Every Thursday we make an hour trek (in an SUV) to the top of Wanale Mountain for our feeding program for malnourished children.
There’s a little clinic there that we use to evaluate the children each week. Angela, our nutritionist weighs each child and measures the circumference of their arms. The arm circumference puts them in a red, yellow, or green category based on their age. Some children are given a week’s supply of packets of Plumpy Nut, a peanut butter like substance with high levels of nutrients. Other children are given a combination of milk powder, baby soya, and g- nuts (similar to peanuts) for their weekly food. They come back each week to be evaluated again to determine if their condition is improving. Also, the care givers for the children receive education about malnutrition, health, and hygiene. Eventually, as the children progress they can be discharged from the program looking and feeling healthy again.
Some of the children in the program come with their mothers or grandmothers. Sadly, there are some that come just with their brother or sister, or even by themselves. I’ve never seen a dad around. Many of these children just need love, and in some situations, this clinic is the only time during their week that they experience that love. Just having someone show up that cares enough about them means so much. Also, this time during their week is possibly the only opportunity they have to hear that God loves them too. Each week, Carlos shares a short devotion with the mothers and children who come in to listen. This is when you see their smiles. When they hear there is hope, and there is a God that loves them; I believe they are encouraged and blessed by this message.
Paul, one of the children that had been in the program for a while was discharged on one of my first visits to Wanale. When they told him he had finally reached his healthy weight and measurement, he began to cry. He realized that he wouldn’t be coming back next week, and he was sad. He had made friends and been cared for by people with compassion. As I watched Paul walk away from the clinic and up the hill by himself with a box of Plumpy Nut on his head, I couldn’t help but cry too. Well, the next week Paul came back. He knew he didn’t need the treatment anymore, but he came just to be there with us.
Not all children improve like Paul. Some come back week after week and either don’t improve, or get worse. Some don’t show up for weeks at a time. In the cases where the children are getting worse, the issue is most likely that the mothers are feeding ALL of the children in their family with one child’s weekly food supply. If that happens, the local nurse will begin cooking the food and ensuring that the malnourished child is the one receiving it. In the case that the child doesn’t show up for a couple of weeks, the village health worker will go to the home and even sometimes threaten to report them to the police for not properly caring for their child.
There’s one little family that comes every week. There are four children and they’re all in the program. Each week they come by themselves, in the same clothes, without a parent. There’s another girl who comes alone who is 14 years old. Her name is Sharon and she’s no taller than a 5 year old and walks with a stick. Each week Lameka, the village health worker walks home with her and carries her bag of Plumpy Nut for her. It’s really a group of amazing people that keep this program going. The dedication of the local health workers, and the partnership of the Kissito staff is key to improving the health of these children. Just as important,if not for the generosity of the sponsor of this program (the folks at Gentle Shepherd Hospice in Roanoke, VA) many of these kids would have no real hope for treatment. This program is one of the highlights of my week, and I’m so thankful to be part of bringing HOPE to a hard to reach place.