Lack of clean clothing and medication leads to sick children

Many children living in poverty, like Esnart and Mike in Zambia, have never worn shoes or clean clothing. Add to this a lack of access to basic medications in poor, rural communities, and a cycle of perpetual illness and despair can result.

Photos and story by Collins Kaumba, World Vision Zambia. Edited by Peter Warski, World Vision U.S.
Published September 29, 2011 at 12:00am PDT

‘It is so painful’

Esnart is 10 years old, but she has never worn a pair of shoes. Her parents, who depend on harvests as their main source of income, have seen droughts and floods repeatedly undermine their livelihood.

“Every little [bit of] income we make, we have to choose either to buy shoes, clothes, or food,” explains Esnart’s mother, Josephine.

“Of course, food comes first; then the rest is considered secondary.”

And what’s it like for a girl like Esnart to walk everywhere without shoes?

“It is so painful to walk barefoot, especially when I step on solid objects like stones,” says Esnart. “My feet have cracks that even bleed at times.”

Physical and emotional effects

Esnart, the second-born child and only girl in her family of five, lives in a small village in Zambia. She was recently treated for roundworms that could have entered her body through the cracks on her feet.

But the girl’s struggles aren’t just physical.

“I feel sad to walk barefoot with these cracks on the feet while my friends at school walk in their shoes,” laments Esnart.

‘I feel sad to look the way I am’

These tattered, filthy shorts are the best thing that 11-year-old Mike has to wear.Mike, 11, is another child from Esnart’s village who is in dire need of clothing and shoes. Likewise, his parents are farmers struggling to make ends meet.

“I only have three trousers, three shorts, and one shirt, and I don’t know how it feels to put on shoes,” he says. “I walk barefoot in the bush to herd cattle, and I get hurt by sharp objects like thorns,” says Mike.

Dressed in one of his best outfits — an extra-large red shirt and torn shorts tied with a wire and a piece of cloth as a belt — Mike says he dreams that one day he will have a chance to wear nice clothes and shoes.

“I need some clothes and shoes to wear at home and school. I feel sad to look the way I am, without proper clothes,” says Mike, the youngest in a family of five.

No shoes = serious consequences

Edina Ngulube, a World Vision health development facilitator who is also a qualified nurse, explains that open wounds like the cracks on children’s feet are a source of complicated diseases affecting so many children in rural areas. She adds that walking on sharp and hard objects on dirty surfaces causes the problem.

“The feet that have cracks become the entry points for worms that attack the intestines, causing them to rupture, [along with] stomach bulging and brain attack, which leads to epilepsy. Normally, there are multiple disorders,” says Edina.

“For example, as a result of some effects caused by worms, we had some children suffer from anemia, epilepsy, bilharzia, abdominal pains, and nausea,” she adds, “but efforts by World Vision and [the] ministry of health have helped to address the situation.”

Solutions to a growing problem

Walking without shoes has punishing effects on children's feet and bodies.Children like Esnart are alive because of medications like Mebendazole, which are de-worming tablets that also work as an iron supplement. World Vision acquires these types of pharmaceuticals through corporate donations.

Other companies donate brand-new clothing and shoes, which World Vision distributes to help shield vulnerable children from such infections.

As a local health professional, Edina can testify to the need for this. She explains that scabies spreads fast among children who lack sufficient clothing to change regularly. They also share clothing and blankets with family members, thereby spreading the disease easily.

“The best way to prevent these diseases is to ensure children have enough clothes, wear shoes, and have soap to wash their clothes and bodies so that are kept clean all the time,” says Edina.

Three ways you can help

Please pray for children who are vulnerable to injury and disease just because they lack sturdy shoes, clean clothing, and basic medications. Remember Jesus’ reference to such children in Matthew 25:36 (NIV): “I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me…”

Make a one-time gift to help provide clothing and medicines for children in need. Your donation multiplies 11 times to help ship and distribute protective clothing that guards against infection, and life-saving medication to treat children like Esnart and Mike when they do become ill.

Sponsor a child in Zambia. Your ongoing love and support of a boy or girl in need will help provide basics like nutritious food, clean water, education, medical care, safe shelter, and more.