The Ethiopia famine threatened the lives of many thousands of Ethiopian citizens. It has been estimated that four hundred thousand to five hundred thousand perished due to the famine in 1983-1985, and millions were made destitute. The Face of Hunger: Reflections on a Famine in Ethiopia by Byron Conner, M.D. is a memoir based on the years spent helping to the Ethiopian people and the lasting effects that followed the author’s family home to the US.
BREAKAWAY DAILY: Tell us about your book The Face of Hunger?
BYRON CONNER: It is the recounting of the history of a missionary stay of three years in the east African nation of Ethiopia from 1984-1987 along with my wife and two young children who were ten and five years of age when we made the trip. My wife and children stayed in the capital city of Addis, Ababa but I traveled extensively as I was given the task of supervising the work of eight clinics and a hospital spread around the country. Traveling was not easy as the government required travel restrictions especially on expatriates, and the infrastructure did not allow for easy travel. I traveled frequently by vehicle and made some plane trips by commercial airlines and with the British Air Force. Believe me, travel in Ethiopia at that time was a real challenge.
BD: What prompted you and your family to go on your missionary trip to Ethiopia during the crisis?
BC: I was between jobs as a physician and as I had some job options, the news reports of the famine, illness, and poverty compelled me to go to a foreign land. Fortunately, my wife agreed!
BD: When did you write the book?
BC: The book was not published until 2016 with another edition in 2018. I did a lot of stopping and starting in writing the book. It was painful to write and turned out to be the greatest challenge of my life.
BD: How did your experience as a doctor reflect your work on the famine and writing the book?
BC: Being a physician was critical. It compelled and motivated me to go. I wanted to use my medical knowledge to help those in need.
BD: You are a retired internal medicine physician yet you are very engaged with a robust health outreach and humanitarian community service in your hometown. Tell us about that.
BC: I wanted to motivate and inspire others to go and help out. Medical professionals are needed greatly.
BD: How did your personal experience impact your life and your family’s life?
BC: It turned my wife and I into real volunteers and we will be such the rest of our lives.
BD: Had you and your family also done volunteer work or was this something that sparked something in you that started your journey?
BC: We were already doing some volunteer work, just to a far less degree.
BD: You left Ethiopia after a few years to go back to Colorado and help your own community, leading to lifelong volunteering to improve the health of the community. Can you tell us about that?
BC: We have the same compulsion to serve the community as to serve overseas. It is an obsession.
BD:What do you hope people take away from reading the book?
BC: With volunteers and missionaries doing humanitarian work, the world is a better place.
BD: For people that want to help other countries that are suffering, or even help people in their own home countries, what do you suggest they do or are the first steps to offering help?
BC: There are a multitude of organizations and charities that can use your help. It is easy to find them. By helping others, you help yourself and the rewards are immense!
The Face of Hunger: Reflections on a Famine in Ethiopia is available via Amazon. For more information visit the author’s official website.