Feast or Famine – A Reflection from Edesia

Photo Credit: Edesia LLC

Below is an extremely compelling and urgent message from Navyn Salem, Executive Director of Edesia, a nonprofit that is certainly deserving of attention as a leader in childhood malnutrition relief.  As nearly 11 million people suffer from the worst drought in sixty years, Edesia is rapidly increasing production to meet the needs of the many malnourished children in the region.  To contribute to Edesia’s lifesaving work in the Horn of Africa, please visit this link.

As the Executive Director of Edesia, I am often troubled. Our success is dependent on failure, failure on a grand scale somewhere else in the world. When mother-nature and the best efforts at development have failed, only then are we needed.

My job is to reach those suffering from the most severe cases of malnutrition through a therapeutic peanut paste called Plumpy‟nut®. Every morning I read my “Google Alerts” reporting on the malnutrition hotspots of the day. My heart aches and tears run, reading about the seemingly insurmountable hardships that millions endure every day and hearing their personal stories. Today it is the Horn of Africa; 10 million people are affected by the worst drought in 60 years. With no water, there is little chance for survival, children are dying and mothers simply can’t get them help fast enough.

I wonder why it is ok to wait until a situation like this becomes a crisis. We see it coming, we know it is more cost-effective to treat sooner, Edesia makes other products that can help prevent malnutrition or treat moderate cases with less funding and we know it is the right thing to do. Without funds for these products, the Edesia factory sits idle. If the crisis doesn’t reach the headlines, funds do not arrive. Those “everyday” crises like the 19 million children who suffer from severe acute malnutrition every year just have to wait. Presumably, this is because it is the same story every year and not “catchy” enough for the nightly news.

On the home front, in Providence, Rhode Island, I started this social enterprise, a non-profit factory, in 2009 to create jobs in one of the states with the highest unemployment rates and that ranks 50th in NBC‟s worst places in the United States to run a business. Most people do not see this as an opportunity – it’s not really, in any normal business sense – but this is not an ordinary business. I wanted to do something in my backyard that got people back to work and have an impact on a global problem. Many of my employees are refugees who have survived the unthinkable. Now they are in my hands and it is my job to make sure they can support their families in this new land of “opportunity” during an everlasting recession.

I worry every night that I can keep my employees busy enough to make ends meet. Just a month ago I had to make some layoffs and cut a shift. I could see that the situation in the Horn of Africa was getting worse by the minute, but with the global media focused on issues like Casey Anthony in the U.S., the fate of millions suffering half way around the world just could not compete. Without media attention needed to raise the funds, we can’t run the machines at capacity, which means we will ultimately not reach as many children.

Even closer to home, this week, I am attempting to take some time off with my husband and four daughters. While we are all enjoying the beach and roasting marshmallows around a bonfire, the fate of the world’s children weighs heavily on my shoulders. I hear my own children complain about the dinner options I am offering and I say the same thing all mothers do – “Don’t you know there are starving children in Africa?” Unfortunately for my girls, I follow-up this debate about what is for dinner with a Doctors Without Borders documentary on children in Bangladesh. That generally does the trick. (But my girls know that I am just waiting for them to be old enough to make their first trips to Haiti and beyond if they keep it up — and I am not one to make idle threats.)

Back to the Edesia factory: the media has begun to cover the ongoing crisis in the Horn of Africa. As we go from layoffs to running 20+ hours a day, we perform a remarkable exercise in elasticity. I dream for a day with steady, predictable orders, but realize we are in the emergency business and this is never going to happen.

Most days I like the challenge. Today’s challenge is to meet all of our deadlines, because every minute counts in emergencies like this. Tomorrow’s challenge is to continue to innovate and create new products, new ideas, creative ways to serve the most vulnerable, which will allow us to keep having an impact, even when the funds just don’t come in.

And through it all, we yell from the rooftops, trying to tell everybody that there is a crisis that you can’t see. If you are there, in the field, and have seen what we have seen, you cannot turn your back and you do anything in your power to save that little life. Meanwhile, I also hope for a bright future for Edesia, after all, she is named for the Roman goddess of food. I hope she stays afloat and my employees keep their jobs and are able to feed their own families right here at home.


4 responses to this post.

  1. Edesia is a terrific company and I hope to help get the word out!


  2. Wonderful information! Thank you. We’ll be referencing your blog in our teen faith blog: http://spirit4teens.wordpress.com/


  3. Posted by Laura on August 8, 2011 at 10:18 pm

    Do you know where to find promotional materials (or templates) for Plumpy’nut? My kids (ages 2, 4 and 6) and I plan to have a lemonaid stand to raise money for Plumpy’nut (and hopefully to educate the public about this product as well). We also plan to do a hot apple cider/donut stand in the fall. 100 percent of the proceeds will go to that cause. It probably won’t be much, but we’ll give it our best effort. Thanks a million –


    • Hi Laura! This is such wonderful news – thank you so much for your family’s support of Plumpy’nut! I have some promotional materials from Food for Thought’s Walk for Plumypy’nut, but I will direct your inquiry to Marie from Edesia so that she can assist you as well! Thanks so much and I’ll be in touch!


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