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.