Three Hunger Words You Probably Misuse and Don’t Understand

Think about the time you last said that you “loved” a thing in your house like a new mixer or a garage door opener. Or, when you voiced a desire to “collapse” after work when you were just extra tired. Or even when you cried and cried about something that really wasn’t worth tears.

In American culture, we have a tendency to exaggerate how we feel.  We love strong and dramatic metaphors. We use words out of context all the time.

We say our ice cream is awesome and so are our mothers. We say we want to kill someone when we’re just slightly annoyed.  We say we’re starving because we didn’t eat lunch until 3 pm.

We’re all guilty of such contextual language errors.

When we talk about childhood hunger, many of us are  just as guilty of misusing words, or we’re just plain confused. We hear the term food security and wonder, ”Is this about keeping children safe? Or setting security guards around food supplies?” We’re not exactly sure what the difference is between a hungry child and one who is malnourished (though one does seem more severe), or between children who are malnourished and children who are stunted. And if they’re different, are those differences significant?

Feed the Children wants to defeat childhood hunger with advocates like you.  To do this, we’re taking some time to define some of these key terms so we can understand each other better and be better advocates.

Three Hunger Words infographic: malnourished, stunting, hunger
Copyright Feed the Children 2014

Malnutrition

When we think of this word, we often see visions of big bellies and children nearing death. But the term malnourished has a much broader definition.

According to UNICEF’s glossary of terms, a child suffers from “malnutrition” (or is “malnourished”) if his or her diet does not provide enough essential nutrients to grow and remain healthy or if they are unable to fully utilize the food they eat due to illness. (This is also called “undernutrition.”) We can also say a child is malnourished if the child becomes obese from consuming more calories than his or her body can use.

Malnutrition is the underlying cause of about 45 percent of all deaths among children under five in the countries where we work.

Weakened by malnutrition, these children have lower resistance to diseases such as pneumonia, diarrhea and malaria.  Children who are malnourished are much more likely to die from these diseases than children who are not.

Stunting

Most people think stunting is a word that refers to the size or height of a child. Just like malnourished, stunting is a term that covers much more than size.

UNICEF also provides us some guidance here when they say that stunting (or “chronic malnutrition”) can happen to a child if she does not consume enough essential nutrients over a long period of time. Stunting can start before a baby is even born if his/her mother doesn’t eat enough during her pregnancy. It can also start in the first months of life if the mother doesn’t eat well enough while breastfeeding or can’t feed the baby well enough other ways.

If a baby is malnourished for a long period of time, it doesn’t just stunt her physical growth. It can slow down her brain’s development, too. This makes it harder to learn and do well in school later on, and even can make it harder to earn a living as an adult.

Most tragic of all, if the child can’t get sufficient nutrition to stop and reverse the effects of stunting by the time he reaches the age of five, it’s too late. After age five, most of this damage to the child’s body and brain is permanent.

This is why we are focusing more and more on providing good nutrition for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. The first 1000 days of a child’s life (from conception to the child’s second birthday) are critical in order for her to grow and thrive throughout her life.

In the countries where we work, between 20% and 45% of children under five are stunted (chronically malnourished). For this reason, Feed the Children, along with the World Health Organization, the World Bank, the US Agency for International Development, host country governments and the international NGO community, are working together to fight stunting. It’s the number one priority for our international food and nutrition work.

Hunger

The word “hunger” can mean different things to different people. We usually think of the feeling we get in the pit of our stomach, a craving, maybe a growl or pain, or when it’s worst, a feeling of lightheadedness.

At Feed the Children, we call a child “hungry” if she can’t get the food she needs, whether that happens for a few days every now and then, once a week, or every day. Children grow so fast that if they have to go without enough of the right kinds of food even just for a day or two, it can slow down their growth and their learning.

So if a child in New Orleans fills up on junk food because fresh veggies are sold too far away from her home, she¹s still “hungry” (even if her tummy doesn’t rumble) because she is not getting enough of the right kinds of food.

Or if a child in Malawi is fed only corn porridge every day to fill up his stomach, he’s still “hungry” because he won’t be able to grow right without the vitamins and minerals he should be getting from vegetables and milk.

