blog would help us help you spread the word about these issues. :)

  3. August 4, 2011 7:52 am

    This is so heartbreaking. Thanks for sharing.

  4. POTE permalink
    January 18, 2012 3:29 pm

    Thank you for sharing.
    I have seen poverty in Asia and S.America, and know for a fact that being born in Europe or N.America, is a gift of luck, yet most of those blessed with it, do not even notice.

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