By Christine Ennulat, ChildFund Content Manager
Happy World Food Day! There are starving children in Africa.
At how many dinner tables in how many homes have finicky children been scolded that way to get them to eat their dinners?
Or maybe it was India — “There are starving children in India. Eat your meatloaf.”
And how many children have rolled their eyes at their admonishing parents? How many of those parents really were speaking from a place of gut knowledge about what it means for a child to starve?
Clichés come to be clichés because they’re true. There are, and ever have been, starving children in Asia and in Africa. They are also in South America and in North America — right here in our back yard. All over the world.
A truth devolves into a cliché through overuse. We become numb to the idea.
The whole world has become numb to the idea of starving children. That’s why fundraising for a slow-onset crisis like a drought is so challenging, much more so than for a splashy, sudden typhoon or a devastating earthquake.
But 5-year-old Selamawit is not a cliché. She’s a little girl who lives in Ethiopia, where 8.2 million people right now are suffering through a food crisis.
Selamawit became so malnourished that her condition tipped into kwashiorkor, or protein-energy malnutrition, which causes loss of muscle mass, irritation, fatigue, skin issues, diarrhea, liver damage, failure to grow and more. Kwashiorkor is behind the round bellies we see in the now-clichéd photos of starving children in developing countries; the lack of protein causes fluid to collect in the abdomen and elsewhere.
Selamawit is in treatment now, but she will likely never reach her full height. Her brain development may have been irreparably disrupted — time will tell. (Another cliché.)
And time will tell for Ethiopia, but we know what to expect for the coming months: The drought that has decimated the harvest nationwide is expected to continue well into 2016, thanks to what some are calling the strongest El Niño event on record. In a country where 86 percent of the population depends on subsistence farming, the failed harvest means that families must instead purchase all their food, and prices are rising. Poorer families can’t afford the food they need, so they reduce their intake dangerously.
It happens slowly and quietly. And it silences children.
You can help by donating to our Ethiopia food crisis response here.
And you can take the opportunity of this World Food Day to tell your friends and networks what’s happening in Ethiopia. Tell them about Selamawit, and about her brother, 7-year-old Temesgen.
Every day after that, keep an eye on the crisis, and encourage those around you to do so, too. You’ll have to look for it in the media, because it’s not a typhoon or an earthquake. We’ll keep you posted here.
By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
When I grew up near Lake Erie in Ohio, I lived on the north coast; or, taking a Canadian perspective, the south shore. As an adult, I moved to England’s south coast, then the west coast of Africa, and finally, the east and west coasts of North America.
Water attracts people. It’s no coincidence that oceans, blood and amniotic fluid all share the same concentration of salt.
Worldwide, three out of five people live in coastal areas, and 50 million call tiny islands home. Although Small Island Developing States (known as SIDS) produce less than 1 percent of global greenhouse gas, their inhabitants suffer most from climate change. Of the 51 countries classified as SIDS, 12 are also among the least developed — including Timor-Leste, where ChildFund works. It gained its independence from Indonesia in 2002.
More than half of Timor-Leste’s population lives in poverty. The United Nations predicts its population will triple to 3 million by 2050, and the country faces a temperature increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius (3.4 degrees Fahrenheit) over that time, according to a 2012 report from the National Center for Biotechnology Information.
We must account for climate change as we address poverty, simply because of its impact on the availability of water and food.
About two in three Timorese people already suffer from food insecurity; half of Timor-Leste’s population is under age 15, and malnutrition affects half of the children under age 5. In Timor-Leste, the hungry season lasts from October through February — until maize, the primary crop, is ready for harvest.
Although 85 percent of Timorese practice subsistence agriculture, the country cannot meet its nutritional needs, partly because insects, fungi and rodents ruin a third of the harvest during storage. Crops suited to the Timorese climate — such as rice, maize, wheat, barley, arrowroot, cassava, sweet potato, potato, cowpeas, red beans, peanuts and coconuts — provide acceptable caloric intake but insufficient protein. For its population to survive, Timor-Leste imports food and exports coffee.
