Thursday, 3 October 2013

How one life changed mine - Sierra Leone

A quick break from veganism... by day job. This July I went to Sierra Leone to visit our nutrition projects. Below is a blog I wrote for UNICEF. I wanted to it on my blog as well. I hope you enjoy. 
We woke up in Makeni, I was really looking forward to the day ahead. I have been working on child nutrition at UNICEF UK for about eight months, during which I have written countless times about the tragic cases of malnutrition and what UNICEF does to help thousands of children every year. But I had never seen it first hand. The day before had been so positive and uplifting I assumed we would see more stories of hope.
The first project we visited was a large, relatively remote village called Robat. We arrived at the outpatient clinic, a small building with three rooms, covered in public health posters. A bright and smiling nurse came out to greet us. Inside her surgery were about six mothers and their children. All the children were malnourished. But what gave me hope was that they were all getting treatment; the children were weighed and measured to check their progress, and then given a treatment plan.
Since 2010 the Sierra Leonean Government has championed free health care for pregnant women and children under five. UNICEF has been there every step of the way helping to support this substantial policy, including procuring all of the medicines on behalf of the Government.
This little boy was called Alie - like me.
He was 10 months old and very malnourished
This small clinic was a classic example of how UNICEF and the Government have worked together to provide basic services in the country.
In the afternoon we visited a children’s hospital in Freetown. I wasn’t expecting it to be easy; seeing children unwell in any country or context is difficult. But walking into the severe acute malnutrition clinic I felt like I had been winded and I didn’t know which direction to look in. At first I wanted to avoid the stares of the mothers who held their children, I couldn’t quite bring myself to look at the children either, it was the biggest injustice I have ever seen. The children there had the worse form of malnutrition. They barely resembled what I think a child should look like; they were exhausted from their illness.
What can you say when a mother looks you square in the eye with her sick child in her arms? To me there were no words to explain how I felt. Nothing seemed to be the right thing to say. I sat with a little boy whose father was busy tending to his other son. His skin felt like cling film, I was worried that by stroking his hand I might hurt him. As I stared into his eyes I longed for him to get better. I sat with him until he fell asleep. I can’t have spent more than 10 minutes with him but I know I won’t ever forget his face.
Sometimes the numbers and statistics are overwhelming. But it can take one child to change your perspective or make you question how the world should be. He did that to me; questions circled in my head as to why he was so ill. What could we do to stop this happening? And did anyone else care? But he was just one of the 52 million children with severe acute malnutrition. He is part of a bigger problem with complicated causes.
The tragic fact is that UNICEF tries to reach every child; but it just can’t save them all. I won’t know what will happen to that little boy, the doctors explained that they could treat him, but they thought he might have TB which would make his case a lot more complicated.
I’ll admit openly that I struggled when returning to the UK. I felt guilty every time I saw a big pile of food. I didn’t want to spend too much money. It felt like it would last for a long time, but luckily my saving grace was work. I came back knowing I work for the right organisation that achieves change for children. I knew that every day 9 -5pm I work to reduce the number of children with malnutrition; that is a good place to be in. I am proud that in the last couple of months the UK Government has tripled its funding to nutrition. Now UNICEF will work hard to make sure that money can make a difference.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Hello sugar withdrawal headaches...

It could be a complete coincidence. But since being vegan I have had the mother of all headaches. ALL day. The type of headache which hurts when your feet hit the ground.

Apparently this is normal. 'Pulling a vegan' requires a complete shift in what you eat. Obviously you give up diary, eggs, cheese etc. But also by default you give up a lot of sugar because you cant eat chocolate, cake or most snacks.

My body is in withdrawal from sugar. When you think about that it makes it a bit easier to understand / put up with. Just like a smoker or a drug addict would get withdrawal symptoms. The more I read about sugar the more it scares me - doesn't make it any easier to give up though. Seriously though, that stuff, white refined stuff is like a poison. If vegan enough wasn't hard enough, I have now drastically cut my sugar content.

Fear not though - I am told by other bloggers this will last about a week, and then my body will get used to digesting newer and better foods.

But let us get back to that demon, sugar. It is making us FAT. Scientist have argued for a while now that fat isn't making us fat, but excessive sugar is,and it is also making us diabetic. Unfortunately for us, sugar is in everything. I often look at packaging and sugar is the first three ingredients. How is that even possible?

When you eat refined white sugar  blood sugar levels soar through the roof and then you are bound to crash, making you feel tired and probably grab at another biscuit to suppress that crash you got. It is a dangerous circle. Sugar can make it difficult to concentrate - it can make you grumpy - sad.

Sugar also goes to the waist - something no guy or girl wants. A second on the lips a life time on the hips has never been more apt.

What makes it even worse is that those behind the sugar industry know exactly how bad it is for us and children. They know it is addictive and they know they can make a lot of money from it. That is why, the US in particular, has a very loud sugar lobby that attempts to keep all of this information secret.  There have been frequent examples of when the World Health Organisation has been stopped from publishing information about sugar by that lobby in the US.

