Our little guy, Aidan has now passed the 6 month mark of life! He has now spent more days in Africa than in America. At a shop that sells cold sodas (a real treat!) in Bundibugyo Town, a gregarious Ugandan remarked that Aidan should have dual citizenship. Not sure that it is possible, but it does make me wonder how his early days, months, years spent here will mark his life.
Which brings me to think about babies, children, and survival here.
From what I understand, when a woman gives birth, a customary greeting is “Webele Kwejuna” or “Thank you for surviving.” In this rural area of Uganda, it is documented that the death rate for infants is 33% and the under 5 child mortality rate is 1/5 children. The Myrhes suggest that this is an underestimation, that perhaps it is more like 2/5 children die here before they reach the age of 5.
Many of the children that come to the health center come due to critical malnourishment. Travis has remarked that there may be an infant that is thriving in the same bed with a sibling a year older that is malnourished. It is not uncommon for a woman to become pregnant while she still has a young infant, so when she delivers (or as they say “produces”) the baby, the older infant no longer gets the good nutrition from the breastmilk and thus, becomes malnourished. Our 6 month Aidan rivals in size many of these malnourished two year olds.
And that is what motivates the BundiNutrition team here.
This team of WHM missionaries and Ugandan workers address malnutrition in three ways. First, they treat severe malnutrition. This is when a child weighs less than 25% of the minimal weight he or she should. For example, a typical six month old child should weigh between 14-16 pounds. This means a severely malnourished six month old weighs less than 9 pounds. Too often, eight to twelve month olds here weigh less than 8 pounds. In the health center now, there are several two year olds that weigh less than 12 pounds. There is an eight year old that weighs 24 pounds. These little ones that are severely malnourished are admitted into the health center, given a high protein formula, weighed daily, and when they are able to eat solid foods, they are given eggs and beans. They are kept on this diet and under supervision until they reach their target minimal weight to survive. This usually takes about a month.
The second stage in addressing malnutrition is to enroll them in an outpatient program where they come twice a month to be weighed, assessed, and receive a locally-made ground-nut/meringa paste and soy flour. This is a ten-week program.
The third effort is the Demonstration Garden Education and Matiti Goat Project. The Demonstration Garden introduces ways to grow nutritious, high-yielding foods. Most people in Bundibugyo have a garden, so it is a great way to encourage them to use their rich land to produce something more than the poorly-nutritious, high-carbohydrate roots that are typically grown and eaten. Included in this effort is the chicken project, a favorite of mine, which I will go into more depth on a different day. Nonetheless, the goal is to have an egg per child per day.
The Matiti Goat Project is the blood, sweat and tears of so many people over years. And lives have been rescued as a result. The Matiti Goat Program's goal is to give families that have children who struggle with malnutrition a constant source of protein through goat milk. These children include those who have been in the severe malnutrition program as well as orphans and those whose mother is HIV positive. During the last goat distribution, I was moved by the story of one particular mother. This young woman had birthed and buried her first two babies. She was then enrolled in the Kwejuna Project and started on antiretroviral drugs. She was able to deliver her third baby, this time, a HIV negative one. The child is surviving. By giving this little one goat's milk, it now has a future and the mother has hope. To see this mother with a living, breathing baby on her back and a rope in her hand tied to a high yielding milk goat is one thing that gives us "staying power" in this hard place where survival is not the norm.
So, today, I say "Happy (6 month) Birthday" to my little Aidan and to all of the other little ones who are praying just to survive. And I applaud all of those in BundiNutrition who are daily fighting malnutrition to make another birthday possible for the children of Bundibugyo, Uganda.