“HOW CAN A CHILD LEARN WITH AN EMPTY BELLY?”: Food Instability and Poverty in Malawi
Posted on October 10, 2014 by Rev. Shari Brink

This is Rev. Shari Brink’s final installment of a three-part blog series on her trip to South Africa and Malawi. To read the previous two installments, please click here.

Blog 3:

As a North American (who likes to think of herself as well-informed about the world and relatively well-traveled), I was stunned by the poverty we experienced in Malawi.

South Africa, the other country we visited in our travels (see Blog #1 and Blog #2 in this series), is Africa’s richest country. Malawi, by contrast, ranks among its poorest. In the list of the world’s poorest countries, Malawi is 8th. As Mwaona Nyirongo, a talented high school teacher and our patient teacher throughout our trip, pointed out, the only countries that are poorer represent a “who’s who” of war-torn countries such as Congo, Zimbabwe and Liberia (see https://www.gfmag.com/global-data/economic-data/the-poorest-countries-in-the-world.) Malawi, by contrast, has had no war in modern times. Plain and simple, Malawi is resource poor. I’d always thought of Haiti as among the very poorest countries – and it is! – but it ranks 20th. More than half of all Malawians earn less than $1 per day.

Malawi’s greatest resource is its warm and generous people.

We had an opportunity to meet some of those people on our visit to the Nkhoma Synod Relief and Development Feeding Program.

We were met there by Rev. George Kalengo, Director of the Relief and Development Agency, Jane Chikakuda, Director of the Feeding Program, and Watstone Kadwa, their accountant, shown here along with Marble’s own Marcia Fingal, Henry Bromelkamp of Africa Classroom Conenction, and myself. Nkhoma Synod Relief and Development is an arm of the Presbyterian Church in Malawi, and the feeding program has been funded by the Reformed Church in America, Marble’s own denomination.

Our visit to the program was heart-wrenching. We were greeted by singing and dancing mothers, grandmothers and sisters (not the heart-wrenching part!), each with a toddler on their hip, each of them truly grateful for the life-saving program from which their child had benefited.

Those present represented 30 of the 120 malnourished children fed by the program in 4 different districts. Each child had benefitted from 6 months of Likuni Phala, a soy-based high-protein porridge made with vegetable oil. The soy flour and vegetable oil is distributed to the families during the 6 months of the year when food stores from the previous year have run out.

The good news was this: though several children had died of malnutrition the year before the program began, with the help of the feeding program none had died that year and all were gaining weight.

However, the 120 children had been selected from among 360 that been recommended to the program. Some children were so sick they needed to be sent to the ICU unit of the hospital. So many others could have benefitted from such a program! And, in fact, Jane implored us for funding this coming year and, if possible, for a doubling of funds. An additional $20,000 could feed another 120 malnourished toddlers.

The focus of our trip had been on education – a preschool built through the Marble South Africa Partnership at Diepkloof Sud Church (Blog #1) and classrooms built by the Collegiate Churches of New York (Blog #2), but our visit to the Nkhoma Synod Relief and Development Feeding Program begs the question, How can a child possibly learn with an empty belly?


Peter on October 22, 2014

Nutrition is so easy to understand but hard to facilitate. It is amazing to me how much money "disappears" or how easy the black market gets involved. The culture to protect children is just not where it belongs. Nice reporting and videos.

Mwaona Nyirongo on November 10, 2014

Very articulate article Shari! Its great that you have shared this to the world. That way many people will visit Malawi though they have not been here physically. We are happy you were able to visit Malawi and learn about our challenges. Its wonderful to have people travel that long distance just to help people whom they do not even know. That was a very high demonstration of love. The views that we shared were also enriching. Please share our gratitude to your church :-)

Mwaona Nyirongo on November 10, 2014

Peter you are right. The politics of nutrition in many parts of the world are very delicate when it comes to facilitating. But when you have a good accounting system where reports are constantly filed and verified things tend to be positive.

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