Community voices save child from malnutrition

Zambian mother Sara grew increasingly concerned as she witnessed her newborn baby girl’s health continue to falter. After a time of confusion and despair from not understanding the source of the illness, women in Sara’s village came to her aid.

Story and photos by Collins Kaumbam, World Vision. Edited by Cat-Dan Lai-Smith, World Vision.
Published November 2, 2011 at 12:00am PDT

Like many other mothers, Sara Siachalinga of Zambia was filled with happiness the day she gave birth to her daughter, Loveness. But a few months later, her joy began to fade away as Loveness suffered from a complicated illness that puzzled Sara.

A perplexing disease

“Loveness was very ill. She was unable to breastfeed or drink anything. Her face, legs and hands were so swollen that if you pressed a finger on any swollen part, a dimple formed and it would take time for the skin to get back to normal,” describes Sara. “I couldn’t understand the situation.”

Sara and her husband took their daughter to a witch doctor who claimed that Loveness was suffering from a disease locally known as “masato.” Masato is believed to affect breastfeeding babies and cause them to swell when either the mother or father is involved in extramarital affairs.

In most cases, women are the ones who are accused of causing the ailment and usually pay a heavy price when the sick child dies. Typically, the mother is either divorced or punished.

Diagnosis: Malnutrition

Just when Sara began to lose hope, she was visited by community women who were trained through a World Vision initiative known as Community Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM).

The women immediately informed Sara that Loveness was suffering from malnutrition. They took Sara and Loveness to Maamba hospital where World Vision was admitting and providing nutritional food for children suffering from malnutrition.

When Loveness finally opened her eyes after being in a coma, she revived her mother’s lost hope. “I never thought she would ever open her eyes again and I was surprised to see my child recover,” she explains. “My husband and I couldn’t believe it that it was our child who was recovering and eating well.”

Protecting children from malnutrition

Saving children like Loveness from malnutrition fuels the urgency behind World Vision’s global Child Health Now campaign. The campaign aims to reduce the 7.6 million preventable deaths of babies and toddlers a year. Most of them die of avoidable causes, such as malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea, pneumonia, and childbirth complications. 

Through Child Health Now, World Vision supports mothers like Sara and her community members to raise their voices for their families about their right to quality health care. Alongside this, we are calling on citizens worldwide, including in the United States, to urge their governments to help ensure sure that vulnerable families around the world can access basic health services.

“Helping children survive and thrive is crucial for the future health of every community. Feeding children properly during their first 1,000 days may be the most important building block in that undertaking,” affirms Kevin Jenkins, president for World Vision International.

Advocating for child health in her own community

Sara has become an advocate for children suffering from malnutrition. Her wish is for all people to hear her voice and that of other community members who helped to open her eyes and get her child the help she needed to survive.

“I have decided to become one of the volunteers educating the community that masato does not exist,” she says. “It’s hunger that is killing our children in the community. I use my child’s case as an example and I thank God that they have seen how my child has been assisted and how she has recovered.”

Loveness has now recovered fully and is active, healthy, and able to play. “People in the community can’t believe that my child is alive and looking as though she never suffered from malnutrition,” Sara reiterates. Sara says she will not stop educating fellow community members about the disease, its dangers, and how to prevent it.

Four ways you can help

Speak out to stop child malnutrition and preventable child deaths. Ask Congress to support the International Affairs Budget and oppose major cuts to this account. There are few places in the U.S. federal budget where dollars translate so directly into lives saved.

Pray for children who are vulnerable to hunger and malnutrition. Pray that countries and communities with the power to act and save lives would do so.

Donate to provide life-saving food and care. You can provide life-saving food, agricultural training, clean water, medicines, and other essential care to hungry children and families around the world, including those suffering from famine in the Horn of Africa. And because of grant funds and donated goods, your gift multiplies 5 times in impact to help save lives.

“Like” the Million Moms Challenge on Facebook. World Vision and other organizations are teaming up with ABC News to build a 1-million-member-strong movement of Americans committed to helping mothers and children around the world — moms here engaged with and helping moms overseas. See all of the activity on Facebook.