Africa, Faith

Tugging on my heartstrings

       It’s been awhile since I’ve had the time to sit and type words on a blank page. The last three weeks have been hectic. One transition has bled into another and there has been little breathing room in between for emotions to surface, especially not in any coherent form that I could share with you. So, here are some fast updates: I have moved out of my apartment in the city and moved in with my mom in the ‘burbs. I’m trying to get rid of as much of my belongings as possible (harder than I thought), and in four (WOW) days I will be leaving for Ecuador to spend two months completing a public health internship. So there you have it. Emotions and feelings about all of this will burst forth when I eventually have time to think.
        One thing I have been thinking about a lot lately, is the intricate relationship between nutrition, wellness, and poverty. As part of my internship I have been given the very useful textbook on international public health written by Dr. Nicholas Comminellis. One of the things I have been reading about specifically is the relationship between child malnutrition and child mortality. It would make sense that poor nutrition would affect child development and growth but I never realized how astonishing the direct correlation between the two really is. The World Health Organization states that “In 2010, an estimated 18%, or 103 million children under five years of age in developing countries were underweight…” It goes on to say that “Childhood malnutrition…is an underlying cause of death in an estimated 35% of all deaths among children under five years of age.”
         When I had the privilege of visiting orphans in Zambia, I noticed that the kids would frequently be sucking or chewing on raw sugar cane.

Another staple of their diet was nshima, cornmeal cooked with boiling water into a thick white paste. While we were in Zambia, we ate nshima with every meal. As we were honored guests we were also served cooked greens, fried chicken, fresh tomatoes, and bread. Many of the children I saw did not have such fortune.

         Maybe it’s because I am a foodie. Maybe it’s because cooking, baking, and eating with others is such a joy and way for me to share love. Perhaps it’s because as a health professional I see how malnutrition has such a tangible impact on wellness. Maybe it’s because access to nutritious food seems like a human right (not a privilege). Or maybe it’s because I’ve never had to go hungry.
         Working on the farm this summer opened my eyes to the challenges of growing sustainable nutritious food. Still, I can’t help to think overcoming the challenges of teaching impoverished communities to plant and harvest their own food would be more than worth the reward when according to one study, “…results from 53 developing countries indicates that 56 percent of childhood deaths are attributable to malnutrition’s potentiating effects.”* As I contemplate the great need that I am confronted with, I can’t help but feel helpless and overwhelmed. It is so tempting to ignore the effects of drought, the famine in Africa, the bloated stomachs of worm infested and protein deficient children. It’s tempting to separate my comfortable life from the suffering of others. Sometimes, it’s necessary to forget, to emotionally compartmentalize so that I can make it through the day. I am cowardly and ill-equipped to deal with big words like poverty, starvation, and child mortality rates. Yet, still my heartstrings tug and yank me to consciousness. To awareness. Lord, grant me the courage to respond. To answer the call to serve.

* Quote taken from pg. 56 of IMED International Medicine & Public Health 2nd Edition.

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