Some of our helpers’ children played on the ground while those being treated for malnutrition stared aimlessly into space. Similarly, their parents looked bored and there was little in the way of conversation taking place. On the other side of our fence, a woman was wailing and crying – her little boy had died; the wake was in the garden next door. Childhood deaths are a common occurrence here and malnutrition is only one of the causes. We gave the children their corn and peanut porridge, while I wondered how we could possibly continue with so few donations being sent at present. I asked Mama José, our nurse, why so many children become malnourished.
“Poverty is the number one cause,” she replied without hesitation. “Having too many children and not enough money to feed them with is very common here.”
She went on to describe how a mother would try to feed a large family with about forty pence a day.
“She can give them all something to eat – but it won’t have enough energy or protein in it,” she continued. “The choice of food is very limited here, and a lot don’t know the value of eating fruit and vegetables. Other children become malnourished when the mother is expecting another baby, even though the first one isn’t yet weaned – they wouldn’t stand a chance if this centre wasn’t here.”
Another reason she told me was when children have diarrhoea, or worms. “They lose so much weight that just eating the local food just can’t put the weight back on them – it just fills them up, but doesn’t help them at all”.
I thought about the little boy who had died next door, and then about the children at my centre. In the last week, two children had died after coming to us too late. Corrupt government leaves nothing for the needy. Poverty is also caused by ignorance about the right foods to eat. I thought about those children who had died because they happened to have been born into such poor conditions, and the emptiness it must leave in each of their families.
I was trying to cheer myself up by thinking about the 700, or more, children that we’ve put back on the road to health during the past three years, when a women arrived with a little girl.
“This is Nadia,” she said. “You treated her here last year and we’ve come to say “thank you”.”
We couldn’t believe how well she looked. “What a lovely surprise,” exclaimed Mama José. “You see, Francis, here’s living proof that our work is all worthwhile!”
We pray for the repose of the souls of those poor children who have died because of poverty, and we rejoice in the lives of the ones who are on the road to recovery.
Francis Hannaway mhm