Horn of Africa drought

Drought in Turkana Brings a New Resiliency

by Joan Ng’ang’a, ChildFund Kenya

Arid landscape

Drought and desperation.

Last year, Kenya’s Turkana region was the hub of disaster. The drought had bitten hard, as evidenced by the bare landscape, pocked with livestock carcasses and dried up vegetation. Families moved away from their homes in search of food, water and pasture for the livestock that remained.

child lying on ground

Displaced and hungry.

Children and women bore the brunt of the disaster as malnutrition, illnesses and death became common. This was not the first drought experienced in the area. But it was the worst in many, many years. A strong community was brought to its knees by disease, hunger and desperation.

Growing crops

A new beginning.

Women farmers

Hard work yields crops.

healthy girl

Healthy children.

To survive, many families began to embrace farming as an alternative to a nomadic pastoral lifestyle. With agricultural training and support from ChildFund, women are farming huge gardens that now stretch along River Turkwell. And they are producing enough maize, sorghum, beans and vegetables to feed their families. These gardens have attracted settlements of traditional pastoralists. Through the sale of crops such as sorghum, household incomes and food security are increasing. Children are growing healthy and strong.

women carrying man

Celebrating ChildFund's assistance.

Excitement ran high in the community when Jumbe Sebunya, ChildFund’s regional director for East and South Africa, recently visited the garden projects. As they carried Jumbe shoulder high, the women sang of their past struggles. They also sang of the great joy they now feel as a result of the hard work and the change they have embraced.

Dedicated to their children’s survival,these resilient women are saving a generation.

women celebrate in song

A song of hope.

Sharing My Harvest

by Cynthia Price, ChildFund Director of Communications

lettuceI’ve been eating a salad each night this week, and what makes it so tasty is that the lettuce comes straight from my garden. I also toss in peppers and carrots fresh from the garden.

I take my garden for granted. If it doesn’t rain, I simply turn on the irrigation system.

In the Horn of Africa, however, when the rains don’t come, there is no irrigation system to turn on. There is no grocery store to go to. And so the worst drought in 60 years now threatens more than 13 million people.

But ChildFund is helping by bringing food and medicine to those in need.

  • A $26 donation will provide fruit and vegetables for a family for a week.
  • A $155 donation will provide 150 packets of nutritional supplements.

My garden has decreased my grocery bill. I’m taking the savings and making sure children in the Horn of Africa get fruits and vegetables.

If you would like to help, too, you can make a tax-deductible donation to ChildFund’s ChildAlert Emergency Fund.

On World Food Day: Be Inspired to Do More for Others

Guest post by Mark Lukowski

Editor’s Note: Yesterday was World Food Day. Mark Lukowski, CEO of Christian Children’s Fund of Canada, and a member of the ChildFund Alliance, shared a recent experience where he visited those in need in the Horn of Africa.

Perhaps it’s not coincidental that World Food Day comes on the heels of Thanksgiving. Both are celebrations of food, but they are as different as turkey is from beef. For me, World Food Day on Oct. 16 will never be the same because, two weeks ago, I visited some of the neediest areas in the Horn of Africa as part of our relief work at Christian Children’s Fund of Canada. I personally encountered individuals who were suffering from food shortages and struggling to stay alive in the midst of a severe drought.

Children receive a meal of nutrient-enriched Unimix at ChildFund's ECCD center in Lokitaung, Turkana Region, Kenya.

For example, I met children who receive their only meal of the day at school – a single serving of protein mix for lunch. I met a beleaguered mother who said,  “When my children are crying because they are hungry, all I want to do is run away.” I met children who lacked energy and were very quiet because they did not have enough to eat, and I observed babies with swollen feet due to malnutrition. I met a father who walks 40 km to get potatoes to feed his family. I met two men that had walked for more than half a day to find food in a nearby town. And those who were able to secure food were often eating the same thing every day — maize, cooked wheat, wild cabbage, or protein mix.

So this World Food Day will be different for me. I am grateful for what we have, but at the same time I am inspired to do more for all the adults and children I met in the Horn of Africa for whom access to food is a constant struggle that never seems to end.

Helping Kenyans Thrive for the Long-Term

In Kenya’s Turkana region, ChildFund’s long-term work with the Food for Assets program is showing promising results. Families are learning how to build irrigation systems and community gardens that will lead to better drought resilience in the future. On a recent visit to the project, President Anne Lynam Goddard described it as a “Garden of Eden.”

The High Price of Malnutrition

At Early Child Care and Development Centers across drought-stricken northern Kenya, ChildFund is providing a daily meal to young children and monitoring their health status. One way to spot malnutrition is to measure the circumference of a child’s upper arm, explains Anne Lynam Goddard, ChildFund’s president and CEO, who recently visited our programs in Turkana.