So, what happens if Timor-Leste gets hotter and more crowded? Interactions between carbon dioxide (CO2), temperature and water are complex. The so-called “CO2 fertilization effect” benefits certain crops, such as rice, sweet potatoes and peanuts. Others, however, experience harm, especially maize and cassava. Too much carbon dioxide causes cassava leaves, an excellent source of protein, to become toxic.
Warmer temperatures cause crops to mature faster but at reduced yields. Peanut harvests, for example, could shrink by one-fifth. Warmth also favors pests, so incidence of insect damage and fungal diseases will increase. And farming requires rainfall at crucial stages. If Timor-Leste doesn’t receive enough — or gets too much — rain, the crops currently cultivated there may no longer thrive.
Coffee beans are especially vulnerable to heat, and if they don’t adjust to higher temperatures, farmers will move their plants up the central mountain, increasing deforestation and soil erosion.
Climate change also puts Timor-Leste at greater risk of floods, landslides, cyclones and drought — disasters that already affect the country. Grain yields decreased by 30 percent in 2007, due to a drought caused by El Niño, a disruption in the Pacific Ocean related to unusually warm temperatures. Climate models indicate a high likelihood of another El Niño event in 2014.
Climate change is a serious concern around the world, and it often seems like too great a problem for one person. But if each one of us does our part, we can make a difference; you can help improve the diets and incomes of families in Timor-Leste by making a gift of goats, cows or chickens.
By Martin Nanawa, ChildFund Philippines
Rosemary was sure she knew how to raise her children in a healthy way. She knew to feed them good food, and she knew to work hard so she could feed her five children well. When she could afford it, she would put meat on the table. “Rich children have meat all the time, and none of them are malnourished,” she believed.
Like many mothers in the Philippines, Rosemary thought expensive food was nutritious for her children. That’s why, as a washerwoman, she would accept as many wash loads as she could. But hand-washing laundry from neighbors in a largely low-income community doesn’t yield Rosemary much profit, and often, she found herself barely able to put food on the table, much less the variety that she believed was good for her children.
ChildFund established a “Supervised Neighborhood Play” (SNP) site in her community in 2011, which taught community members about early childhood development — emphasizing nutrition, activities and parenting methods that help infants and toddlers develop healthy cognitive, emotional, social and physical skills. In Rosemary’s village, her sister’s front porch was the SNP center. She did not need much convincing to enroll her youngest three children.
But her excitement about this opportunity soon turned to shock when she learned that her children were malnourished. All three were underweight, Rosemary discovered at a weight and growth monitoring session.
But Rosemary’s anxious questions were answered by the SNP volunteers, who were trained by ChildFund. She learned that she didn’t need to attempt to feed her children food that she couldn’t afford. In fact, the most nutritious food she could give her children was relatively inexpensive and widely available: moringa leaves, okra, squash, water spinach and string beans. These vegetables easily grow in the Philippines and are the prime ingredients or additives in many simple dishes.
Rosemary was thrilled to have this information.
“I was excited to try the nutritious dishes I learned to prepare at SNP parenting sessions,” she says. And instead of buying vegetables at the market, the SNP program helped her start her own backyard vegetable plot by providing her with the seedlings she needed. Meanwhile, her children were also given vitamin supplements to hasten their recovery. Growing her own vegetables helps Rosemary defray food expenses, allowing her to better support her elder two sons in school.
Enrolling her children in home-based ECD services has proved pivotal to Rosemary’s family.
“My children are learning, and staying healthy,” she says. “I’m excited to see them growing taller.”
Dry weather can lead to disaster in developing countries. Without backup water supplies during a drought, food gets scarcer and more expensive, and people — usually the most vulnerable — become malnourished. This scenario repeats itself all over Africa, and Burkina Faso was one of the most recent countries stricken.
However, this story has a happier ending than many, thanks to the leadership of Christian Children’s Fund Canada, part of the ChildFund Alliance. Beginning in April 2012, CCFC started a project that targeted 12,000 people at risk of illness and death related to malnutrition — mainly children under the age of 5 and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Canadian supporters and other Alliance partners, including ChildFund International, made donations that helped this project succeed.
