Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Nutrition in Mali, Africa

In the Western world, we say that no parent should ever have to lose a child. In Mali, the death of a child is a harsh expectation. The average Malian woman gives birth to 10.4 children. According to a 2004 World Health Organization report, 438 children out of 1,000 die before the age of 5. 

Katherine Dettwyler, anthropologist and author of the ethnography, "Dancing Skeletons," spent years researching in Mali to determine the reasons for such a catastrophic child death rate. Her conclusion was that poor nutrition practices caused the majority of deaths.

Most organizations, however, focus on immunizations from diseases like malaria. While these vaccinations are crucial, Dettwyler writes that proper nutrition would help children survive these rampant diseases. Vaccinations save a child from disease only long enough so that they may starve later.

The practices in Mali for feeding children are a stark contrast to American customs. It is not understood by most Malians that a child must eat to grow. Malians deduce that the parent should have more food. After all, the adults did all the work, and they are bigger. Logically, wouldn't the adults need more energy? Therefore, the adults get the good food of meat and vegetables, when these luxuries are available, while the children eat millet.

In America, we say "Finish your dinner before you go out to play." In Mali, when the child stops eating, he must be full. He must have had enough to eat. If the child does not want to eat her vegetables, she doesn't have to. She must not need them. Children refusing to eat the healthy food is a worldwide phenomenon. But in Mali, there are no threats about finishing peas before dessert is served.

With these assumptions in Mali, it is futile to simply give a mother more money to buy food. Nutrition is simply misunderstood.

Dettwyler observed that the practices of organizations were improper in decreasing child death rates. One experience was prominent enough to become the title of her book. She said that she was invited to a celebration of a village that was declared stable after months of care by an organization. The children danced before her in glee, malnourished, bony bodies moving fluidly. The children, she said, looked like dancing skeletons. Success in the village was not yet achieved. Yet, the organization's workers moved on, counting another achievement.

If you want to help a child in Mali, I have one picked out for you already.

Founemakan is a 7-year-old girl in Mali. You can sponsor her through Plan USA. I recommend this organization based on personal experience. If the link doesn't send you to Founemakan, a sponsor has already chosen her. But, there are sure to be more Malian children to choose from.

I will write more on Mali very soon. Thanks so much for reading.

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