At first glance eight year-old Samuel looked downright chubby. However, looks can be deceiving. In Samuel’s case, his swollen cheeks were, paradoxically, the result of severe malnutrition. When Samuel came to one of our partner health centers four months ago, his puffy face and lack of hair were the result of serious nutritional deficiencies. When we first met Samuel, like many malnourished children, he was listless and withdrawn.
In Rwanda, Samuel’s story was a tragically typical one. A staggering 44% of children in Rwanda are malnourished, and malnutrition is responsible for 35% of deaths of childhood deaths. Even when children survive, chronic malnutrition can disrupt mental and physical development, often with permanent consequences. Malnourished children are less likely to attend school and when they do go they are less likely to succeed. Studies suggest that, in the long-term, they are likely to earn less than their peers and will die earlier.
Thankfully, there is every reason to believe that unlike many of his peers, Samuel’s story will have a happy ending. Samuel has already gained weight, his hair has grown back, the swelling in his cheeks and belly has subsided, and his smile is infectious. Samuel is now becoming the healthy eight year-old he deserves to be. His father is planning on enrolling him in primary school this year, and thanks to the food his family is now growing in their home garden, there is every reason to believe Samuel will have the nutritious food he needs to learn and grow.
This past week Gardens for Health enrolled more than 100 new families in our program. Every family has struggled with malnutrition. Gardens for Health is proud to work with each of them, to provide caregivers with the skills, knowledge, and resources, to break the cycle of malnutrition and ensure that each of their children, like Samuel, has a chance to grow and thrive.