That’s why we want to create a world where no child goes to bed hungry. Hunger means the body isn’t getting something it really needs, and when children are hungry, it’s a big deal.

What hunger words confuse you?

Do You Write To Your Sponsored Child?

Thousands of you have become child sponsors over the past year. To each of you — thank you for keeping children from going to bed hungry.

You may already know the 5 Myths of Child Sponsorship, but do you know what child sponsorship does for kids over the long-term?

When you sponsor a child:

  • You help her become the hero in her fight to escape the cycle of poverty, and you also uplift her entire community.
  • You help pay for his school fees, life-saving preventative medicine, and access to safe, clean drinking water.
  • You remove the insecurity of not knowing when she will eat next.

Awesome, right? But there’s so much more! You can transform a child’s life far beyond his or her physical needs in one very simply way — by writing a letter!

When you exchange simple letters with your sponsored child, you give them a powerful gift that transcends surface needs. I’ve taken many sponsors to visit their sponsored children. They have very few possessions, but in every case, the child had the letters and pictures they received from their sponsor right next to their bed. Children love hearing from their sponsor!

image 2

Many years before he became the President of Compassion International, Wes Stafford set out to prove that letter writing between sponsor and child was a worthless exercise. He actually did his doctoral thesis on the impact of sponsored children’s letter writing on the children in order to prove that it made little difference to and on them.

But instead, he found that children who exchanged letters with their sponsor:

  • Received better grades in school
  • Completed more years of school
  • Were healthier
  • Had a better outlook on life
  • Had a higher percentage of positive outcomes in life after graduating from the sponsorship program

It’s quite simple, really. Children who receive regular letters from their sponsor do better at school, at home and in their community because those letters show that somebody loves them. They feel seen, heard and important to their sponsor. Knowing someone cares how they are doing boosts their energy and ability to fight for a better life for themselves.

To know and to be known — it’s a powerful resource for a child fighting hunger. Write to your sponsored child today!

Five Myths about Child Sponsorship

As we work and talk with people across the country and around the world, we run across many misconceptions about child sponsorship.

Perhaps you’ve heard of (or said yourself) some of these:

Myth #1: Sponsorship-funded programs feed children only, nothing more.

In fundraising speak, this myth claims that these programs operate on a very low cost-per-beneficiary budget that leaves little room for development work.

Fact: Sponsorship-funded programs feed kids and also address the root causes of hunger.

This myth is partially the fault of messages that emphasize feeding a child for pennies a day without mentioning working toward longer-term solutions. We want to provide the kind of help that enables communities to become self-sufficient. We don’t want them to need help forever!

Myth #2: Sponsorship-funded programs are mostly about letter writing between sponsors and children.

This is another myth implying that sponsoring a child doesn’t provide much in the way of tangible or long-term benefits.

Fact: Sponsoring a child encompasses far more than being his or her pen-pal.

Letters mean so much to the children in our programs. Research tells us that children who receive letters from sponsors go further in school and have better self-images than those who do not get letters. But sponsoring a child provides much more: food, water, health care, education, and livelihood training with a focus on the child, the family, and the whole community.

Myth #3: Sponsorship’s main purpose is to make donors feel good.

Sponsoring a child DOES feel good. But this myth claims that is the main purpose, not addresing the needs of the child and his or her community.

Fact: The goal of sponsoring a child is to develop individual, family, and community independence.

Again, this is the fault of messages that focus on telling donors how good they are for donating and failing to follow through with reports on the work being done and the results in the lives of the children.

Myth #4: Sponsorship only helps the sponsored child.

And this, if true, would result in some children receiving more than others.

Fact: While some child sponsorship programs may work this way, ours does not. 

We can’t speak for all child sponsorship programs, but at Feed the Children, we are very careful not to create a dynamic of haves and have-nots in the communities in which we work. We never want some kids to receive benefits while others suffer.

Myth #5: Sponsorship programs don’t work/You can’t evaluate sponsorship programs to show objective results.

Some people don’t think there’s any real scientifically-based way to assess the work being done and determine whether it’s actually improving conditions and child wellbeing. The underlying gist of these myths is the claim that the child sponsorship model hinders development organizations from designing effective community development programs.

