“He was just skin and bones” – Hunger in the desert of Northeastern Kenya.
“In the past year, two of my goats have died, and the remaining six have stopped producing milk. Two of our cows died, and of the remaining four, only one is still giving milk.” Halima Hassan spoke softly as her three year-old son Albashir intently munched on a packet of Plumpy’Nut, a high-nutrient peanut paste for severely malnourished children.
“I have no more food to feed my children,” she continued, “I’m not able to feed them anything in the morning and we have to rely on grain from the relief agencies for our other meals.” Her hands gesture forcefully while she speaking, but upon finishing her sentences, she tucks her arms back under the folds of the long flowing garment that covers her head and body and looks down into her lap.
Albashir looks up at me expectantly as nurse Lois presses a stethoscope to his chest. We are sitting in the cool of a small cement building in the middle of a desert in Northeastern Kenya. Outside, the dry and barren landscape bakes under the forty degree Celsius sun.
Save the Children nurse Lois checks the heartbeat of Albashir, three. Several weeks earlier, Albashir’s health was seriously threatened by severe malnutrition.
“Three weeks ago this boy was just skin and bones,” says Lois as she listens to his heartbeat. “The first time we came into this village, we noticed him even from far away. He was severely malnourished!” Lois puts an emphasis on the word “severely” in the way Kenyans do when the want to make a serious point about something. Lois has been heading Save the Children’s efforts to help malnourished children in in Northeastern Kenya for several months and she has seen a lot of kids like Albashir.
“He was very ill before.” Helima added quietly, “He was having a lot of problems”
I looked again at Albashir, who’s gaze was still fixed on me. I snapped a couple pictures with my Nikon while he finished his Plumpy’Nut and medical examination. When Lois was through, I followed Albashir and Helima out in to the blinding sun.
For a boy who just weeks ago was on the brink of death, it was reassuring to see how healthy Albashir looked. Though he seemed a bit frightened and certainly not one hundred percent, his face was filled out and he was walking as jauntily as any three year old. Helima thanked us for the help as she gripped the week’s supply of Plumpy’Nut that was continue to assure her son’s recovery. I wiped the sweat out of my eyes and tried to blow some dust off of my camera lens before I took another picture of them. As they walked away out into the desert, another in a long line of mothers led her small child into the cement building.