Niger: Malnourished child at clinic meets lollipop

Eden Riley from Australia, our guest contributor for today, spent time in Niger with a group of mom bloggers, taking a firsthand look at World Vision's work in response to the extreme drought and hunger crisis that has been affecting the region. When one of her group members gave a lollipop to a malnourished child at a health clinic, how did she respond? The same way that most Western moms probably would.

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A very unfortunate thing happened a few years ago -- on the only day I breastfed my baby in public.

Rocco was 2 weeks old, my husband was still in the oncology ward, and I was cranky at the world. Rocco needed a feed then and there, sitting on a park bench at the bottom of the main street of the town of Leura in the Blue Mountains of Australia.

The thing about Leura is that busloads of tourists are disembarking at any given time. Just as I was doing the only public breastfeeding I will ever do in the world, a group of them got off the bus right in front of me and swarmed over to me to take my photo.

Somewhere, in photo albums in Tokyo, are pictures of a red-haired woman furiously shooing away a group of eager Japanese tourists -- one-handed.

A child is held by her mother at a clinic supported by World Vision in Niger. Photo courtesy of Eden Riley.

The women in Niger, at the clinics and in the fields, want their photos taken, even while breastfeeding -- because breastfeeding is a completely normal thing to do.

Today at the clinic, there were so many women getting check-ups, so many children being measured for signs of malnutrition. It was noisy and hot. I'll never complain about waiting to see a doctor again -- at least until the next time I complain about waiting to see a doctor.

There was a little girl seated next to her mother yesterday. She appeared to be waiting so very patiently. But I realized that it was not really patience -- it was sickness and fatigue. The children here aren't necessarily better behaved than Western kids. They're simply too tired to misbehave and be naughty.

If my 3-year-old was here, he'd be running around energetically, probably trying to climb inside one of the deep water wells that World Vision funded. He would be annoying me -- all that energy and running around. All that annoying health.

I wonder how this trip will affect my parenting from now on.

The little girl's name is Zenouba. She reminded me of my beautiful niece, Billie. I sat there, overwhelmed with what I was seeing and hearing. Zenouba is malnourished and sick. Her mother only realized this last week after being taught the signs of malnutrition at the clinic while she was getting her baby weighed.

Zenouba's feet and legs. Photo courtesy of Eden Riley.

I kept looking at Zenouba's dry legs and feet. Her feet, man. After she half-heartedly played with Rocco's Peppa Pig app on my phone, I held her feet. In that moment, Zenouba's feet were the most important feet in the world. They were so soft and light. I wanted to take her home to my house and make a bubble bath and wash her feet.

My fellow mommy-blogger gave Zenouba a lollipop, and her face lit up like the sun. We all delighted in her smile. Then, I automatically did what most Western mothers do when another child is given a special treat: I asked if it was OK that she eat it.

My breath caught in my throat as she grabbed at the wrapper, trying to open it. I realized I'd just asked if it was OK if a malnourished child has a lollipop.

Later, we watched her eat her Plumpy’Nut™. I've only cried a few times since I've been here, and this was one of them -- not because of seeing her eat the sustenance that will hopefully save her life, but because it was such a big deal. Everybody was taking photos for their respective news channels and sites and blogs.

There's so much more to say. I hope Zenouba survives. More than 40,000 children are malnourished in Niger right now.

So, I'm putting the call out. If you have written a blog post about the hunger crisis in West Africa, if you have a sponsored child there, or if there's anything else you would like to say about this emergency, please let us all know in the comment section.

This blog post isn't mine -- it's everybody's. The power of social media for social good is strong, right here and right now. Let's jump on it.

Meanwhile, traditional media: Where are you? The people of Niger could use a shout-out.

Read more blog posts about the ongoing drought and hunger crisis across West Africa. Please keep the affected children, families, and communities in your prayers.

Make a one-time gift to help provide life-saving food and care for children affected by hunger in places like Niger. Your donation will help deliver critical assistance like emergency food, clean water, nutritional guidance, agricultural support, and more.


    This story stood out to me because it is about Niger. No one ever talks about Niger. My daughter and her husband have been there for 4 1/2 years, digging wells, distributing food, keeping girls in school with goats and a million other projects that so desperately need doing in this country. I am trying to do my part and hope this article brings in more support. Thanks very much, Carolyn

    Carolyn, we are actively trying to get more media coverage around the hunger issues in West Africa. Your daughter and husband sound amazing for the work they're doing. We'll say a prayer for them today. God bless, -Jonathan, WV staff

    I congratulate World Vision for being a God's hand in reaching to the poor...God knows your works and He will reward you with the best reward that you deserve. You are blessed!

    The rate of malnutrition especially among children in West Africa is one that requires a collective efort. I am an intern with an NGO currently working on food fortification as a way of reducing malnutrition and I hope to contribute my best to this course. Thank you, Loura

    It was heartbreaking and eye-opening. I'll never forget Zenouba .. and one day, I hope to go back to Niger.

    Thank God for World Vision.


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