Poor nutrition is an inherent problem throughout much of Africa, which is further complicated by many political, social, and economic factors. In addition, the Makindu Division of Kenya is a drought-stricken area, where meager rainfall can destroy any hope for a reasonable harvest, and subsequently the chance to feed families.
There are two forms of malnutrition present: “marasmus” is secondary to a total depletion of calories, and produces the typical skeletal, ghostly bodies seen in refugee camps, and “kwashiorkor”, which is seen more frequently in Kenya, and due to a relative lack of protein within the diet. Children with kwashiorkor can initially look deceptively healthy, as they are often swollen with more full features, but are suffering from a profound weakness, lethargy, and often with major body system failure. Kwashiorkor in children presents a severe threat: if they survive at all, they frequently have life-long complications of growth or mental retardation, bony and muscular weakness, and weakened heart and other organs. When the malnutrition is severe enough, it also causes a weakened immune system, and especially children and the elderly become more susceptible, and often die of relatively minor illnesses.
A typical diet in Makindu villages consists of various forms of maize (white corn), and beans. Rarely do the children get milk, eggs, or other forms of protein; vegetables and fruit generally do not grow easily there, and goats and cows produce little milk, as they are also starving. Routinely, the people will fill up on “ugali”, which is ground maize mixed with water, and produces a thick and filling substance. (We foreigners sometimes call it “Oh-Golly”, as it produces an almost instant, and often overwhelming sensation of fullness!)
The most common vegetable grown there is similar to our kale, and is called “sukuma wiki”: in Swahili this translates as “to push the week”. Because sukuma grows relatively easily with little water, it helps families get by with very little, and stretches that food out for the week. Sukuma is a good analogy for the people of Makindu, as they are incredibly ingenious and resourceful, and proficient at ‘getting by’ with whatever is available.
The children get remarkably quiet at the Centre when they are eating: it is serious business. Soon thereafter, however, they are happy, running about, and energetic. Many of the pictures show the transformation in these children with routine daily feedings (some with smiles as big as their heaping plates of food!).
Providing the children with basic nutrition is vital, and costs so very little, just 50₵ a day feeds a child.