On weekdays me and my daughter have porridge for breakfast. We top it with fruit and swirls of peanut butter. She absolutely loves it. And I absolutely love seeing her chubby little baby hands dipping her spoon into her breakfast (and often into her hair) and eating the lot.
But what if she had been born somewhere else?
The last few weeks our breakfast routine has felt different to me. After reading the Dangerous Delays report, and listening to the impassioned pleas made by our Humanitarian director, every time she eats I find myself thinking about what it must be like to watch her not eat. Day in, day out. The fear, pain, the inevitable self sacrifice. The knowledge that it wouldn’t be enough.
The pain I feel just imagining this floors me, yet even as I write this there are thousands, if not millions of mothers living that reality.
In the UK we have people going hungry. But across East Africa children are not just hungry, they are gradually starving. And many will never recover.
The kids behind the statistics
Stats are helpful. But I believe they are also a strange comfort blanket. When you think about a person dying from hunger every 48 seconds you don’t think of individuals. When you hear Severe Acute Malnutrition (S.A.M.) is a leading cause of death for children under 5 it's just awful data.
But behind every shocking statistic that seems to fade like a bad dream as soon as we read something else, is a beloved child. An individual. Someone with potential. Who had dreams, a favourite colour, a best friend, a big smile when they found something really funny, and someone who loved them with all their heart.
How does it feel?
When a child goes without food for too long terrible things happen to their bodies and their minds. And while the stats tell us how many kids are dying from it, they cant tell us how that feels for these children. This is how it feels.
The power of peanuts
Thankfully, there is a cure. A simple, cheap cure to start a child’s journey back to health. And for cases of SAM where there are no additional complications, there’s not even a need for hospitals or doctors. All they need is high nutrient peanut paste. It doesn’t need clean water to swallow, it does not need to be cooked or refrigerated, and it stays fresh after opening. All it needs is to be available in the first place – and for some reason, this is the problem.
This peanut paste can be enough to rehabilitate and nourish a child. It can take a child from no longer being able to walk or even hold their head up, and give them the energy to smile, to laugh and be kids again. It’s nothing short of a miracle. And while there’s enough of it to reach every child, as it stands, we won’t.
What should we do?
If we are going to address this crisis – and we must – we need to step beyond the statistics and the nightmare images you see in the papers. We need to think about the incredible, joyful potential of these children. We need to fight for them, and fight for our government to take action.
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