From Fashion to Feed the Children: A Conversation with Silvia Andena

Editor’s Note: We continue our series of posts highlighting some of the people who make up the Feed the Children team. Here is an interview with Silvia Andena, Country Director for Feed the Children Tanzania. Other blogs in this series can be found herehere and here.

How did you first get into this work? Why focus on children specifically?

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Silvia Andena

My first work experience was in the fashion sector, coming from Milan in Italy. That kind of work is a very easy road to take, and many people aspire to it, but I always had the idea to do something that would help other people. This first work experience helped me understand that desire even better, and I realized clearly that fashion was not the right sector for me!

With the support of my family, I decided to enroll in a Master’s in International Relations degree program in London, UK. That seemed to be the best way to shift towards working in the international sector.

I’ve always had a passion for traveling and living in different countries, and my idea was immediately to aim for Africa. I wanted to live there and understand the culture before finding the best way to be of help. It took me some years to get here, but finally I was able to make it!

The choice of children came naturally—they are the nicest thing on earth. But they are also fragile, and adults have a duty to help them protect themselves by empowering their lives. Even now, talking to children is one of my favorite things to do. I learn a lot from them about life and the best ways to help them.

Recently I have even decided to study children’s rights, in order to have more tools to help them. Working in this sector is not an easy thing, and without the right instruments and skills, you can’t have nearly as much positive impact.

What motivates you in your work? Is there a person, story or statistic that gets you out of bed in the morning and keeps you going?

People keep telling me that I am a good person for what I do. I feel I am actually a bit selfish. When you can do something to help others, you are the one benefiting the most from it. The smiles and warmth of people can make you feel alive, like you’re in the right place.

There is a sentence that I always try to remember in my work and my life from Terence, the Roman playwright: “I am a human, and I think nothing human is alien to me.”

That is what motivates me—my interest in other people, and spending my life doing something worthwhile for them. We all have a duty to help people in difficulty. Each of us, in our own lives, can find a small way to accomplish this.

What are some of the biggest challenges facing children and families in Tanzania, and how does Feed the Children address those challenges? 

Access to proper food, clean water and educational tools are the biggest challenges for children and their families. By supporting schools and communities through our four pillars, we can give children a proper education, which is their right. Also, by working to empower schools and communities, we can help solving other big problems present in Tanzania such as early pregnancies, child marriage and youth delinquency.

Is there a recent story you can share about the work being done in Tanzania on behalf of children?

We recently participated in the celebration of the Day of the African Child in one of our beneficiary schools. On that occasion children from other nearby schools participated, and Feed the Children provided all of them with juices and snacks. The children were able to dance and sing in front of adults and express their own views about the problems they have to face in their everyday life as African children. It was amazing to see small children expressing their thoughts with such energy, and then they all listened carefully during our speech about children’s right to education, particularly girls’ rights. I see this little event as a sign that this country might really see change happening. Children are our future!

What’s one misconception people in the United States might have about Tanzania? What would you want us to know about this country? 

FEED03Tanzania is not Africa; it is part of it. There are things Tanzanians share with other African populations, and things that are unique to them, such as their language and how it defines them as a culture and an independent nation. In Tanzania, the first language is not English; it is Kiswahili. People of different tribes, languages, and religions have been united under a language and a name. Nowadays, compared to other nearby countries, Tanzania is a peaceful one, where different people share their lives together without any conflict.

The general attitude of Tanzanian people is one of kindness and peace. This population has taught me what really means to be humble and patient. When you smile at them in the street they do not think you are weird or wanting something from them—they simply smile back.

“We Want to Make It Happen”: A Conversation with Scott Killough

Editor’s Note: We continue our series of posts highlighting some of the people who make up the Feed the Children team. Here is an interview with Scott Killough, Feed the Children’s Senior Vice President of International Operations. Other blogs in this series can be found here and here.

Tell us about your role at Feed the Children.

I’ve been at Feed the Children just over two years, and am currently the senior vice president for international operations. I coordinate and oversee all our international program activities around the world, as well as our program staff in the three regional offices and all ten of our country programs.

What’s your background?

My background is in international development. I’ve been living and working overseas for non-profit organizations for most of the last 30 years. My particular area of expertise is in international agriculture and rural development, and I spent many years living and working in the Philippines and Central America.

