Beyond Bowls of Beans: How We’re Defeating Hunger Overseas

Children-Eating---Honduras---Photographer-Tanya-M

Rather than spending their days scavenging through trash dumps or searching the streets for food, children come to school for the food they so desperately need—and with their meal, they also receive an education. And education means hope.

Today’s post is the first in a four-part series introducing you to our proactive, sustainable approach to ending international poverty and improving livesOur Four Pillars—Food & Nutrition, Health & Water, Education, and Livelihoods—comprise an 8- to 10-year, integrated program that equips and empowers impoverished families and communities to achieve self-sufficiency.

Today we’ll take a look at the Food and Nutrition pillar, where we work toward positive, lasting change by making nutritious food consistently available in some of the poorest communities in the world.

It’s not about shock and awe—it’s the truth: Poor nutrition causes nearly half (45%) of deaths in children under five – 3.1 million children each year. So this is where we begin the battle. The development of positive, lasting change is untenable as long as malnutrition is taking lives—so our first step when we arrive in an impoverished place is to defeat hunger.

That’s a huge mission.

But we bring an arsenal of effective weapons and a precise strategy for defeating this enemy. Our approach in each situation depends on a community’s particular needs. So from Africa to Latin America to the Philippines to Haiti, we take aim where it’s needed most:

  • We construct or improve kitchens or feeding centers and energy-efficient stoves
  • We provide regular, hot, nutrient-rich meals through our school and community feeding centers
  • We offer nutrition education that includes the basics of achieving healthy, balanced diets, as well as training for children and adults about proper food preparation, handling, and storage
  • We distribute take-home rations, cooking pots, and utensils
  • We give agricultural training for the improvement of farming and irrigation, and we teach organic vegetable gardening to families, schools, and communities to help them establish and improve their own plots with healthful, indigenous produce
  • We distribute food supplements for pregnant and lactating mothers, deworming medication for children who can’t absorb nutrients, and vitamin supplements for malnourished children

And surely, steadily, with your help, we advance our cause.

school children at lunch in Guatemala

In El Salvador, we zeroed in on Ahuachapán, one of the country’s regions with the highest number of malnutrition cases among children under 12 years old. VitaMeal rice is a staple of our direct feeding program because it contains the vitamins and nutrients that malnourished children need to become healthy. We partnered with the Municipality of Ahuachapán, who brought in a nutritionist to work with the mothers of the 82 children who were starving in three of Ahuachapán’s poorest areas. We delivered 82 bags of VitaMeal, which she taught them how to prepare.

But this is not a one-and-done deal. We will continue to send each child one bag of VitaMeal every two weeks until they are no longer malnourished. Once all the children in those three areas are healthy, our El Salvador staff and the Municipality will move the project to other poor communities in Ahuachapán. And with every move, we win another battle against hunger.

In communities where we’ve implemented school- and community-based feedings such as these, we’ve seen attendance and enrollment increase more than 60%. This means that rather than spending their days scavenging through trash dumps or searching the streets for food, children come to school for the food they so desperately need—and with their meal, they also receive an education.

And education means hope.

Roxanna and her sister carry water for their family
Roxanna and her sister carry water for their family

Nine-year-old Roxana lives in the mountains, a treacherous 75-mile hike from Guatemala City. She and her six siblings crowd into a single-room cement block house with their parents, and her father tries to support them on four dollars a day by laboring hard to plant and maintain coffee trees for crop owners. Four dollars—the cost of a cup of coffee—is what Roxana’s father earns to harvest it.

They have no running water. The only water source the community has is a hike down to a tiny spring that they’ve rigged a rubber pipe to. The water is often dirty and sometimes they barely get a trickle. Several times a day, the women and children of the tiny community haul the water in jugs up and down the mountain. It’s a daily struggle just to get water—never mind food.

So our feeding center at her school is literally a life-saver for Roxana. Before we built the center, Roxana was severely malnourished. Now she and 130-150 other children receive regular, nutritious meals, medical care, and education when they walk through our doors. Roxana is fed—not just with food, but with hope. At school, she’s discovered that she loves math—she wants to be a teacher. And with a healthy body and hopeful heart, Roxana is a victory.

Hunger will not win.