I turn over for what seems like the hundredth time and squint at the alarm clock. 11:48 PM. Only six minutes have passed since I last checked the time. It is two days into the pap and porridge fast. At night, without the distractions of work and conversation, it is almost impossible to ignore the hunger pangs. Giving that presentation tomorrow morning is going to be difficult.

When I visit South Africa, I always look forward to the food — spicy curry with potatoes and chicken over pap in KwaZulu-Natal or umphoqoko (phutu saturated in amasi) in the Eastern Cape. For these couple days, however, flavor and nutrients are lacking from this variation on the South African diet. This brief experience has provided a small glimpse into a challenge faced by many orphans and vulnerable children. I say glimpse, because of the duration of the fast and because, even with this restricted diet, I still have the comforts of indoor plumbing, Internet access, and a warm, safe place to sleep. The experience reminds one how success in school and home life is inextricably linked to a nutritious diet and a good night’s sleep.