Radio Readers Book Byte: In Times of Distress

Sep 20, 2017

The topic of food and its scarcity always brings me back to working with the people on Smokey Mountain, located in Balut Tondo, Philippines. The people had no access to clean water. They also had limited money to purchase food.
Credit Melany Wilks / Colby, KS

Hi, Radio Readers – I’m Melany Wilks talking to you from my home in Colby, KS.  

The book, “Five Quarters of Orange,” by Joanne Harris talks about food in the midst of WWII.  I kept being drawn to the fact that the families had homes and farms where they normally grew food for their lives. But that the soldiers came in and took what they had grown or stored. When the floods came and the weather destroyed the crops the community really began to suffer.

As Francoise Simon is describing her family having to harvest the fruit from the trees when all that was left was rotten fruit in habited by hornets.  And the need to pick the fruit, then boil the fruit and skim off the insects from the top of the jam or syrup.  Sounds really gross but that is what happens when food is scarce.

The topic of food and its scarcity always brings me back to working with the people on Smokey Mountain, located in Balut Tondo, Philippines. The people had no access to clean water. They also had limited money to purchase food.  We helped with sponsoring children and youth into elementary, high school and college.  We found a people that loved their children and wanted to make an honest income.  If this meant scavenging in the garbage for materials so they could re-sell items and then buy food they would. Teachers told us that the kids were hungry and could not concentrate.  My husband and I started a student breakfast for 350 children.  This made a difference in the children’s health and performance at school!

A river plays a large part of this book. Catching fish for food for the family is important and play a large place in the narrative.  Boise was often at the river for many reasons.   When the weather and floods came, the river water was foul.

The river in this book reminded how important clean water is for a people. The water ways and rivers in Balut Tondo were polluted. There were no fish to be caught. When we first arrived, the people could push 5-gallon Gerry cans of water through the mud.  We worked with a group of 11 organizations to put in a gravity fed water system to all the areas of the garbage dump. The people built it and learned to operate it.  Clean water changed the hygiene and health of that community.   Read and enjoy the intrigue and suspense of this book!

Melany, your comments make me thing about what it’s like for children to grow up in wartime or under impoverished circumstances like you describe.

At one point in the book, Francoise – as an adult – looks back and tries to explain her interactions with the German soldiers, “Try to see what that meant to us. We were children. We had our own rules. The adult world was a distant planet inhabited by aliens. We understood so little of it. Least of all the Resistance.” 

Later, her brother Cassis challenged her, “Do you think it’s fair that some people have chocolate – and coffee, and proper shoes and magazines, and books – while others have to do without? Don’t you think they should pay for those privileges? Share a little of what they’ve got?”

I’m Kathleen Holt, thinking about children and their understanding of survival, politics, and the complexities of power. Find photographs shared by Melany Wilks and more by visiting Radio Readers Book Club under the features menu at hppr.org.

. When the weather and floods came, the river water was foul. The river in this book reminded how important clean water is for a people. The water ways and rivers in Balut Tondo were polluted. There were no fish to be caught.Credit Melany Wilks / Colby, KSEdit | Remove

When we first arrived, the people could push 5-gallon Gerry cans of water through the mud. We worked with a group of 11 organizations to put in a gravity fed water system to all the areas of the garbage dump. The people built it and learned to operate it.
Credit Melany Wilks / Colby, KS