The project, which ended in December, provided supplementary feeding and related training; distributed food rations; supplied seeds and fertilizer; and distributed goats and sheep. In the end, about 19,000 people in 20 communities in Burkina Faso benefitted.
With some funds remaining and new funding coming in, the focus in Burkina Faso has now shifted to helping the communities prepare for future droughts and become more resilient.
By Christine Ennulat
Way back in college, I went to Haiti for six weeks on an interdenominational mission trip. Our team lived in an orphanage outside of Cap-Haitien, on Haiti’s northern coast, where our task for the summer was to add a second floor to a building in an orphanage.
The children were always around, but I remember in particular four little boys — Roro, Antoine, Roger and tiny Delice. They were a pack, always smiling, always curious about what this group of giant, sweating teenagers was up to.
I remember their throwing rocks into trees to knock down mangos and the insanely sour, thick-skinned grapefruit that I loved. I remember them looking on, grinning, as we toiled and complained while washing what must have seemed our overabundance of clothes at the orphanage’s well. I remember their small, rain-slick faces peering into the sick tent, where I suffered in quarantine with some unpleasant stomach ailment as a small river rushed past my air mattress, and Roro’s asking, “Ou malade?”
Roro was my favorite. He had twinkle to spare, and he and Delice seemed to have a special bond. I thought it was nice that the older boy looked out for the younger with such obvious care.
A few weeks into our stay, I had learned enough Creole to find out that the boys were not 8 or 9 years old, as I’d thought, but 11. All of them — including Delice, whose head reached Roro’s shoulder, and whom I’d thought was maybe 5 or 6. But as I thought about him and paid more attention, I recognized his more sober, angular countenance was at odds with his birdlike, stunted body.
When I asked the minister who ran the orphanage about his story, I learned that Delice’s mother had left him there as a toddler, and that he had been severely malnourished, which was the reason he was so small. He would grow more, but he would always be small.
Now, decades later, as I explore ChildFund’s work so that I can do my job of writing about it, I often learn hard truths. In researching our Early Child Development programs, I’ve learned about the importance of nutrition in a child’s development — physical, cognitive, behavioral and more. The other day, I ran across a widely quoted nugget from Carl Sagan, from a statement he made to Congress in 1994:
“When there isn’t enough food, the body has to make a decision about how to invest the limited foodstuffs available. Survival comes first. Growth comes second. In this nutritional triage, the body seems obliged to rank learning last. Better to be stupid and alive than smart and dead.”
For Delice, his body’s “decision” was outwardly obvious. There’s no way to know about the rest of it — what losses he may have had in his learning or social capacities — but, remembering his eyes and his demeanor, I’m pretty sure he was able to hold his own.
I like to think that Delice was one of the comparatively lucky ones — that, with the care he received in the orphanage and with a friend like Roro, he found his way in the world and has lived a productive, satisfying life.
What I know for sure, though, is that the world is too full of 11-year-olds who look like 6-year-olds and too many children who don’t survive malnutrition to reach age 5 ― children whose potential has been stolen by malnutrition and other effects of poverty. And that’s why ChildFund’s work to turn this around for children is so important.
Today is a day for champions—a day to call on global leaders to commit to ensuring all children have enough food to eat, no matter where they are born in the world.
Nearly 200 million children are chronically malnourished and suffer from lifelong, often irreversible, physical and cognitive damage as a result. Malnutrition also contributes to 35 percent of all deaths of children under the age of 5 annually, and roughly 20 percent of all maternal deaths.
Malnutrition is not just a result of poverty—it is also a cause.
As ChildFund’s CEO Anne Lynam Goddard often points out: Childhood is a one-time opportunity. We have one chance to get it right, especially when it comes to nutrition during the 1,000-day window that starts with a mother’s pregnancy and continues until a child is 2 years old.
Experts agree—nutrition delivers the biggest bang for the buck when investing in future generations. A panel of Nobel laureate economists known as the Copenhagen Consensus recently concluded that fighting malnutrition in young children should be the top investment priority for policymakers. The payoff is huge: $1 in invested in nutrition generates as much as $138 in better health and increased productivity.