This vegan month has just got harder, but I am determine to continue through these headaches to see how I feel on the other side. I already feel better about eating less crap and eating more healthily so I must continue!

Tips for cutting down sugar:

  1. Look at what your eating for breakfast - swap sugar cereals for oats or toast
  2. Up your Vitamin C - which will naturally up your blood sugar levels. 
  3. Eat little and often so your blood sugar level is more regulated. 
  4. Try a sugar replacement like honey or natural sugar syrup.
  5. Think about what your food is giving your body - white bread isn't going to give your body any nutrients, just empty calories - a banana on the other hand will fill you up and give you a health amount of potassium. 

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Uh oh... she is going vegan.

I have taken the possibly stupid decision to go vegan.

It started yesterday, but to be honest I felt awful so I wasnt up for cheerfully blogging about it. I think the headache was caused by a sudden withdrawal of sugar and crap from my diet which is common.

I am not really sure whether this desire to try vegan-ism has come from; it is a bit like people who start exercising and soon they are running ultra marathons in the deserts. This is my desert.

Also I hope I will feel healthier and happier vegan. For about three weeks I have had stomach ache after eating and often this was after diary. Let me be clear, I do not think I have an intolerance, but I do think your bodies can get upset by food sometimes; food which are harder to digest. I do believe we should think more about what we put in our bodies, the chemical, preservatives and I definitely wanted to overhaul my diet.

Being vegetarian this will be slightly easier for me, but I am still nervous. I am nervous about cake, chocolate, and ice cream. But handily there are available things on the market for me to try.

For the next couple of weeks I will be blogging about what it is like and tip I can share. This isn't a mission statement to make everyone vegan (!) but to share how I have found the experience.

You'd be surprised how people are going vegan at the moment - I first thought about it after watching Alicia Sliverstone discuss why she decided to swap (so she isnt the best public speaking but it got me thinking) her book The Kind Diet was also hugely popular in the US and advocates a plant based diet. Alicia Sliverstone has also set up the Kind Community which helps you navigate this with a massive group of people. I

The very funny Skinny Bitch also advocates for a vegan diet   (I haven't finished yet so  I am not sure how strict they are) - lastly someone introduced me to Calgary Avansino who's positive outlook on health is infectious.

That said - you shouldn't do something because others are - but all of these make interesting points about our dietary habits and what we unconsciously put in your bodies.

My tips so far are;

PLAN - you will not succeed without carefully planning. You need to consider what you need to replace - I have replaced milk with rice milk and vegan yogurt.

CREATE - think about all the combinations of flavours you can try - there are a wealth of blogs and books on amazing vegan recipes. My favorite so far is Oh She Glows.  

CONGRATULATE - being a vegan isn't easy - but you can find ways to enjoy. Think about what your weak point is - I am going to bake a vegan cake this weekend to help me out

CHEAT - go in slowly. Try a vegan meal once a day then twice. You can fail. I will.

Wish me luck!!

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Everyday Sexism Project - let your voice be heard.

The Everyday Sexism project is a great grassroots organisation that tracks sexism towards women.

What's the point (I hopefully don't hear you ask)

1. Many people believe sexism doesn't exist - this proves it is very much alive.
2. This is an online community where you can share you're frustration
3. We are stronger in numbers
4. Sooner or later people will have to notice the blatant sexism that still exists.
5. Because like me you may be fed up with being told its a compliment.

So I urge you - if you have ever suffered any sexism go to their website and tell them about experience. You don't have to use your name and no one will contact you.

Women shouldn't be shouted at on the street, touched up on the bus, degraded at work, humiliated, the list goes on, just because they are a woman.

Watch their amazing video here - and do not put up with sexism.

The Nutrition for Growth Summit 

For the last six months two hundred organisations joined forces to call for the end of world hunger.  It has been a busy couple of months with achievements and pauses for reflection along the way. Before we knew it the Nutrition for Growth Summit was on our door step; a key moment for all of us who are concerned by child malnutrition.
Whilst we got ready for the Big IF at Hyde Park this Saturday; world leaders gathered at the London office of Unilever.
We were interested to see what the Government could do to reduce child malnutrition around the world. An issue which we know kills 3 million children a year and has a life time impact on those lucky to survive.
We worked with you and other organisations to call on the Government to show leadership and commit new and additional financing to child nutrition.
The good news is – the Government exceed our expectation – donors committed £2.7billion or $4.1 billion.
I am proud to say that our Government tripled spending on nutrition. In total they pledged £370.5 to nutritional interventions such as Vitamin A, Zinc, Iron etc. This includes care for pregnant women and the promotion of breastfeeding.
The Government and the other donors also pledged to invest in programmes which may have a positive impact of nutrition for children life agriculture or social protection.
In all these programmes should prevent 20 million children from becoming stunted and stop nearly 2 million child deaths.
The money that has been raised from donor Governments will go to 40 countries around that have signed up to the global platform Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN). This platform allows national Governments to write their own nutrition programmes which take into consideration the variations of malnutrition drivers and gives them ultimate say about how they tackle malnutrition.
These are all great achievement – yet we must maintain pressure on world leaders to keep their promises and ensure nutrition stays on the political agenda.  
We must all play our part in maintain pressure; whether that is writing blogs, using social media or writing to your MP. UNICEF UK has some interesting ways you can get involved with protecting children.
But for the moment we can be pleased that we achieved our goal for the summit