Last time we heard from you on the blog was after Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013. You visited the Philippines this past fall. Can you give us an update on the recovery and rebuilding that’s happening there? And what role is Feed the Children playing?

Unfortunately, typhoons are an annual occurrence in the Philippines, although Haiyan was a particularly bad one. I visited in November and had a chance to visit some of the communities and talk with families that had been affected.

Our response is twofold. Typically, our team will mobilize for an immediate relief response to communities that were affected, whether we are working in those parts of the country or not. Our staff and volunteers and partners were out quickly, providing food and supporting communities that were in the path of the storm.

The second phase of our response is to sit down with communities and identify ways we can support rebuilding and recovery efforts. And that’s where we invest more time and effort. As an example, we’ve been working with one community in Cebu province to help them rebuild their school.

We also helped develop a psycho-social counseling session for children and parents whose lives had been devastated. We worked with staff and volunteers from San Carlos University in Cebu to walk people through a process to better deal with their grief. In many cases their homes had been destroyed; they’d lost all their belongings.

Talk about the four pillars of Feed the Children: Food & Nutrition, Health & Water, Education, and Livelihoods. Talk about how those four pillars work together to help impoverished communities, with maybe a story to illustrate.

Improving livelihoods is one of the four pillars of our work.
Improving livelihoods is one of the four pillars of our work.

The four pillars for me represent the priorities that are universal to communities and families who face poverty in their lives every day. Everyone needs food and water, a decent education, and a chance to improve their livelihood.

As an organization though, the four pillars also provide Feed the Children with a concrete program framework around which we can plan our activities.

We typically start our programs with the first pillar: food and nutrition interventions. We may work with mothers to organize a school feeding program, or help parents introduce home gardens as a way to address food security at the household level. We bring the community together, and the social capital that’s built in the early work of the food and nutrition pillar becomes a platform for launching other activities— addressing health concerns, improving access to drinking water, improving education, and working with communities to support livelihoods.

One example of the four-pillar framework comes from the Philippines, where our four-pillar program framework was originally developed (although we’ve modified it, over time). What you see there are a number of communities working in partnership with schools, which have established school feeding activities. We’ve made investments in water systems both at the school and made drinking water more accessible to the wider community.

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A village savings and loan group in Tiyamike

And we’ve had great success with the village savings and loan approach. We work with those same volunteer mothers and parents as we did in the beginning. The village savings and loan becomes a concrete mechanism for organizing small groups and getting them to build their own capital fund through savings. This happens not through an external infusion of capital from Feed the Children or our donors, but through their own group savings. Then, we work to support the community as they begin making small loans to the members of the group.

On the family level, the funds enable them to generate income by opening a small store, for example. Maybe it’s a “buy and sell” initiative in which they buy sweet potatoes, do some food processing/preparation and then sell the product at a higher value. There’s a lot of flexibility for individual families or groups to figure out the best way to improve their own household income. But that whole process often starts with meeting basic needs of food and nutrition.

What’s one misconception about international development work—something you wish people better understood?

Two points. One, in order to really bring about social change in communities we support, it is a process that takes time. It’s not something that you can map out in a two-year plan or a four-year plan. Development doesn’t follow a straight timeline: “We’ll do this, then this will happen.”

Second, many of us in the United States and the rest of the industrialized world think it’s our job to be on the ground doing the work. I don’t minimize the contribution and role that Feed the Children staff play, but when we see change, it’s because local people—mothers and fathers, community leaders—are stepping up and saying, “This is what we want for ourselves. We want to bring about these changes, not because you are giving us resources and training and support, but because this is our vision for our community and family. We want to make it happen.”

It sounds like community development work is very contextual, like there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. Or are there certain best practices or universal principles in play everywhere?

Well, it’s both. So much of what we do is location-specific. At the same time, there are certain attitudes and behaviors that we have as outsiders, that have been proven and time tested. We also know, from practice and learning, that there are certain ways of supporting ‘development’ – certain interventions – that will bring about better results or outcomes, and that are more cost-effective. We see those in a number of Feed the Children values: recognizing and respecting the dignity of individuals, working to develop local leaders, and understanding cultural diversity.

What motivates you in this work and keeps you going?

Right out of university many years ago, I worked as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guatemala. That’s when I became involved in community development programs, with a focus on engaging men and woman at the community level.