Investing in improved nutrition can
At ChildFund, we emphasize growth promotion until the child is 3 years old. Helping ensure the health and security of infants is a critical component of our work with children throughout their life stages. Healthy infants are more likely to become educated and confident children, who, in turn, grow into skilled and involved youth. When children have a healthy start in life, they have a greater opportunity to break the bonds of poverty.
We fully support the Scaling Up Nutrition roadmap that is guiding the international aid community’s efforts to combat undernutrition.
Today on Capitol Hill, ChildFund is joining hands with other international development organizations, members of Congress, government leaders, civil society groups and private industry to call for action on child nutrition issues at the G8 Summit taking place this weekend at Camp David in Washington, D.C.
We call on leaders in the U.S. administration, Congress and G8 delegations to join us in support of improved nutrition globally, particularly for women and children in the 1,000 days from pregnancy to a child’s second birthday.
Our objectives are straightforward:
Now is the time for global leaders to reaffirm their commitment to confronting the challenges of hunger, poverty and disease by accelerating efforts to improve nutrition, particularly for women and children.
Will you join us and be a champion for change?
Reporting by ChildFund Bolivia
Snapshot of a struggling family in Bolivia: The father works on faraway farms and returns home only occasionally. The mother sells vegetables in the local market during the morning and part of the afternoon, leaving her children in the care of the eldest, who is 10. The youngest, Irene, is 5 months.
In 2006, the government of Bolivia instituted a new program, called Zero Malnutrition, with the goal of eradicating malnutrition in children under age 5. Knowing of ChildFund’s vast experience in child development, the Bolivian Ministry of Health and Sports invited ChildFund to implement a child development component through Zero Malnutrition in rural Oruro, the region where Irene’s family lives.
ChildFund’s contribution was to train “guide mothers,” volunteers who monitor and support the development of the children in their communities. ChildFund taught the guide mothers how to use our child development scale to screen children and identify specific developmental needs. They also received training in ways to work with parents to help them support their children’s development.
Maria was one of those guide mothers. She visited Irene.
“When I met Irene, I understood my mission,” she says.
On that first evaluation, Maria found that Irene had diarrhea, an acute respiratory infection, acute malnutrition, anemia and visible signs of emaciation, and that she was under both height and weight for her age.
Trained to recognize danger signs, Maria reported the case to the local health center, and staff from there soon performed a field visit. They provided Irene’s mother with medicine as well as an orientation on how to treat Irene.
Maria also evaluated Irene’s development and found she was not progressing in all areas as she should.
Within a year, after continued visits from Maria and with appropriate care, Irene was a healthy 18-month-old. She was still small for her age, but her weight was appropriate for her size. She also had caught up with her peers in three of five developmental areas.
Maria says the work is hard, but when she sees families in her community who have so little, she’s inspired to give her best efforts to teaching them what she’s learned about how to keep children on track and healthy.
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.
It’s been a year of extremes for Guatemala. Just a few months ago, the country was in the midst of severe drought that had destroyed crops and caused many vulnerable children to suffer malnutrition. Then Tropical Storm Agatha hit in May, flooding families from their homes, washing out bridges and damaging the country’s infrastructure.
Now additional rains have brought more flooding and life-threatening landslides. Alvaro Colom, the country’s president, has characterized the situation as a “national tragedy.” The president declared a state of emergency and told citizens to stay off the nation’s highways due to the number of landslides.
ChildFund projects are affected in Estrella Del Mar, Futor De Ninos and Pequeno Paraiso. The most critical needs are food and water, clothes and medicine.
Floods have led to the use of schools and churches as temporary shelters, which is affecting school attendance in some communities. Another concern is an increase in waterborne diseases.
What has become Guatemala’s worst rainy season in years is endangering new crops, putting the country’s food supply in danger once again.
In an interview filmed prior to the flood-producing rains, Mario Lima, national director for ChildFund Guatemala reflected on ChildFund’s efforts to provide better nutrition to Guatemala’s children and their families. These efforts must now be redoubled.
To help families in Guatemala, please give to the ChildAlert Emergency Fund.