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

UNICEF launch new report on child nutrition

This week UNICEF HQ launched a global report on child nutrition. The report gives a snapshot of our world's current nutrition levels and outlines what needs to be done to tackle child malnutrition. 
Malnutrition rates amongst children are often difficult to measure. Most countries do not list malnutrition on death certificates, which frequently means it is difficult to track the figures of children affected. 
Yet, understanding the number of children affected around the world is critical to ensuring the effectiveness of UNICEF's work. We need to know where these children are and what they need in order to help them. 
This report starkly outlines what is at stake: a staggering 1 in 4 children do not mentally or physically develop because they lack vital nutritious food in the first 1,000 days of life. The report also gives an indication as to where malnutrition is worse, with 90% of stunting in Asia and Africa. 
While the report illustrates there has been progress, sadly it highlights that it has been too slow and shows more could have been done. UNICEF UK believes that there is an unprecedented opportunity in 2013 to shape the international development agenda to help malnourished children. 
The UK Government has illustrated their commitment to the world's poorest byreaching 0.7% GNI on international aid. Ring-fencing our aid budget could help millions of children around the world, and significantly reduce levels of malnutrition. In fact we already know exactly how we can dramatically reduce malnutrition. 
We are asking the UK Government to show strong leadership and invest more in child nutrition programmes through the Department for International Development (DFID). 

This June, a week before the G8 meeting, the UK Government will host a Nutrition and Growth Summit. The purpose of this Summit is to pledge additional funding for child malnutrition, and as such offers the Government an ideal opportunity to significantly increase their nutrition programmes. 
The UNICEF report states that 165 million children are stunted around the world. We desperately need to relieve the next generation of children from the long-term affects of stunting. If we invest in nutrition this summer we could prevent the deaths of 2 million children, and significantly reduce the numbers of stunted children. 
You have helped us raise the profile of hunger through the Enough Food for Everyone IF campaign; lets hope the Government makes the investment children around the world need. This summer the UK Government has a golden opportunity with the Nutrition and Growth Summit, and we hope it will be a success for the world's children. 

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Portraying Africa

When you think of Africa, what do you see? Image at the top or the image below? 

I might add then when I typed in Africa and child to Google, they suggested I tried 'crying Africa' 'poor Africa' and 'sad African'  

I have been working in the development field for all of... 1 year! Every day I am forced to look at my role, my field and how little I know. Studying 'development' really just doesn't cut it. You have to explore, meet people, work and even then your baffled.

So one issue is perception. How do we portray Africa? Is it always negative and what role do NGOs play?

I have been to 'Africa' about 5 times, from Kenya to Zambia, so really only a small proportion of the continent and hardly any experienc.

My memories of Africa, warm, friendly, vibrant, colourful, beautiful landscapes. Don't get me wrong, I also saw some sad stuff, but this was not the only side of Africa.

Recently there a video looking at aid and our perception has gone viral. Radi Aid.

This video is hilarious and well worth a look. As I watched I was thinking, this is great. Something coming out of Africa, by African, taking the piss. It was brilliant.

I am sorry for the cynicism, (really I am, I hate being negative) but forgive me for being disappointed when I found out it was the idea of two white Norwegians. Yes the message is still the same, yes they filmed it in South Africa and used African people. But it is still white people deciding to change the image of Africa.

Beside all that it is a thought provoking video and that should be the most important thing. But I would stress we still have a LONG way to go.

One of the creators was interviewed by The Guardian they mentioned the lyrics of Band Aid, and realising that I sing a long with a farm fuzzy feeling I dug a little deeper and pulled up the lyrics. (sorry to all of you who have already done this!)

It is pretty bad. Demeaning, patronising, and factual INCORRECT.

Here are a few;

Where the only water flowing is a bitter sting of tears
really? really Band aid?
Where nothing ever grows
No rain or rivers flow              -  
So i just got back from Zambia... a lot flows there. A lot of water and rain. Tanzania was pretty green, lots of stuff grew there.   

There wont be snow in Africa       
Ill need to check, but I thought there was snow on top of Table   Mountain all year? I may be wrong.
Anyway the point is, the view of Africa needs to change. It is a emerging continent, full of hope. Just like in the UK there are great parts, and parts that are struggling. NGOs need to play their part and we also need to let Africa speak for itself.
NGOs have to show the plight of people around the world, but we should also illustrate how much improvement we have seen.