That experience motivates me even today. How can we support men and women as they develop leadership and practical skills to make a difference for themselves, their families and their communities?  How can we support local communities to take a stake in their own well-being, in their own hopes and dreams for a better life? Those questions inspire me to work with colleagues in my own organization and other partner organizations to help make change at the community level. They really drive the work I do.

Top photo: Scott Killough visits with program coordinators and school faculty in Cebu City, Philippines.

 

 

We All Play a Part: A Conversation with Matt Panos, Part 2

Editor’s Note: We continue our series posts highlighting some of the people who make up the Feed the Children team. Here is part 2 of an interview with Matt Panos, Feed the Children’s Chief Development Officer. Part 1, “Food and Nutrition First,” can be found here.

2014 TRIP 1441 - Guatemala (302)In addition to child sponsorship, you oversee fundraising in general. How has social media changed the way organizations approach fundraising and development?

Social media is fast becoming the method of choice for individuals who want to communicate their commitment and raise money for their favorite non-profit organizations. Peer-to-peer fundraising, which is where individuals use digital means to recruit friends and family to support a fundraising effort, is now raising more than $750 milliona year for our nation’s charities. Many organizations raise a large percentage of their money through peer-to-peer social media fundraising. The Ice Bucket Challenge by the ALS Association last year is the perfect example of how social media can be used to promote an event and, in the right environment, it can go viral, capture new supporters and motivate people to raise millions of dollars.

How has it changed donor behavior and expectations?

In our case, 85+% of our donors are over 50, so social media has done little to change our donors’ behavior. Most of the older “legacy” donors didn’t get into social media until after they formed their charitable preferences and so have more trust in traditional giving methods. This simply means that most organizations are not yet experiencing big shifts in the giving habits of the donors who provide the most money.

However, many Gen Xers and the Millennials are forming their first impressions about non-profits through social media, so all organizations who are doing events and fundraising (or just “friend-raising”) need to use social media as an aspect of their fundraising programs… or risk being left off the “preferred” list of these younger donors when they get older and have substantial money to give!

IMG_2172What motivates you in this work? Is there a statistic, or a story or situation that gets you up in the morning and keeps you going?

I’ve been privileged to see effective non-profit programs and how they work in the lives of the people they serve. I’ve had many memorable experiences here in the US and around the world that keep me excited about raising money and helping people.

Here’s one from early in my career. I was the director of the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) summer camp as part of my role as District Director for Southwest Florida. This required a week of my time to supervise the managers who actually did the legwork every day in running various aspects of the camp such as food service, children’s activities, and managing volunteers. Each camper had one volunteer counselor assigned to them for the week to support their participation in activities, meals, and so forth.

Each day had a time at the pool, and on the first day, the counselors and campers paired up for a game requiring the campers to be on the shoulders of their counselor. One pretty big camper was paired with a counselor that couldn’t lift him, so it looked like he wouldn’t be able to play with the others. As a fairly big person, I knew I could lift this child, so I jumped in the pool, hoisted him on my shoulders and we joined the game… and won!

Afterward I helped him back into his wheelchair, and he was in tears. He said he’d never had so much fun! I was with this young man at the pool every day that week, and it’s one of my fondest memories. It’s events like these that connect raising money with the work that affects each and every person who benefits. Without the support of generous donors, these activities just aren’t possible.

As a member of the Feed the Children “team,” what’s one hope you have for people who may read this? What’s one action you hope they will take?

A long time ago I heard a story about President Kennedy visiting NASA in the early 1960’s. He had several meetings there and as they entered the building, they had to walk down a long corridor. Way down the corridor was a man with a bucket cleaning the floor and windows. The Secret Service raced ahead of the President to get the man out of the way, but the President asked them to leave him alone. When the President caught up, he asked the man, “What do you do here at NASA?” Without hesitation the man said, “We’re going to put a man on the moon!”

A Malawi Village Savings and Loan group meets for planning and sharing.
A Malawi Village Savings and Loan group meets for planning and sharing.

That man at NASA clearly understood NASA’s mission—and that he was part of it. That’s my hope for all of us connected to Feed the Children: each of us understands that every job and every task we do plays a part in achieving our mission: that “one day, no child will go to bed hungry!”

To read more about Feed the Children’s child sponsorship program, click here.

