Chronic to severe malnutrition affects nearly all children in both Makat and Wosiwosi. Even during the rainy seasons, when milk from goats and cows is plentiful, children are often subsisting on a small bowl of cornmeal gruel twice a day – then walking several miles to school or herding livestock.
The impact of malnutrition on health is severe: because a child’s immune system is depleted, diseases hit harder. Intestinal parasites – common in most rural children – further debilitate an affected child. Malnourished children not only get sicker, they die more from pneumonia, TB, measles, and other typical illnesses. Due to chronic Vitamin A deficiency, children also suffer permanent vision impairment.
Penny assessed childhood malnutrition in Makat by measuring the upper arms of random children; she also gave blood tests for anemia. Almost all children showed serious signs of malnutrition. She then created a menu that balanced a child’s body’s needs for calories, protein, micro-nutrients. We also took into account the practical constraints of transporting and storing the food.
We supported the lunch program with twice-yearly deworming (below) for ALL children (only about half local children attend school, and not every day.) We also aimed to improve the Government required participation of the World Food Program.
With the village, we sought to address their responsibility in supporting such a program; it should not be viewed as “free aid” – i.e. food that meant parents could stop feeding their children at home. But, over several years, parents and teachers could see the improved health (and ability to learn) of their children, and appreciate the value of improved nutrition.
Our goal was to have the village take full responsibility for funding and running the program within five years.
While we’re committed to the program, our success so far is mixed. The village has complied with all government requirements for a concrete kitchen and cafeteria (in this case a shade awning of acacia branched); so the commitment is identifiable. We believe that the provision of food to the teachers has made it easier for the school to retain its staff. Kisaya, a key local person for the NHP, has rigorously distributed and recorded the deworming meds. And there can be no doubt that the children approve, racing into line at lunchtime with shared spoons and bowls.
However, consistent funding has been a problem (a donor’s promises fell short), as has consistent transport. We rely in FCF to purchase and deliver the supplies, but their own resources of time and vehicles are stretched. We aimed for deliveries every three months, but it has often been up to five months. The WFP is supposed to supply all schools, including Makat, with food for student lunches; but supplies have only reached Makat on one occasion.
Our goal now is to push WFP for more responsive action, and to establish a mechanism for more consistent supply for our program – possibly through a village-led contract with a town-based supplier.