How We Make Sure Kids Do Not Get Hungry Again

This is the last in a four-part series introducing you to our proactive, sustainable approach to ending poverty and improving lives. Our Four Pillars of international community development — Food & NutritionHealth & 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 Livelihoods pillar, where we work toward positive, lasting change by helping parents and kids learn new and better ways to make money—because that feeds their whole future.

Why livelihoods?

The fight against childhood hunger isn’t just about stopping kids’ bellies from growling. Feed the Children provides programming to help expand parents’ sources of income—from sales of small livestock, participating in savings groups, and other means—so they can provide their children with food, life essentials, and a future.

Our programs also help communities make improvements in gender equality (like helping more girls attend school and reducing domestic violence), environmental stewardship (like planting trees to reverse deforestation), and disaster risk reduction (like training community leaders to develop disaster prevention and response plans).


They say if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day; if you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime. At Feed the Children, we want to do both—feed kids who are hungry now and give them tools so they won’t go hungry again.

Sometimes, we actually do this with fish—like in El Salvador and the Philippines, where tilapia sells at high demand in local markets. We give families a kit with everything they need to begin the cycle of fish production, including a tilapia pond, fingerlings, and fish food, and we provide education on the best way to care for them. Raising tilapia gives the family their own nutritious food and an income.

Women in El Salvador preparing tilapia to be sold

Sometimes neighbors do this for each other. Our animal gifts—including tilapia, chickens, bees, cows, and goats—are also an incredible way for families to help strengthen their own communities through a pay-it-forward system.

And sometimes, a couple of goats help a devoted dad keep his family going.

Etani’s mother died when he was just four months old. In Malawi, it’s not uncommon for a widower to ask his relatives to keep his orphaned* children, but Etani’s dad wouldn’t have it. Maxon wanted to take full responsibility for his son.

Now 3-year-old Etani has a step-mom to help take care of him, but that’s not the only blessing that’s arrived for the little boy and his family.

When Etani was 2, he began attending a community-based childcare center, where he regularly received nutritious meals fortified with the VitaMeal we provide. But the solution to childhood hunger can’t just be to serve meals—we have to provide opportunities for families to become self-sufficient or else the cycle of poverty will continue.

And in Malawi, that’s where Feed the Children’s Tiwalere OVC (Orphans and Vulnerable Children) project comes in. With funding from USAID, Tiwalere has multiple initiatives that build the capacity of communities and households to effectively and sustainably meet the health and nutritional needs of children under 5.

While Etani was coming to the center for meals, the staff identified him as an orphan and vulnerable child and determined that they could do more to help. They registered his household for the Tiwalere OVC project, and that has made all the difference.

Part of this project is the Goat Pass-On initiative, which promotes not only nutritional feeding in OVC households, but also increases their household income levels. And of course, it means each family gets to help others by passing on more goats!

When Tiwalere was distributing the goats, Etani’s family got two females, and one of them was already pregnant. Five months later, that goat gave birth to two female kids. Soon the other goat gave birth to a female kid, too. After one year, the first goat to deliver gave birth again, this time to two male kids.

boys and their goat
Etani and his brother outside their house taking care of the goats

In just one year, Etani’s family went from having hardly a thing to their name to owning 7 goats.

When the first two female kids were ready for the pass-on, another family got the same opportunity, and Etani’s family kept the other five goats. Then the growing season came. Maxon had cultivated one acre where he wanted to grow maize, a staple food in Malawi, but he didn’t have enough money to afford a bag of fertilizer. That year he didn’t benefit from the government’s subsidy program either. But Maxon had another option – he sold one of his goats to buy the fertilizer he needed.

Maxon is confident that he will harvest at least 10 bags of maize this year. And he’s overcome with joy when he looks at his field: “My children will have enough food this year—something which I have not managed to achieve in the past years—thanks to Feed the Children.”

And Etani? When he’s not playing outside with his family’s goats, he is working hard in pre-school, dreaming of being a police office er when he grows up, and staying busy just being a kid.

Love this project? Give a goat today!

*Unlike in the U.S., where children are only considered orphans if both parents have died, children in Malawi who have lost one parent are considered orphans; if both parents have died, the child is called a double-orphan.

It’s Who You Know: Poverty and (Lack of) Connections

“It’s who you know” — it’s conventional, nearly cliché advice for succeeding in the workplace and in life. Career counselors, speakers, and advice columnists all say it. Network, meet people, do favors and be helpful so you can ask for favors later. It works, both to get ahead and as a safety net when things go wrong.