Children who are severely malnourished at a young age often suffer developmental deficiencies the rest of their lives.

Join Anne on ChildFund’s Facebook page, Sept. 7, 12-12:30 p.m. (EDT), for a discussion of the Horn of Africa drought. Anne will be sharing her recent experiences visiting children and answering your questions. To post a question, you’ll first need to “like” ChildFund on Facebook.

We’d like to invite you to respond, too.  Consider skipping lunch on Wednesday and donating that $10 to our ChildAlert emergency fund for the drought.  It’s easy: Just grab your cell phone and text “RESPOND” to 90999 (message and data rates may apply).  Alternatively, you may make a donation for drought relief through our website.

Then use your lunch break to join Anne on Facebook to learn more about the drought.

One Mother’s Story of Drought

While her husband seeks work, Lopeyok, 32, struggles to care for their seven young children in northern Kenya, where drought conditions have become severe. She relies on ChildFund’s Early Child Care and Development Center (ECCD) for her children’s only meal of the day.

The mother and her children also expend precious energy collecting water at a borehole in neighboring Lokitaung district. The four-hour walk each day is hot and exhausting.

ChildFund is delivering 112 metric tons of cooking oil and a nutritional porridge mix for Kenya’s hard-hit regions, targeting children 5 and younger.

The need is great and predicted to grow as drought severity increases across the Horn of Africa.

To learn more about the drought and ChildFund’s response, join Anne Lynam Goddard, president and CEO, for a Facebook wall chat at noon (EDT) on Wednesday, Sept. 7. Anne recently returned from Kenya where she visited with children and families who are struggling to survive the worst drought the region has experienced in 60 years.

In Kenya: A Garden of Eden in the Midst of Dust and Despair

by Anne Lynam Goddard, ChildFund President and CEO

ChildFund CEO with Kenya childrenThis trip to Kenya  has been emotional for me in many ways. Seeing children suffering from hunger and disease is something that remains with a person for a long time. Kenya also holds a special place in my heart. I was married here 30 years ago and my son was born here a few years later. Kenya is part of my family’s story; and when a member of your family hurts, you hurt.

This morning we hit the road to Kalemunyang. On the way, we drive through barren landscapes. All around are dirt fields and no signs of water. We cross large river beds that are totally dry. Herds of goats and camels, tired and emaciated, walk through parched lands in search of food and water.

Hearing that the president of ChildFund is coming, the women of Kalemunyang have gathered to welcome our arrival. As we pull in, they are surprised to see a woman president. They had been expecting a man. They are excited, and to my surprise, they pick me up and carry me on their shoulders around the community!

ChildFund CEO and Kenyan boys and girl

An irrigation program has transformed this community.

After things settle down, community members fill me in on ChildFund’s Food for Assets program, funded by the United Nations’ World Food Program. I’m shown to the irrigation system on the bank of the Turkwel River.

After spending all of yesterday seeing barren earth and tasting dust, it’s amazing to see how smart farming practices have transformed this community. You wouldn’t realize you were in an arid area with all the plants that are growing. It’s green everywhere!

In the “shambas,” or vegetable gardens, women tend spinach, tomatoes, green peppers, okra, watermelons, kale, maize and cowpeas. In the midst of drought, we’ve discovered the Garden of Eden!

Three Kenyan women sit in garden

Community women tend the vegetable gardens that are part of ChildFund's Food for Assets program in Kalemunyang.

Through the Food for Assets program, ChildFund initially provides families with food and goods in exchange for their work to build irrigation systems and community gardens. Because of climate change, ChildFund is teaching pastoralist communities techniques for irrigation and how to grow gardens. We’re providing improved access to water for both humans and livestock, thereby increasing crop production, reducing environmental degradation and improving pasture for livestock. More than 20,000 people benefit from this program.

Woman tends garden

We find a "Garden of Eden" in the midst of drought in Kalemunyang.

I speak to Anna, a cheery 38-year-old woman and mother of three. She is tilling the soil and watering her crops in the “shamba.” She tells me that her situation was desperate before ChildFund offered assistance, providing gardening tools, seeds and training in crop cultivation.

“My family can eat nutritious food. Malnourishment in children is not an issue here, despite the drought in Turkana. I’m happy, very happy,” she says. She smiles and wishes me well as I depart.

Food for Assets is not an emergency relief effort. It is a long-term development intervention that strengthens local communities, helping reduce their vulnerability to future droughts. In other areas of Turkana, which lack access to permanent rivers, we teach people to use special pans to catch water that is used to grow crops like maize and sorghum.

