The Commission just hosted a major conference on the Sahel food crisis. We brought together the Sahel governments, the UN, regional organisations and donors to work out how we can overcome the crisis and build resilience. We charted an ambitious course ahead. The Sahel needs solutions today and a better future for its children, so that they can grow up, dream and have the possibility of their dreams coming true. To tell us more about this, I invited the Spanish football star Raul Gonzalez, who is goodwill ambassador against hunger in the European Commission’s joint campaign with the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the European Professional Football Leagues.
Raul: I was recently in Chad, where a hunger crisis is raging. I saw for myself the terrible effect that hunger has on the most vulnerable – children. The problem is massive: in Chad and the other six countries of the Sahel region in Africa, more than a million kids are threatened by hunger. This means the very future of these impoverished countries is at risk.
Humanitarian organisations and donors work around the clock, and I was impressed by their efforts to save lives. But my trip convinced me that we must also help make these lives worth living. This requires not just action against hunger today, but also building up resilience and stimulating development.
With their funds and work on the ground, the European Commission and FAO are trying to do both. In Chad, I saw for myself the difference their assistance makes: pulling children, families and communities out of the hunger danger, and helping them walk steadily on their own feet toward a better future.
Although the crisis is terrible, I left Chad feeling optimistic – probably I caught this optimism from the children and young people I met during my trip. Their enthusiasm and thirst for life left a deep impression on me. In Mao, one of the regions worst-hit by the hunger crisis, I met a fellow football player – a young boy who stood out among his classmates because he wore a Real Madrid t-shirt. He dreams of becoming a professional footballer. But the boy’s family has nothing and Mao has no sports clubs, no football pitches, no coaches, not even shoes or footballs. It was obvious that this boy had very few opportunities to pursue his dream. As a football player who managed to achieve my dreams, and as a father, I cannot stop thinking about this boy. And I wish we could create opportunities for kids like him to grow healthy and to know that they can be what they want to be.
If given the chance to overcome hunger and to develop, the youth of Sahel can transform their impoverished countries. I recognized this potential in hundreds of young dark eyes in Chad, including those of Doloum, my translator during the trip. Having grown up in Chad, he was lucky to get a scholarship in Cuba. He went without speaking a word of Spanish, but returned to Chad fluent in the language, with a degree in his pocket and full of determination to help his country. I wish more of his nation’s children, who today convalesce in malnutrition clinics or perish from curable diseases, could have Doloum’s chances.
The way out of hunger and poverty and toward development is long and difficult, but the stakes are high – the lives and dreams of Sahel’s next generation. I am glad that Sahel’s children have professional and determined supporters like the European Commission and the FAO. And I am sure that, if we all try hard enough, if our solidarity is strong enough, we can beat hunger and offer Sahel the promise of a better future.