 

 

Food and Nutrition First: A Conversation with Matt Panos

Editor’s Note: Today we begin a series of posts highlighting some of the people who make up the Feed the Children team. We begin with part 1 of an interview with Matt Panos, Feed the Children’s Chief Development Officer.

mattTell us about your background and your role at Feed the Children.

As Chief Development Officer, I oversee all the annual income we receive from individual donors, volunteers, and churches. I also manage our television, radio, direct mail and digital activities, our customer relations, and monthly giving programs, including Feed America’s Children and our Child Sponsorship program.

How did you come to be a part of the organization?

I was recruited in late spring of 2012 by then-acting Chief Development Officer, Chris Cleghorn. The organization needed help with its direct response marketing program and had a goal to evaluate and rebuild our television and radio programs. I was asked to become the permanent Chief Development Officer in September of 2012 and started in the role on October 1st.

Child sponsorship is one of your areas of responsibility. Tell us about that—how it works, and what makes it distinctive from similar programs.

2014 TRIP 1441 - Guatemala (585)Child sponsorship is still the most compelling way an individual or family can give funds, communicate with a particular child in one of our support countries, and see a tangible difference in that child’s life. Even though our funding model of support is to support the whole community, the sponsor can communicate with one child and see how the child, their family and whole community benefit from their donations to sponsorship.

I’d say Feed the Children’s program is unique because we put food and nutrition first and ensure children get at least one good meal per day. Many other organizations do not include food or daily nutrition in their sponsorship program. Feed the Children understands that a child who is hungry tends to learn poorly and can have developmental disabilities because of the lack of good food and proper nutrition.

What’s one misconception about child sponsorship you’d like to correct?

The hardest message to get across to child sponsors is the money they give doesn’t go directly to their child… and that’s a good thing for the child, their family and the community. Feed the Children does community development programming, meaning we use the money to help the entire community escape poverty.

_C1Z5369_High Res.When we “pool” one sponsor’s money with other sponsors, we can fund a whole school feeding program, for example, or build a water well for the whole community, or provide sanitation so everyone benefits. Some organizations give the funds more directly to one child’s family, which means others in the community may be left out or do poorly. Community development work lifts all children out of poverty, not just the individual, and it’s been proven that a thriving community is much better for each of the individual children.

Of course, there are children all over the world who need support. But is there a region of the world where the need is particularly great at this time?

The World Bank studies tell us that nearly one billion people still live in extreme poverty, meaning they exist on less than $1.25 per day. The industrialization of China and India and poverty abatement programs like those at Feed the Children have cut extreme poverty over the past 30 years from more than 50% of the world’s population down to about 25%.

S94A6620Unfortunately, in that same period of time, the countries in Africa have had only minor improvements. Most of the poorest countries in the world are in Africa. We have a presence there now, but we want to expand our reach in Africa and improve our community development programming. We’re going to need to raise more private funds, and receive grants from the United States, Canada and the European Union if we’re going to make a difference in Africa in the near term.

You have opportunity to travel extensively in your work. Tell us about a visit you made recently and what you witnessed there.

I was in Kenya this past fall and, like many who have visited, was quite taken by the Abandoned Baby Center. It goes beyond abandoned babies and has numerous children with physical disabilities who live there as well. I’m so proud of Feed the Children’s commitment to all of the children at the Center, and the quality of life made possible by the many donors who have provided support.

To read more about Feed the Children’s child sponsorship program, click here.

Letter to My Feed the Children Family

Dear Feed the Children family,

As I write these words, I come before you with a heavy heart.

As I shared with all our staff during the Global Town Hall meeting this morning, I have chosen not to renew my contract with Feed the Children when it expires on May 31, 2015.

On June 1st, I will begin my new role as CEO of the American Diabetes Association based in Alexandria, VA.

This is not a decision that Elizabeth or I have entered into lightly or without much prayer and even sadness.

I began my work with you back in 2012 out of a deep sense of calling to this organization. I worked late nights, early mornings and weekends — out of that sense of calling.  My wife Elizabeth also felt called to support my work here. Together, over the last three years, we’ve given this mission of no child going to bed hungry our absolute all.

But now, we both believe that our calling has changed. We feel like the next chapter of our lives will be with the American Diabetes Association to lead the fight against the deadly consequences of this disease. Diabetes is a disease that has personally touched my own family, including my own parents. I am hopeful and would love to see a cure for diabetes in my lifetime.

