A sprinkling of nutrients can change a child’s life
Growing up: Vincent Mhirisawo
“Somerset West’s main attraction is the high quality of life it offers. Two of the 20 most expensive suburbs in South Africa, Erinvale and Spanish Farm, offer the most discerning buyers some superb property choices. It is rumoured that Somerset West hosts amongst the highest concentration of millionaires per square kilometre in the country.”
This description, from a property website, concludes: “Somerset West Property is surrounded by the winelands, mountains and the sea — offering a lifestyle not easily surpassed in South Africa.”
It fails to mention, of course, the poor settlements that lie ragged and neglected on its outskirts, where children suffer from hunger and malnutrition like Vincent Mhirisawo did. It is a similar scenario around other towns and cities in South Africa where extreme wealth and extreme poverty exist sickeningly side by side.
Even though South Africa is classified as being an upper middle-income country, the South African Child Gauge 2020 revealed that in terms of nutrition and food security, high stunting rates, micronutrient deficiencies, and overnutrition (overweight and obesity) are prevalent in its children. It referred to it as the “slow violence of malnutrition”.
The NIDS-CRAM survey revealed that the Covid-19 pandemic had exacerbated child hunger, especially in the early stages of lockdown in 2020, and diminished years of progress against the scourge.
JAM, however, exists precisely to take notice of children like Vincent and to help where possible. Currently JAM feeds about 1550 children at 35 Early Childhood Development (ECD) centres in the small townships of Lwandle and Nomzamo near Somerset West. Bright Light Educare is one of them.
Vincent attended Bright Light from the age of three. It is the closest centre to his home so his mother Precious felt it was the best choice. She was also beguiled by the vivacious principal, Memory Guga.
JAM started supporting Memory’s centre in 2019, providing the children there with our fortified porridge, CSS+ — the acronym stands for a Corn, Soya and Sugar blend and the plus sign indicates the added magic ingredients; essential vitamins and minerals necessary for children’s optimal growth and development.
Part of JAM’s move into schools entails a Body Mass Index assessment where children are weighed, measured and checked for signs of malnutrition. Our field workers immediately spotted a sign on Vincent’s little head and arms — they were covered in open sores.
Common signs of nutrient deficiency: Other signs include lethargy, low weight and thinning, discoloured hair.
Three months later, however, Vincent’s skin condition had cleared completely.
This is a testament to the super powers of adequate nutrition! The turnaround was relatively simple — just a sprinkling of the right vitamins and minerals over breakfast can turn a life around. It is sad to think, however, that millions of others don’t get the magic ingredients in their diets and could end up being wasted, stunted, obese or worse.
It did not take long for Vincent to feel confident enough to walk around in short sleeves; he could forget about trying to cover his head and spend more energy on playing with his friends and learning instead.
He is now a healthy seven-year-old who came in the top three of his class in his first year at “big school” last year. Precious says every now and then he will pop in at Bright Light where his brother is now a pupil and ask for a bowl of his favourite porridge!
Big school boy: Vincent with Memory (left) and Precious (right)
The importance of nutrition
A balanced diet is crucial for physical growth, cognitive development, productivity and endurance. If children do not get sufficient food, particularly the required daily nutrient intake, they will not reach their full potential as many will get ill and could die or will suffer irreversible physical and cognitive damage (stunting). In South Africa, 27% of children are stunted.
In the introduction to the Child Gauge food security report, Dr Lawrence Haddad, Executive Director of the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, wrote: “It would take a powerful malevolent force to inflict havoc on a child in the way that malnutrition does. Let’s put it plainly, malnutrition systematically destroys a child: it damages their chances of survival, their cognitive development, their immune system, their bone and muscle structure and their livelihood prospects. But the wrecking ball that is early childhood malnutrition can be prevented.”
We all need to do our bit and remember those living on the margins; it takes the right nutrients to give children a much better chance in life.
Bertha Magoge is country director for JAM in South Africa and Adel Terblanche is Western Cape Community Officer.
Mom’s love: Precious and Vincent at home