Carolyn Wetzel Chen, Chief Grants Officer at Food for the Hungry (FH), told a congressional subcommittee in March that, “The period of time from a start of a woman’s pregnancy to her child’s second birthday lays the foundation for a child’s lifelong health, cognitive development and future potential.”
She went on to say that under nutrition accounts for 45 percent of all child deaths worldwide, and that every $1 invested to prevent stunting during the first 1,000 days of a child’s life will have a return of $18. The return is due to lifelong increased productivity, savings of resources and improved earnings in the job market.
Ethensh Mamo, a 30-year-old mother of five from Ethiopia, doesn’t know those statistics. Instead, she knows that FH is making it possible for her children to have a better life than she has had.
Thriving Children is the Goal of FH Programs
Even though Ethensh farmed a hectare of land (nearly two and a half acres) and earned money by selling salt and vegetables at the local marketplace, she said, ”I remember the days that I had nothing to eat when I gave birth to my fourth child, Gidaj. I spent many days and nights without food. My older children were frequently forced to skip one or two meals every day.”
Things began to change when two of her children became sponsored through the FH child sponsorship program. She began receiving food from FH, along with school supplies, medicines and counseling.
“My children never go to bed without food,” Ethensh said. “I can buy some corn from the profit I earn, and mix it with wheat of which I get from FH and try to feed my children for the whole month. I may sometimes skip one or two meals in a week to feed my children the whole month.”
Before the program started in Ethensh’s village, two out of three families in the area struggled with food shortages. To make their meager food supplies last as long as possible, mothers like Ethensh were forced to feed their children less. The result was that children were under nourished, dying from preventable diseases and too weak to go to school. Stunting, a lifelong condition that hampers a child’s ability to achieve, was all too common. Not only does the condition impact individuals, it holds back an entire nation.
Ethiopia loses around 16.5 percent of its GDP each year to the long-term effects of child malnutrition, according to “The Cost of Hunger in Africa,” a project of the African Union Commission and funded by the United Nations.
The good news is that progress is being made. The number of families who experience food shortages where Ethensh lives has been reduced to one out of four, and 87 percent of the children eat at least three meals a day. Children are being educated, and this frees them to dream about the future.
“I will keep on working my petty trade and struggle until all of my children succeed in completing their education and join higher education. Then, I will get rest by seeing their success in life.”