In the afternoon, we visit Kalemunyang’s local school. ChildFund helped pipe water from the community borehole to the school and has built new latrines. When students, especially girls, have adequate toilet facilities, school attendance goes up. Many of these students also have sponsors through ChildFund. But there are still challenges ahead, given that there only five teachers for 350 students.

I’m told a child wants to meet me. As I turn, a teenager confidently walks up to me and shakes my hand with a firm grip. Lomoru, 14, is the area children’s representative with the local government. As we talk, I learn that he wants to be a judge. Mature beyond his years, this is a confident child if ever I saw one! His colorful t-shirt reads in Swahili: “Activist for Truth.” I have no doubt that he will be a leader of tomorrow.

A family welcomes ChildFund CEO

A visit with sponsored child Iria and family.

I end the afternoon by visiting Iria’s home. Iria is a 12-year-old boy benefiting from ChildFund sponsorship. His family lives simply, though I notice their house is in better shape than others around it. The house has permanent mud walls, a mosquito net to help prevent malaria, running water and an outside toilet. As I talk with Iria and his family, I am struck by the complexity of poverty. Iria and his family are doing relatively well, but times are tough. The elder brother is educated but there are no jobs. Education can only get you so far. You then need opportunity.

As we depart the village on yet another stifling hot day, I reflect on my trip to northern Kenya. Seeing the impact of drought firsthand has been a humbling experience. So many people in Kenya and across the Horn are in urgent and desperate need of food and water.

In many ways, Turkana life has changed little since I served in the Peace Corps here more than 30 years ago. It remains traditional, remote and susceptible to severe hardship. But then I think of the vegetable gardens in Kalemunyang, the community school with improved sanitation facilities for girls, Lomoru’s dream to be a judge and Iria’s neat home.

Today has been a day of hope. We must keep working with hope in mind. Your support for children in the Horn of Africa is making a difference.

In Times of Severe Drought, Children Suffer Most

by Anne Lynam Goddard, ChildFund President and CEO

Anne is in Kenya this week, where more than 3.5 million people need food aid as the worst drought in 60 years spreads across the Horn of Africa. One of the most affected areas is the Turkana region, where ChildFund is responding.

Dry riverbed and dead trees

Dry riverbeds in Turkana

It’s a dusty and bumpy drive to Lokitaung in northern Kenya. You can taste the dust in the air. It’s early in the morning and already the heat is unbearable. Without water, nothing grows in this hostile environment.

Mother with frail child

In Lokitaung, ChildFund is monitoring children for signs of malnutrition.

We stop at a health tent. “Thirty-seven percent of children under 5 are malnourished here,” a local nurse tells me as she weighs a young girl. “Eight percent are severely malnourished. That’s a sharp increase compared to last year.”

In times of food shortage, children under 5 are the most vulnerable to malnutrition. Inadequate food intake in young children has lifelong growth and development implications. That’s why ChildFund is focusing its relief efforts on providing food to those 5 and younger, as well as pregnant and nursing mothers. We are using existing structures we have in place on the ground, including health facilities and Early Child Care and Development (ECCD) centers, to deliver food and water.

Children sit on floor waiting for food

Children await a meal at the Lokiyah ECCD center in Lokitaung.

At the ECCD in Lokitaung, it’s just past 11 a.m., and the children are crying and hungry. They line up to receive a bowl of unimix – a nutrient-rich porridge. This is their first meal of the day. Since ChildFund started providing supplementary food, the number of children coming to the ECCD has soared. Mothers tell me they have carried their children for more than 5 kilometers, walking in the blistering heat to reach the ECCD center this morning.

Child with nurse

A local nurse measures a child's arm to see if he is malnourished.

Back at the health tent, Emuria, a 5-year-old boy, is having his mid-upper arm circumference measured. He looks frail. ChildFund’s health interventions include monitoring child growth to spot malnutrition at the early stages, providing vitamin A and iron supplements, deworming, vaccinating against measles and polio and also treating minor illnesses.

Anne Goddard with mother and child

In Lokitaung, Anne talks with a mother about her child's health.

Mothers I speak to complain about eye irritations because of the dry and dusty conditions. Children are coughing. Today, we’re also testing mothers for HIV/AIDS. Luckily, all have tested negative.

In the afternoon, we visit the remote village of Kariburi. The road is even bumpier and dustier than the one we traveled this morning. Everywhere you look is the same landscape — dust fields. We drive through one dry riverbed after another. Turkana really is the epicenter of the drought in Kenya.

The situation in Kariburi is dire. Malnutrition levels far exceed emergency thresholds. In the local ECCD center, the young children are calm and quiet. They lack the energy to play. A combination of food insecurity, falling nutrition levels and poor access to health and water facilities has left children in need of urgent support. Immunization coverage is extremely low, which puts the under-five population at risk.