But, please know, all of this does not change how Elizabeth and I feel about you, the Feed the Children family. We love you. We love the children our mission serves. And these past three years have been some of the most joyous ones of our lives.

We’ve done such important and life changing work together. Children have been fed. Schools have been built. Water has come to communities without any. Entire communities have been raised out of the cycle of poverty. And hear me say, I am so proud of you. I am so proud of the work we’ve done together. Any accomplishments I’ve achieved in this place are because of you who have made this journey alongside of us. While I know it may be difficult to understand our decision, sometimes the greatest thing a leader can do is know when to step aside so that the focus stays on the mission and not on them.

So, while I may no longer be the President and CEO of Feed the Children come June, the mission of Feed the Children is not one that I will leave behind. My wife and I will continue to support Feed the Children with our monthly donations, prayers and wishes for great success in the future.

And not only this, we have made many friends both in Oklahoma and in the field offices around the world—these are relationships for which we will forever be grateful. The joy of being in community with you, the global Feed the Children family, has taught us so much about what love really means. No matter where we come from or what our individual stories may be, we’ve connected in our common mission. No child should ever go without life’s essentials. And, I know we’ll continue loving the children who we’ve met along the way.

So, as the Hagan family enters into this new chapter of our lives come June, we ask for your prayers.

In the meantime, know that from now until May 31st, I will continue to do everything I can to pave a great path for your next President and CEO. Now, more than ever the children in our programs need all of our unified support.

Gratefully yours,

Kevin

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#Expanding the Table– U.S. Faith-Based Community Uniting to Defeat Summer Hunger

I live in Oklahoma, the state that ranks 51st on the list of kids that are on free and reduced lunch during the year that don’t eat during the summer.

This fact is unacceptable.

How could Feed the Children, one of the nation’s largest hunger organizations be headquartered in Oklahoma and not address the hunger needs in our own backyard?

I knew that during my tenure at Feed the Children, change would need to happen.

So, beginning with a conversation and challenge from Audrey Rowe, Administrator of USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) in 2013, Feed the Children made a plan.

We knew our lack of experience would limit us if we didn’t have support of partners. We’d need guides to contribute their wisdom to our efforts. And last year, USDA’s FNS along with No Kid Hungry gave us lots of great advice. With their encouragement, we began.

Last summer in Oklahoma City, Feed the Children rolled out our pilot Summer Food and Education Program in partnership with FNS, the Oklahoma Department of Education, PepsiCo Food for Good, local schools and churches to form the first coalition on childhood hunger in Oklahoma.

For 9 weeks, we served over 8,654 meals on site through the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and provided an additional 186,000 take-home meals to children and their families.

IMG_1715We learned that organizing community leaders around summer meal programs actually is not as daunting as we first thought. Church and other faith based groups with established programs for kids in the summer serve as built in partners and host sites.

And this is the good news I want to share: in one summer, Feed the Children’s efforts helped to increase the number of kids fed in the state of Oklahoma by 30%.

We still rank 51st but we know, in time, this fact about Oklahoma will change.

In light of our experiences, on Tuesday, February 3, FNS invited us to share our story at The White House.

Feed the Children, in partnership with the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships and the USDA FNS, convened a forum called “Summer Meals 2015: Expanding the Table.”

I sat among 40 leading national and local faith-based and non-profit organizations–all showing our support for the 2015 Summer Food Service Program (SFSP).

As the session began, we heard from Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack who shared of his passion for no child going to bed hungry in the US. He reminded us that hungry kids in the US are hungry of no fault of their own. We all need to ban together to feed kids when school is out of session.

Next, I moderated a panel with community partners Dr. Kathy Krey, Director of Research for the Texas Hunger Initiative at Baylor University, and Dr. Judy Goforth Parker, Secretary of Health for the Chickasaw Nation, sharing stories of lessons learned from summer meals. For example, Dr. Krey spoke of the value of “everybody doing something.”

“Even if all you can do is assist at summer meal sites by opening up milk cartons for kids–do it,” she said. “We must all do our part.”

The forum resulted in the large community of leading nonprofit and faith-based organizations pledging their individual and organizational support and commitment to address summer hunger, the results of which will greatly impact children throughout America.

IMG_9146It was an imperative that I sign the pledge and become a summer meal champion.

