Hunger sucks the life out of children.
You can see it in their eyes. They’re hollow. They don’t sparkle anymore. You can see it in their bodies: a starving 5 year-old girl the size of a healthy 2-year-old.
You can’t see what’s happening in their brains. By the time a malnourished child turns 5 they’ll never catch up. Their brain development has permanently been stunted. The same is true for their bodies.
What does all this mean? We have to help them early. Their very futures hang in the balance.
Begin By Filling Stomachs with Food
Since the stakes are high, the first task in a community is eradicating hunger. We tackle this quickly by:
- Starting a feeding program to fill children’s hungry bellies.
- Deworming kids so that parasites don’t steal the nutrients from the food they eat.
- Giving long-term medical care to those children suffering from severe malnutrition.
While we’re addressing immediate needs, we’re also assessing the causes of hunger. With a strong dose of curiosity and a willingness to ask questions, we compile a detailed record of the situation. This record serves as a benchmark and guides our work in the community in the future.
Helping Mothers Prevent Hunger
Mothers are key to preventing hunger in a community. Many of our prevention efforts focus on empowering them.
Pregnancy through 5 years is the most essential time. Our empowerment and education efforts focus around helping pregnant women eat the right foods, encouraging new mothers to breastfeed for the first 6 months of a child’s life and mentoring young mothers so they best care for their kids during their most vulnerable years: age 1 to 5.
Later, we help mothers learn how to select and prepare meals that provide all the vitamins and nutrients children need. In conjunction with our livelihood programs, we teach gardening, farming, fishing, care of chickens and goats, and baking so that families can grow, raise and eventually sell their own food.
We’ve discovered that the best, longest-term change happens when women teach one another. We help communities form groups, called Care Groups, with a leader they choose themselves. This volunteer group leader commits to visiting 12 to 15 households every couple of weeks to teach what he or she learns from our health educators.
Health educators teach the volunteer group leaders everything from nutrition and food preparation, self-care for pregnant and breastfeeding women, why and how to breastfeed babies, basic hygiene, care and treatment of diarrhea, and how to recognize danger signs (and when to seek medical care).
With generous partners Nu Skin and 4Life, who donate thousands of pounds each month, we feed children an essential balance of vitamins and minerals in addition to local foods and garden-grown vegetables. As families build their flocks and gardens, they provide meat and vegetables to the schools to continue the feeding programs on their own. That’s when we know they’ve won.
Vitamins and Supplements
We work with Vitamin Angels to administer Vitamin A. Children and pregnant and nursing mothers often don’t receive enough Vitamin A. This vitamin helps the vision, particularly in low light. Chronic deficiency can cause blindness.
Because so few are able to go to school, the people in the communities where we work don’t know what a healthy meal is. They have no food pyramids, no one talking about servings of fruits and vegetables. They just know they’re hungry and what’s cheapest to find and eat.
We help identify what’s already available in the area, what grows easily, and then we teach the basics of good nutrition. Women take cooking classes and then they can get jobs as cooks at the school feeding programs.
Men, women and children plant gardens, raise chickens for eggs, raise goats for milk and keep bees for the honey. And then we teach them to teach others. Throughout all of our work, we encourage people to pay it forward.