When Americans think of being well connected, they think of things like job offers and big breaks — things that grease the wheels and make life in the middle class smoother.

house blog crop

But when you delve into the causes and contributors to poverty, you discover that connections aren’t just a nice-to-have. Knowing the right people protects you from being bullied and taken advantage of by landlords, business people, and employers. It also makes justice more likely — knowing the right people helps encourage the police to listen to and address your complaints when you’re mistreated.

“But,” you may protest, “those of us with means don’t enjoy complete immunity from injustice. We’re still lied to, stolen from, and mistreated by employers.”

That’s true. But we have the resources to defend ourselves and connections to those who can help us. We can rally friends and even get the media’s attention if we need it.

For example, a few years ago, my family had an insurance company try shameful and deceitful tactics to avoid paying a claim. This dragged on for months until we finally threatened to go public. They paid because we had the connections to give that threat teeth. When a friend found herself the target of a frivolous lawsuit, her network quickly produced an attorney who got the lawsuit dismissed pro bono.

Poverty and Lack of Connections

People in poverty don’t have connections.

homeless children begging

It’s hard to say which comes first, the lack of connections, the injustice and abuse, or poverty. But people under the poverty line lack family and friends to turn to when something breaks, a boss treats them unfairly, or a landlord tries to cheat them out of money. It’s a cutthroat world where people don’t play by the rules because no one is there to make them.

The United Nations defines poverty like this: Poverty is “a human condition characterized by the sustained or chronic deprivation of the resources, capabilities, choices, security and power necessary for the enjoyment of an adequate standard of living and other civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights.”

Listen to their stories. You’ll see it — to live in poverty is to live on the edge of catastrophe with no safety net, no recourse, and no back-up plan.


House in Sri Lanka
House in Sri Lanka

Several years ago, I met Mala in Sri Lanka. She lives at the end of a deeply rutted dirt path a few miles from the nearest real road. She told us through an interpreter how she skipped meals for months to save the money to purchase a piece of land closer to the main road. Moving her family closer to the road would make it easier to get her kids to school, and she knew that was the only way for them to have a better life than she had. But the landowner took her money, and then sold the property to someone else. Mala went to the police, but the landowner paid them to ignore her report. He stole her hard-earned money, and she lost the land.

Mala had everything – the drive and determination, the discipline to save, the savvy to find a piece of property — except one critical ingredient: she didn’t know the right people.

But this doesn’t have to be the story.

One of the most important ways Feed the Children fights poverty is by becoming a connection to resources, safety nets, and justice when it’s needed.


We help women like Elena. She lives in Honduras with four children, Edwin, Miguel, Francisco, and Leiry. After she was diagnosed with severe osteoarthritis, her husband left her and their kids for another woman (he said she complained about bone pain too much!). He refused to send money for the kids, so with a debilitating illness and no recourse to demand child support, she had to send her kids out to work, trying to sell snacks at bus stops. Sometimes they went a week without food.

Today, Leiry is in the fifth grade and thriving
Today, Leiry is in the fifth grade and thriving

But thanks to generous donors who helped start Feed the Children’s feeding programs in Honduras, she was able to get help. Today, one of her sons is grown up, the two other sons are thriving at a residential school for boys, her daughter is finishing 5th grade, and Elena and her daughter receive food and dry rations in exchange for cooking at the local feeding center.


We also helped Anne, who lives in Kenya with two children, a son and a daughter. Anne’s husband lied to her about a previous marriage and his status as HIV positive. She found out that both she and her son also had HIV when the boy was admitted to the hospital and received a blood test. Fortunately, she learned how to care for herself during pregnancy so her daughter is HIV negative. At age 3, her son lost his sight and shortly after, her husband left her.

Anne and her daughter show the beaded cards Anne creates
Anne and her daughter show the beaded cards Anne creates

Anne went into hiding, ashamed of her HIV status and overwhelmed with her son’s special needs. Without food, without income, and very sick, Anne was desperate. A friend told her that Feed the Children was running a support group for people with HIV and was giving out food. Once she had regained her strength, they invited her to attend weekly meetings where they encouraged the attendees to start doing something that could make money. Anne learned how to make beadwork and today, she makes beautiful pieces that she sells to Feed the Children and to couriers who sell to tourists.

