"We Were Eating Weeds": From Suffering to Success in Kenya

By Brianna Collins
Creative Services Associate

Our emergency nutrition program helps those affected by drought in the Horn of Africa

In 2011, more than 20% of people in the arid southern region of Kenya called Garbatulla District were suffering from deadly malnutrition due to severe drought. In response to these alarming numbers, Action Against Hunger provided emergency nutrition programs in twenty-five communities throughout Garbatulla District. Our teams trained local leaders and volunteers to help identify and educate those in need, and worked collaboratively with these volunteers to strengthen and improve our programs based on feedback from participants.

People enrolled in the program—mostly women and children—were screened and treated for malnutrition and other illnesses, and given emergency food provisions. They also received health, nutrition and hygiene education, including food preparation, breastfeeding, and hand washing demonstrations. Our field staff and community volunteers helped more than 11,000 people suffering from severe malnutrition, and we’re proud to share the stories of two such families.

Emergency Intervention in Tanna

In the small community of Tanna, drought and widespread food shortages forced many families to resort to drastic measures to find food. One mother foraged for what scarce seeds she could find and sold them to goat herders so she could buy food for her three young children. But the money she made only afforded her family one meal a day. Some days, she and her children had to eat weeds to stay alive. When she enrolled her children in our emergency nutrition program, they received the therapeutic nutritional care they needed, along with the food supplies, medical treatment, and hygiene education necessary to stay healthy.

“Before the program started, we were eating weeds and had no food, and my children were weak and frail. Since starting the program, my children’s health improved; they gained weight and could play happily like normal energetic children. We have also learned how to prepare nutritious porridge, and learned better health and hygiene practices. We are very grateful because, aside from getting food, our children were able to get medical treatment and be vaccinated.”
– Mother of three from Tanna, Garbatulla District, Kenya

Treatment and Education in Madoyaqa

For a mother in the pastoral community of Madoyaqa, losing her livestock to drought meant the frightening possibility of losing her four children to deadly malnutrition. Struggling to provide for her children, she registered with us to receive therapeutic care, and food and medicine for her children. After her children’s treatment ended, she was able to keep them healthy by practicing proper hand washing, breastfeeding, and food preparation techniques that she learned from our workshops.

“During the drought period, my children were very sick. We would go a whole day with one meal or no meal at all. Since the program began, I have been able to feed all my children and they are in good health. We learned a lot about hygiene and breastfeeding. This program has helped so many people who were on the verge of serious suffering. We appreciate the program and Action Against Hunger as a whole.”
–Mother of four from Madoyaqa, Garbatulla District, Kenya

This program significantly reduced the rate of childhood malnutrition throughout Garbatulla District. With our programs throughout Kenya and the Horn of Africa, we continue to help families affected by drought and shortages—like the families showcased above—overcome hunger before it becomes deadly.