Tabula Rasa

Nomfundo and I

This past weekend, I attended the National Conference for College Women Student Leaders.  During the conference, five “Women of Distinction” were honored.  Among these women was Nomfundo Walaza, the CEO of the Desmond Tutu Peace Centre in South Africa.  During her acceptance speech, Walaza spoke with such wisdom and serenity.  As a psychologist, she has dedicated her life to helping and healing victims of trauma and genocide.  She told us that when she begins a new case, she must resist from jumping right in to the rescue.  Rather, she must assume nothing and thus, makes her mind a blank slate.  So, it is with Walaza’s advice in mind that I will begin – at the very beginning, the basic facts of childhood malnutrition, before speaking about its remedies.

mal·nu·tri·tion\ˌmal-nu-ˈtri-shən\ noun. Malnutrition is the condition that develops when the body does not get sufficient vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients it needs to maintain healthy tissues and organ function.  Malnutrition is hunger in its most extreme form.

The Facts

  • 2.5 million children under 5 die from malnutrition each year
  • 195 million children are affected by malnutrition around the world
  • The number of people who go hungry worldwide, over 1 billion, is greater than the combined populations of the United States, Canada, and the European Union
  • HIV fuels the fire to malnutrition, often acting as an underlying contributor to rising malnutrition rates
  • There is enough food to feed everyone living today
  • According the United Nations, access to food is a basic human right

“You can give it a very human face and that’s really the key. The statistics are shocking but the stats are just figures.  Behind the figures, there are people and these are their stories. It’s a very human story.” – Stephen Mayes, CEO of VII Photo Agency

The Causes

  • Poverty
  • Rising food costs
  • Politics
  • Protein deficiency
  • Environment/Environmental degradation
  • Population growth

The Symptoms

  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Extremely dry skin
  • Decaying teeth
  • Muscle weakness
  • Poor motor skills
  • Swollen belly
  • Slowed physical and mental growth
  • Increased behavior problems (social, emotional)
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Organ malfunctions
  • Increased risk for disease and infections
  • Starvation

The Victim's Face

The basic fact is that we can end childhood malnutrition and world hunger.  We have the resources, we just need the action.  I’ll delve into this soon, but imagine the long-term consequences of malnutrition.  Not only do we have a lost generation, but there are millions of children who cannot concentrate in school, who are becoming more susceptible to life-threatening disease, who are developing at a much slower rate physically, mentally, socially, and emotionally.  We must intervene before the cycle of poverty and hunger continues into future generations.


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