She told us, “At the time when I first met Feed the Children officials, I was so down, hopeless and just didn’t know what to do with my life. Remember, I was hiding from the world because of my status. I didn’t have food or money. I was desperate. Feed the Children gave us food, yes, but what I really want to thank Feed the Children for is the skills training that they imparted on me and other ladies too who were in a similar situation like mine. These business skills are the best. My children never lack food, and they are going to school. Do you know that my special child would never have gone to school?  Feed the Children has gotten me out of poverty. I don’t want my children to be like me. I only studied until sixth grade.”

Anne and kids blog crop

Feed the Children Connects People

When you support Feed the Children, you help connect people like Elena, Mala, and Anne to the resources they need to make a better life. They can’t do it on their own. When kids and their families meet Feed the Children, they finally have someone to turn to and the boost they need to build momentum towards self-sufficiency and away from dependence. We help parents find ways to support themselves so their kids can go to school instead of working. We help kids get the food they need to grow and learn. We help communities become strong enough to help each other so they don’t need us anymore.

You can support schools, livelihoods, and infrastructure like water and sanitation here.

P.S. Want to learn more? Many have documented how important justice is to eliminating poverty. This site by the World Bank discusses the need for justice work around the world, while this video discusses the problem of “one kind of justice for the rich and another for the poor” in the U.S.  Organizations like the Equal Justice Initiative work to make sure that U.S. law enforcement and justice system applies the legal concept of “innocent until proven guilty” consistently no matter a person’s race or socioeconomic status.




Just Two Goats: An International Women’s Day Success Story

Today is International Women’s Day. It’s a day that calls our attention to what it means to advance women’s rights in the workforce, politics, and society. Through our work around the world, we meet strong women every day that inspire us. Women are seeking not only to feed their children but also give these children a better life than they knew. But we also are painfully aware that many women, no matter how hard they work, can never get ahead without a little assistance from their brothers and sisters in other parts of the world. Here’s one such story:

Matilda and goat

Matilda Nyasulu is 32 years old and mother of three daughters. She hails from a village in the Rumphi district in Malawi. Matilda has been married twice to men who did not financially support her family. She is currently single and caring for her two elderly parents as well as her daughters.

Matilda is dependent on her farming and piece work (a type of employment in which a worker is paid a fixed piece rate for each unit produced or action performed regardless of time) to make ends meet for her children. Her parents are unable to work.

Four years ago, her situation was dire. Matilda said, “I really struggled to take care of my children and my parents. It was very difficult to find food and clothes for them. At one point, my oldest daughter did not go to school because I could not provide her with writing materials. It was also very difficult for me to find money to buy fertilizer as I was always experiencing food shortages.”

Matilda said she also finds it difficult to find money for transport to a nearest health center 20 kilometers (about 12 1/2 miles) away from her home.

In 2010, her children’s school, the Betere Community Based Child Care Centre (CBCC), identified Matilda’s as one of the households that could benefit from what they call the “Pass-On Goat Initiative.” Feed the Children gave her two female goats. After a few months, each of the goats birthed two goats. The project required that Matilda take two goats and pass them on to another family, which she did.

After some time, the goats multiplied to six. In 2012, Matilda sold one goat for around $75. With the money, she bought school uniforms, a pair of shoes, and writing materials for her two school-aged children. She used the remaining amount to pay the school fees for both children. Without the proceeds of the goat sale, her daughters would have lacked the clothes and supplies required to attend school.

“Selling the goat helped me to send my children to school,’’ she said.

Matilda in maize garden

In 2013, she slaughtered another goat and sold part of the meat for around $94 . Matilda kept part of it, to feed her children and family for a few days. She exchanged the remaining portion for fertilizer for her two acres of maize garden. She is also using goat droppings as manure in her maize garden.  This is a huge accomplishment and will assist her to feed her family on her own.

“This year I expect to harvest more maize than in the previous years, because for the first time I have applied enough fertilizer in my maize garden!’’ Matilda said.

Matilda is a strong mom. She is so glad to be independent, no longer burdened by the weight of supporting her children’s education. Furthermore, Matilda believes that the people in her community respect her because of the goats she is raising.

When we look at hunger and poverty around the world, it can look too big to solve. But stories like Matilda’s show us how simple it is when you focus on one family at a time. After all, her story transformed with just two goats!