Following the meeting, Feed the Children organized a Twitter Town Hall, using #ExpandingTheTable as the hashtag, to disseminate the message of support with those organizations at the forum and encourage others to join in the call to action. The conversation among leading advocates for hunger in the US included: FNS, No Kid Hungry, the Salvation Army, and Church World Service, and was incredibly informative.

The forum marks the first time the national faith-based community has collectively partnered with FNS in support of SFSP, which is typically organized on a grassroots level to provide free meals and snacks to low-income children during the summer months.

It was a good day at Feed the Children as we expanded our table to welcome even more partners.

I’m looking forward to what the future holds for Feed the Children as we feed even more children this summer in Oklahoma and beyond.

You Don’t Have to Marry at 9 Years Old: Empowering Girls in Kenya

After being with Feed the Children for over two years now, you would think I would go through a day without a surprise.

But two weeks ago while I was traveling through Kenya, I learned something about our work that I didn’t know.

In the NGO world, we know that girls in school equals lasting change to communities.

Yet, for so many communities around the world, girls not in school are the norm.

2014-11-28 13.32.34But, why? We think girls drop out in the Global South because their parents can’t afford the school fees. Or we think that their parents need them to work. Yet for many girls, especially in rural communities, they drop out for other reasons.

In some parts of Kenya a practice called Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is what is keeping girls from school.

Wow. I dare say, as an American male, this is something I have rarely thought or even knew much about.

But it’s a right of passage for girls usually aged 9-12 go through to prepare them for marriage. It’s a cultural tradition that can lead to serious infections, loss of pregnancies, and sometimes death. Although the government has banned FGM, some communities still practice it in secret.

So how can we address this problem?

For a while now, Feed the Children Kenya explored this issue. How could we empower girls with knowledge of their bodies, self-confidence and give them invitation to dream big for their future?

This was our answer: Feed the Children Kenya birthed the first ever retreat for 30 girls this past November in partnership with AIC Church, Lumbwa.

The retreat included workshops to help the girls know that the traditional way of life in the village is not the only option for them.

It just so happened that the Friday afternoon graduation ceremony coincided with my trip to Kenya. I couldn’t wait to meet these brave girls!

When we arrived at the church hosting the graduation, sounds of joyous singing by the girls and their mothers filled the space.

Girls laughed with sashes around their bodies, “I am a champion!” Mothers danced alongside them to welcome us. And a father who told me, “Thank you, Feed the Children for helping me empower my girls.”

I learned that often it is the mothers in the community that are most resistant to change. The fathers usually want FGM to stop.

Then, before an audience of 50, one girl spoke boldly on behalf of her graduation class, calling upon the governmentof Kenya and the county leadership to implement the law.

In response, I told the girls how proud I was of them. I told them they were beautiful. It shocked me that the crowd erupted in applause when a staffer translated my words. Maybe they aren’t used to ever hearing such encouragement?

2014-11-28 14.03.19Later, my wife, Elizabeth and I passed out certificates to each girl.

I learned that for all of the girls this was the only time they’d ever had a piece of paper with their name on it! Imagine that. Something that happens to me everyday that I take for granted!

As the festivities concluded the girls processed out of the church in song. Joy leapt from the dirt road as their sandals pounded in unity.

2014-11-28 14.28.14A Feed the Children staffer, Duncan who worked alongside the retreat all week leaned over to tell me, “You should have seen the girls on the first day. They were shy and withdrawn. Now, look at them! They’ve got hope.”

I’m so happy to tell you that this retreat is only the first of many to come. Plans are already underway for more gatherings like this in 2015. At Feed the Children, want girls like these to dream of unimaginable futures and to keep having reasons to dance with joy!

Advocating for Children at the 2nd International Conference on Nutrition

I’m honored to represent Feed the Children at the 2nd International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) and at the Civil Society Organizations (CSO) Pre-Conference this week in Rome, Italy. I’m joining 10 Ministers (e.g., Ministers of Health, Ministers of Agriculture) and representatives from 160 governments there.  The last ICN was held 22 years ago to urge governments around the world to commit to very specific actions designed to improve nutrition, both in the Global North and Global South (these terms are the preferred way to refer to what we used to call the Developed and Developing world or First/Third-world).

This week, I will be advocating for three things I believe to be essential in order to improve the nutritional status of children around the world. (To understand terms we use when discussing hunger and nutrition, check out this infographic and post).

