The Path of Hunger
By Brad Miller
One of the most vital parts of Nehemiah Vision Ministry’s clinic is the malnutrition program. When an infant or toddler is brought in and found to be malnourished, they can be eligible for food and nutritional supplements for several weeks. Every few weeks, the mothers bring their child back to track their health and progress, and they leave with big bags of food and supplements. After a few weeks, once the child is healthy again, they graduate from the program and no longer receive food.
My first question was, “How is this sustainable? If the parents couldn’t feed the child before, won’t they go back to starving after the program ends?” It turns out, I was completely wrong about why the child was starving. Child starvation in Haiti is less about food and more about healthcare. It is a vicious road that leaves the parents powerless. But thanks to NVM’s malnutrition program, it doesn’t have to be that way anymore.
Poverty, unemployment, and abandonment by the father all contribute to households not having enough to eat. With babies eating just barely enough to survive, the setup is ripe for disaster.
A temporary disaster befalls the family and interrupts the meager food supply so there is not enough to survive. Or, the baby gets sick with diarrhea or vomiting, the food loss effectively starving them. This trigger drops them below the “red line” of survivability.
Having dropped below the “red line”, the body begins to shut down. The digestive system is no longer able to process foods. Even if the temporary disaster ends, and the family has food again, the baby is too sick to process it. No matter how much the mother feeds them, the baby continues to starve.
Unable to digest foods, and without access to medical care, the baby has little hope of survival. When this becomes unavoidably obvious, the only thing a responsible mother can do is give the baby’s food to her other children in the hope they will avoid the same fate.
After an initial assessment, NVM’s malnutrition program provides special nutritional supplements. These custom-designed meals heal and kick-start the baby’s digestive system, getting them back up to a healthy weight and eventually giving them the ability to eat normal foods again.
After a few weeks, the change is so dramatic it seems the child was never sick. Mothers have an opportunity to connect to economic empowerment and education programs to better provide for the future. In time, their baby might attend NVM’s preschool!