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David Koren
David Koren
Nigeria IX (1964-1966)
Nigeria IX (1964-1966)
See also
[[WID Biafran Airlift]]

Current revision

By invitation I attended a conference in Chicago July 27-29, 2012 called "Amandigbo," an Igbo expression meaning a "village square," a place for everyone to get together to join a discussion. The topic was to be an intergenerational dialogue between college students and their parents concerning their language and culture. These were very special parents - they had been the skinny, starving Biafran babies seen on television screens around the world in the late 1960s. They survived; they grew up; they became successful professionals: doctors, scientists, educators, business owners, and athletes. Lacking opportunity in the vanished state of Biafra, many Igbos emigrated to other places of opportunity, like the United States. Their children grew up here as American kids, and they wanted to know from their parents why they had not been taught to speak Igbo or anything about their culture or history, such as Biafra.

One of those grown up Biafran children, Dr. Ejikeme Obasi, who had found my memoir of the Biafran Airlift, "Far Away in the Sky," invited me to Amandigbo to speak to the younger generation of Igbo-Americans about the Igbo culture I had known in my Peace Corps years before the war and about the spirit of the Biafran people during the war.

Dr. Obasi told me his own story. He had been ten years old during the war. He had seen many other kids, his friends and family, slowly starve to death. He said that the relief food that we brought on the airlift literally kept him and the others alive. From the sacks of Formula II (corn meal, soy powder, and dried milk), his mother made yellow patties, shaped like hamburgers, for the children to eat. After school - their education never stopped - they each got one patty. As an adult living in the U.S., Dr. Obasi said he never wanted to taste corn meal again.

As a fundamental consequence of flying at night and leaving Biafra before dawn to avoid being shot down by Nigerian Migs, those of us working on the airlift never met those who were receiving the food. Until now. When those grown Biafran children met me in Chicago, they hugged me, repeatedly, shook my hand, and cried. I was the first person they had ever seen who had actually flown on the relief planes. They presented me with an award, an inscribed plaque with my new Igbo name, Nwannedinamba (foreign brother-emphasis on "brother") and the words, "On Behalf of the Biafran Genocide Survivors." On behalf of the Biafran Airlift flight crews, I accept the award and the obligation to serve as a conduit through which the gratitude of the people can flow to the airmen, living and dead, who saved a generation of fine people.

If we ever wondered what happened to those starving Biafran babies, something wonderful happened. If we ever wonder whether what we did as Peace Corps Volunteers did any good, it did. If we ever wonder whether relief aid we send around the world does any good, it does.

David Koren Nigeria IX (1964-1966)

See also WID Biafran Airlift

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