1. The need for prioritization

Right now, the framework for action being promoted at ICN2 contains a list of 60 policy and program options. We need to prioritize the options on this list if we expect measurable improvements in child nutrition.

One of the reasons that UNICEF’s child survival revolution was so successful in lowering child deaths is that they prioritized. They agreed to focus first on four specific actions, or interventions (referred to by the acronym GOBI – Growth monitoring, Oral rehydration, Breastfeeding, and Immunization).

This is more difficult to do in nutrition, but it’s still possible. I believe that in developing countries at least, we could (and should) focus on promoting three things : Essential Nutrition Actions, Essential Hygiene Actions, and women’s empowerment.  This is entirely doable. I have also suggested language changes in the CSO Vision Statement about the importance of water interventions (e.g. purification) and improved sanitation which can improve child nutritional status, and those changes have now been incorporated into the document.

Our Chief Program Officer Tom Davis at the 2nd International Conference on Nutrition  with nutrition leaders from CARE (Bethann Cottrell, left) and Catholic Relief Services (Mary Hennigan, right)
Our Chief Program Officer Tom Davis at the 2nd International Conference on Nutrition with nutrition leaders from CARE (Bethann Cottrell, left) and Catholic Relief Services (Mary Hennigan, right)

2. The need for research

No nutrition program/project conducted at scale (e.g. with 1 million or more beneficiaries) in a developing country has come close to normalizing child growth. We still need more research, and formative research (e.g. Barrier Analysis), but there has been little discussion here about the need for that. In spite of everything we throw at it, malnutrition remains a problem and any reductions are often much less than 50% in 4-5 year projects.  That shows us that some of what we need to be doing is not being done, even when funding is available.

An example of the sort of interventions we may need:

  1. Reduce maternal depression.  One study by Pamela Surkan found that we could potentially reduce stunting by about 19-23% through elimination of maternal depression, and a randomized trial has been done that shows that depression can be reduced 93% at low cost in a developing country.
  2. Eliminate open defecation (when people don’t properly dispose of human waste, it contaminates their water and soil and sickens their children). In many countries, this is a huge problem, and it’s one of the main causes that we see so much stunting in children in Asia despite the number of calories that they take in. When children live in a dirty environment, their immune systems are chronically activated, and they don’t absorb the foods that they eat as well. We know that is a large underlying cause of stunting. Learn more here. To see the sanitation conditions many children face around the world, look at these photos curated by photographers from Panos Pictures and Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor for World Toilet Day.) 

For that reason, we need to push countries to conduct more formal and formative research to find what works in reducing malnutrition, and the barriers and enablers to behaviors that we know can reduce malnutrition.

3. Access to nutrition promotion as a right

We need to affirm that access to nutrition promotion is a right in the same way that access to formal education of children is a right.  We know the lives it can save, and how it can decrease malnutrition at low cost, especially through the use of volunteer peer educators (e.g. Care Groups).

Should We Feed Americans First? Our Chief Operating Officer Responds

Last month, Feed the Children’s Chief Operating Officer and President of FTC Transportation, Travis Arnold, traveled to Guatemala along with several other staff members to visit communities where we work. When he returned, we asked Travis to tell us about the trip, what he learned, and how it changed him.

TA & Diane Feeding CenterFeed the Children: Tell us about your role at Feed the Children.

Travis Arnold: For the last 13 years, I’ve been a part of this great mission that no child around the world goes hungry. Currently, as Chief Operating Officer, I am responsible for managing daily operations, both in the U.S. and around the world. I also serve as the President of our for-profit arm, FTC Transportation. This subsidiary supports the operational needs of Feed the Children by delivering food and other essentials to children and families across the country.

Feed the Children: You’d never visited, Guatemala, right?

TA: No, I hadn’t.

Feed the Children: What surprised you about this country? 

TA: I’d heard stories from others who had visited about how beautiful the country was, but it was even more beautiful than I imagined. It’s a wonderful place — the lush valleys, the mountainous regions — with so much tourism potential, given the right infrastructure and leadership. And the children are so beautiful

Feed the Children: What stood out to you about our work in Guatemala?

TA: The children, of course. They were so kind and respectful. And though the kids eat the same meal day after day: fortified rice from our partner, 4Life, and beans with a tortilla, I never heard a complaint. In fact, in one community we visited, not one child ate anything until all the kids in the community were served. Then, after a prayer, all the children ate at the same time. We learned this was not a show for the visitors. These kids are just so grateful.

