The Rev. Kirsten Fryer serves as pastor at St. Andrew’s United Congregation in Cairo and is also pastoral associate for St. Andrew’s Refugee Service, which works with South Sudanese refugees. During Lent, Kirsten is writing daily meditations on various words. This one, from March 17, is on “hunger.” To support Kirsten, click here. To support another of the ELCA’s more than 240 missionaries in the global church, click here.
It’s lunch time at St. Andrew’s Refugee Service (StARS).
About a half an hour ago, I walked down through the courtyard to see children lined up waiting to walk through the lunch line. A little later, students ranging from 3 to 18 were sitting around the courtyard, eating lunch, talking and laughing. Often, they will combine the beans into one dish and eat communally, as they do at home.
One of the important services StARS provides is breakfast and lunch to all of the children who are present every day of the school year. This includes the Montesorri preschool, Children’s Education Program, Unaccompanied Youth Bridging Program, and any child who is here for an appointment with Psycho-social or the Refugee Legal Aid Program. When money is tight, and it is among most refugee families, hunger is a huge problem. In some cases, this is the only opportunity the children have to eat a nutritious, hot meal.
On most days, over 200 children eat lunch at StARS. The cook is a master at cooking beans in the gigantic pot. She uses fresh ingredients and is assisted by a few older students who receive modest stipends for their work. Without that stipend, they may be forced to drop out of school to find work. This allows them to learn important skills, stay in school, and earn a little bit of money.
One of my favorite parts of the program is watching as students gather around tables, sit along the garden ledge, and where ever else they might find a clear spot. Earlier today, I saw two of the Unaccompanied Youth Bridging Program students sitting under the basketball hoops, enjoying good conversation and a healthy lunch. Across the courtyard, a line of 8- to 10-year-old girls sat, one next to the other, eating, talking and giggling.
The program feeds more than hungry bellies. It also allows children to be kids. They eat lunch, and then they play – football, jump rope, Hula Hoop, chalk. They sit and talk and giggle. The older students return to class after a time. The younger ones often wait for their older siblings to finish class so they can all go home together. They know they are safe. They know they have a place here.
I’m proud that ELCA World Hunger helps support this program. In most cases, when you send your check to ELCA World Hunger, or Presbyterian World Mission, or Church World Service, or whatever organizations you support, you don’t get to see the other side. But I see it every day of the school year when hungry bellies are fed and kids get to be kids. On behalf of the children who are eating lunch outside right now, thank you.