I have heard many times that if something doesn’t sit right with you, you need to dig in further and figure out why. I think that’s how I felt as a high schooler who felt uncomfortable when I saw displaced people living in a community called Nuevo Vida in Nicaragua who were just barely surviving and their kids really did survive on the lunches provided daily by the local church. The lunches changed the community. Kept kids in school, kept families together, brought down teen pregnancy rates (as an adult now realizing the relationship between young girls in need and the ugly truth that they do what they have to in order to survive), it sustained people and gave them glimpses of hope. The lunches didn’t fix every single problem, they still struggled with sickness due to lack of public health and hygienic services, still struggled for jobs. But the simple fact that a meal a day made an impact was obvious. The meals were supplied by Rise Against Hunger (then called Stop Hunger Now) and served by the church/members of the community.
This made a light bulb go off in my head. Nutrition status has a ripple affect. When adequate nutrition is lacking, much of life falls apart. Nutrition casts its net into family structure, sickness, education, livelihood, and the list continues.
Fast forward ten years and I, now a registered dietitian, am in a health clinic in western rural Uganda watching child after child enter and explain a similar narrative. The mother left or she’s stuck in Congo, the father is dead or a soldier, the grandmother brings in the child - far sicker than they should be, where were they the last 2 months? 4 months? 8 months even? This problem could have been solved much more easily if the child arrived months ago, before total wasting occurred. Before the life looked to be almost leaving their bodies.
Normally that was my first reaction: judgement.
And over time it began to sink into my brain that the all of the things in the web of nutrition status affect and are affected by so much of life.
Maybe the grandmother didn’t know the clinic existed. Maybe she has four of the child’s siblings at home to care for too. Maybe she lives too far and the journey was daunting until it became dire. Maybe the mother just dropped off the child last week before fleeing the family. Maybe the grandmother didn’t even know the child existed because the father never paid a bride price and their marriage wasn’t considered legitimate. It’s all very gray. Not black and white like my American judgement.
Just like in my last post- history makes this hard. I don’t have happy words of resolution to end this post. I can say that I helped many kids in Uganda but really I didn’t even make a dent in the huge number of children suffering.
Actually I just have the news that the unfortunate situation of the world - shut down and lacking in every facet due to a pandemic - is only increasing the numbers of malnutrition cases walking into the doors of health clinics in Bundibugyo. The hospital is completely out of life saving formula normally provided by UNICEF - nationwide shortage they say. In the meantime our team is supplying our local supplement (ground nut paste with moringa leaves and soy flour). Would you consider giving toward the nutrition fund that purchases these supplements to meet needs?