Girls eating applesFeed the Children: Do you think we need to do more and reach more people in places like Guatemala? How do you respond  to people who say, “We should feed the American kids first”?

TA: By no means do I want to take anything away from the kids who are empowered through Feed the Children’s work in the U.S. We have so many hungry kids in our own backyard that we need to take care of. It’s our national responsibility. But, what people don’t realize is that poverty in places like rural Guatemala is extreme. Most families are too poor to afford fruits and vegetables. They have no resources to fall back on when those hard times get even worse — a parent falls ill, a child is born with a disability, or a tropical storm destroys their home. Many of the kids I met only eat once a day, and that meal comes from Feed the Children.

 Feed the Children: What is one thing you saw on this trip to Guatemala that you’d most like our donors to know about?

TA: Know that the work in this country has been validated. I saw with my own eyes the kids that are being lifted out of poverty because of your donations. If it weren’t for you, donors and partners, these kids wouldn’t have hope. And it’s lasting hope we’re bringing because we are not just feeding kids. We’re investing in education, giving communities clean water, and helping parents find jobs. I met with one mayor in a town where we’ve hosted a feeding center for years. The mayor showed me pictures and told me over and over again, “You’re changing lives. Kids are coming to school. They’re learning. They’re dreaming big for their future. 

Feed the Children: Anything else you would like to share with our readers?

TA: Since I returned to Oklahoma, the faces of the children I met have stayed with me. I do the work I do every day because of them. They are our heroes!Eating Apple

Influence for Good: Inside the Clinton Global Initiative

People ask me all the time about the well-known people I meet.

But the thing with me is I don’t really get awestruck about the famous anymore.

Maybe it is because I worked as a protocol officer while in graduate school during the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, where I met heads of state, movie stars, and athletes over and over during the course of the Olympic Games.

Or maybe it’s because I believe that celebrities are human beings like the rest of us.

Or because my parents raised me to speak to nearly anybody in the kindest way I know how.

But, if I were still to get awestruck, I would have last week while attending the Clinton Global Initiative meeting in New York City.

Coming out of the steps of the Sheraton Times Square, I brushed shoulders with a who’s who of leaders in international development, business and politics—President Clinton, Madeleine Albright, President Obama, the Secretary General of the United Nations, Chelsea Clinton (a couple of days before her baby was born, I might add!), Katie Couric, heads of many foreign countries, countless CEOs of global corporations, news anchors galore… The list goes on and on.

It was wonderful to meet together with some of the most passionate and influential minds to discuss global change. I was honored to be Feed the Children’s delegate. And during the three days that I spent at the conference, it was good to be involved in the conversation with many of the world’s influencers.

I also heard what was on the minds of high-profile folks like these:Kevin Hagan at the Clinton Global Initiative

Hillary Clinton. She led sessions on education of women and girls saying to us: “We know when girls have equal access to quality education in both primary and secondary schools, cycles of poverty are broken, economies grow…”

Graca Machel (Nelson Mandela’s widow). She received the 2014 Clinton Global Citizen Award and shared with us about her passion saying: “Education should never fail because it gives a child a sense of normalcy.”

Matt Damon. As co-founder of Water.org he compelled all of us with stats about the importance of clean drinking water. I left his session thinking all day about how more people around the world have access to a cell phone than they do to a clean water source.

In hearing these inspiring words, I began thinking about the role of influencers in the work of bringing hope to those who need it most around the world.

One of the greatest life lessons my family taught me from our Christian faith tradition is that “to whom much is given, much is required” (Luke 12:48).

This is why I believe that if I am given anything of value in this life, it is my responsibility to give back. Countless others, I know, share this sentiment.

It is our goal to offer people in positions of notoriety an opportunity to join in Feed the Children’s mission and to give back to society. We are not alone in our stance that no child should go to bed hungry, no matter where they live. We want to facilitate more champions in this great cause who desire to use their following for good.

As President Bill Clinton said in one of the breakout sessions: “We are creating a network of cooperators.” I’m thankful for the opportunity to attend the Clinton Global Initiative this year. I look forward to future events with these new colleagues and to joining forces with other leaders, famous or not, who want to defeat hunger.