Fact: Child sponsorship program DO work, and we have the research to prove it.

The Journal of Political Economy published the study “Does International Child Sponsorship Work? A Six-Country Study of Impacts on Adult Life Outcomes” in April 2013. This study uses the scientific method to show that child sponsorship programs do work.

While some poorly-designed sponsorship programs may hinder community development, the flaws are not inherent in child sponsorship itself. The weaknesses lie within certain program designs.

greenhouse kids blog crop

This is Feed the Children’s child sponsorship program:

  • A reliable way to fund community-based programs that help all children – even if the effects take a while to ripple out to everyone.
  • Community-based programs that improve the entire community without bias or leaving people out.
    For example:
    • A safe clean community water source leads to better drinking water for the sponsored child and all the others
    • Improved livelihoods for parents generate more income to pay school fees for all children, including the sponsored child (if their parents are involved)
    • Health promotion targeted at mothers of all young children results in healthier school-aged children later
  • A platform to educate and transform the donor. The long-term sharing of updates, progress reports, and program success creates a more knowledgeable, savvy, and engaged donor. People who understand community development not only support it themselves but become evangelists and educators of others, too!
  • A long-lasting, steady, and larger income source for organizations to fund holistic community development programs.

Your turn. What misconceptions have YOU heard about child sponsorship?

 

You Can End Hunger

smiling boy with bowlI remember donating a few dollars and even helping raise money after listening to a speech about the famine in Ethiopia and the horn of Africa. The speakers berated our leaders for not doing more and for the weakness of the UN in its efforts to feed the starving masses. One comment I’ll never forget: “In these times no one should go hungry. Famines don’t happen overnight, so we should be able to prevent them!”  No, this isn’t a “We Are the World” mid-eighties flashback – it’s from my college years in the mid-seventies!

During the Ethiopia famine of the mid-eighties, we heard an outcry around the world to stop the dying. After all, we had plenty of food worldwide, so how could this happen AGAIN just 10 years later?  We were upset that once again millions were starving. Hundreds of thousands of innocent people had already died when news of the famine finally broke.

Today, we see all the signs of a world food crisis again: increasing food prices, lower production of edible food due to weather, emerging economies consuming more than anticipated (India and China), and the poor getting less and less because their money doesn’t stretch as far as it did just a few months ago. Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa have once again been in the headlines.

As the developed world heads into the indulgence of the holiday season, I cannot help but think about those who don’t experience a holiday from hunger. I think about the mother in Haiti who, on nights without food, would boil small rocks and tell her children supper would be awhile. She encouraged them to go rest, hoping their wait would cause them to fall asleep.

Operation Home Front Carolinas helps provide food and essentials for American families of servicemen/women.
Operation Home Front Carolinas helps provide food and essentials for American families of servicemen/women.

Even without widespread famines, children in places like Honduras, Guatemala, Kenya, Uganda and the Philippines are just days away from personal famine because their family livelihoods are so fragile. This kind of famine is not confined to a particular geography, and it doesn’t have a cultural face; it isn’t caused by one crop failure or a drought in one region of the world; it’s not the result of a greedy or uncaring government. It’s many of these things all coming together.

To stop it, we must come together, too. Caring individuals like us need to identify people groups who are the most at risk, and we must act. We – individuals – need to step forward and be first to aid the poor. We need to influence our leaders to help keep grain and rice prices at reasonable levels, and we need to motivate our brothers and sisters in other developed countries to take hold of this chance to help the poorest of the poor.

girls and boxBefore you say that you can’t spare anything this holiday season, take a look at yourself. If you own a device on which to read this blog, you have enough extra to give.

Almost 1 billion people live in extreme poverty. I know that this number is overwhelming. Each of us has wondered how one person can do anything to put a dent in 1 billion hungry people. The fact is, most of us can’t, but we each can make a difference in the life of one person. You can help one child get at least one healthy meal each day, go to school, and maybe break free from poverty thanks to the chance you gave. If you are ready, we have a child for you.

Matt Panos is the Chief Development Officer for Feed the Children and has served the poor and hurting people of our world for more than 30 years. He’s traveled to more than 40 countries in his service with the poor.