Monday, January 9, 2012

Helping With A Hug

I am a big fan of Nicholas Kristof, the columnist for The New York Times and co-author of “Half The Sky”. He is in fact my favorite journalist. He illuminates the issues across the globe that I am most passionate about. He has covered Kibera and specifically the work of Shining Hope and The Kibera School for Girls in multiple articles. This guy knows his stuff.

I was overjoyed to come across an article he wrote this week entitled, “A Poverty Solution That Starts With A Hug.” In this article he talks about the release of a recent study by the American Academy of Pediatrics based on over twenty years of research. In the study doctors and researchers found that “toxic stress” in early childhood and even in the womb can create life long damage for a child. This occurs because of elevated cortisol levels released when a child is in crisis. The increase in cortisol then changes the chemistry of the child’s brain for life.

The fascinating part of this study is the antidote. Researchers found that best cure and prevention for toxic stress is affection. When a child is held, hugged, rocked, told they are loved, their cortisol levels actually go down.

When I read this article I wanted to shout it from the rooftops because it seemed to be scientific proof of my emotional experience in Kibera. The children we work with are often orphans or their parents are neglectful or abusive. In even the best scenarios the parents are gone all day looking for work. Children are left in the care of other children or to fend for themselves.

When our group of twenty Americans appears for two weeks each year they launch into our arms, fight over who gets to hold our hand and beg us not to leave. They are starved for affection. I often experienced girls who would rather lay with their head in my lap than play with any of the new toys we brought.

It breaks my heart because it is such a simple solution to such an epidemic problem. It costs no money or governmental approval, yet these children go without the fulfillment of one of their most basic needs. I’m not sure what the answer is but I am encouraged that people like Nicholas Kristof are shining a light on this devastating issue. Now go give someone a hug!

To read read Mr.Kristof’s article visit the following link:

Please also visit my previous blog post about Mary where I first discovered this great need.

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