Women carying sacks of maize

At the Kariburi food distribution center, families receive maize and legumes.

ChildFund is distributing relief food (maize, legumes and beans) to families today. Women line up and carry bags away on their heads. They have come far distances.

I’m happy to see that local women are involved in the relief distribution. The more you can involve the community, the better. ChildFund has also trucked in drinking water. A large crowd has gathered around the tap. Women have brought their containers to carry water back to their homes. ChildFund is also providing training on hygiene and sanitation practices. It’s in times of food shortage that people become weak and more vulnerable to disease outbreak.

Our help is needed most desperately. Thank you for your support.

What If You Couldn’t Feed Your Family?

by Virginia Sowers, ChildFund Community Manager

My small backyard garden hasn’t had much attention lately. It’s been oppressively hot this summer in Richmond, and we’ve had little rain in the past month. Suffice to say that I gave in to the elements and got a bit slack about nurturing my plants.

Veggies from the gardenBut this morning, following a refreshing overnight rain, I ventured out to the weed patch — er, garden — and poked around. I was disappointed to find my largest, yet not-quite-ripe, cantaloupe pocked with two bird beak-sized holes and its stem knocked off. The crowder peas, which yielded one family-size mess about a month ago, have now dried on the vine. The arugula has bolted and bloomed — nothing tasty there. I did manage to rescue a green pepper and a dozen small figs.

I had already started my mental list for the grocery store when it hit me hard. The children and families that ChildFund is rushing aid to in the Horn of Africa don’t have that option — not even close. They would be thrilled to have a damaged melon, a crisp pepper and a handful of figs. But what would they eat tomorrow?

And what would I do if I was depending on my meager garden to carry my family through three more months until the next harvest in November? I’d certainly be pulling out my weeding hoe and my garden hose. But wait — what if I’d already sold my tools to raise cash for food, and what if my community well had long since gone dry?

What would I do then?

It’s a grim thought, one that those of us in developed nations tend to quickly brush aside. Even with the ongoing economic uncertainty, the vast majority of us have plenty to eat and drink.

This afternoon, as I drive to the grocery store, I’ll be thinking more about necessities than luxuries. I should be able to save enough to make a donation to ChildFund’s ChildAlert Emergency Fund. I know the East African children who are hungry and thirsty are counting on my support.

Please join me.

A Close-up Look at the East Africa Drought

Based in Ethiopia, Isam Ghanim, ChildFund’s executive vice president for Global Programs, answers questions about the cause and impact of the drought in East Africa. Read the full interview with Isam on ChildFund’s website.

Photo of Isam Ghanim

Isam Ghanim, ChildFund's executive vice president for Global Programs

What has led to this food crisis?
It’s a situation that we refer to as a slow-onset emergency. This was caused by two consecutive rainy seasons failing, and the short rainy seasons in Kenya and Ethiopia also failed. This has led to an increase in food prices. There is also high inflation in all of these countries. And there is violence in Somalia. A significant number of Somalians have moved to established camps in Ethiopia and Kenya.

Families entered this crisis with depleted assets and very poor physical conditions. For almost two years now, they have been affected by food shortages. They are suffering from nutritional stress. There is only so long you can cope before you fall into acute malnutrition. The environmental conditions and the health conditions take their toll.

What is the current situation?
More than 11.5 million people are affected. In the areas where ChildFund works, we estimate 660,000 people are affected, with 7,000 children facing life-threatening conditions. This is a very serious situation. Stress indicators are reaching the levels that you see in the middle of a famine. Without immediate intervention, children will die.

What impacts of the drought are we seeing?
Children and their parents are malnourished and at increased risk of disease due to poor hygiene because of the shortage of water. They are suffering from physical and emotional stress. People are moving from their homes.

The most grievously affected are women and children. They have less capability to move. For young children, there is a permanent impact on their health — stunting, wasting, mental development. If the mother is breastfeeding, she won’t have enough milk. When parents are under significant stress, the normal care and support for children will be minimized.

What is ChildFund doing to help?
ChildFund is addressing the immediate life-threatening conditions affecting children — providing food, water and basic health services, as well as supplemental feeding through early childhood care and development centers to ensure babies and young children will not fall into acute malnutrition.

In addition, ChildFund is working to help families stay in their own communities so that when the rains come in September they are there to plant crops and cultivate their farms. If they don’t plant, they will lose another harvest and experience another year without food.

There is also a need to address child protection issues. Parents are too weak to care for their children. They have no roof over their head. Providing support is critical so that families don’t deplete their resources as part of their coping mechanism.

Read the complete interview and learn more about ChildFund’s response in the Horn of Africa.

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