Written by Kim Hedge
I’ve spent the last month in Blantyre, Malawi working with our partner group Project Peanut Butter (PPB), who is providing technical support for our RUTF factory in Zambia . PPB just built a new factory and I’ve been working with the staff as they move the equipment from the old factory and start up production in the new facility. I have also spent time in the clinics where RUTF is distributed, helping diagnose and treat kids with moderate and severe malnutrition. I have never worked in a clinic like this before, and it was a tough and emotional experience seeing so many children on the brink of death. However, it was also encouraging to see all of the graduates from the program who have gotten healthy from eating the RUTF that was produced locally.
Clinic days start early with a 4:30 am wake up time because it is often a 1-2 hour drive out to the village where the clinics are located. I went with a doctor from St. Louis, a driver and two local nurses. It was a beautiful foggy morning and clouds were not only perched on the mountain tops, but filled in much of the valleys as well.
At times we were driving through a cloud so thick we could not see 10 meters in front of us. Eventually, we turned down a very rocky dirt road for another 45 minutes past little villages, across streams and small rivers, past small fields, cows, goats, chickens. We also passed a group of men and boys parading down the street with 4-5 figures dressed in costume. The driver said it was the coming of age ceremony for the boys, but the nurses just shook their heads and said they were just being crazy village people.
When we arrived at the clinic site there was one building on the right and a small pavilion like structure on the left with a roof and open walls, and a big tree in the middle. The community health workers were already there and had set up a table for the weigh scale and a few wooden benches for the length scale under the tree. This was the clinic.
I’m not sure what I was expecting, but likely something more than three benches and a table under a tree. But once we were set up, women began to appear from seemingly nowhere with their babies tied to their backs. Some had walked for over two hours to get there.
The nurses sat them down and conducted an educational program about nutrition for their babies, much of which is done through songs because they are easy to remember. The mothers are also counseled by nurses and volunteer health workers on how to use the RUTF and on general health practices.
After the program, the women lined up to have their child measured, weighed and diagnosed as severely or moderately malnourished.
There were times it was really difficult to see the children suffering in this way. In these moments, I prayed for strength and comfort for the children and mothers, and also for myself.
On the way home from my second clinic visit, instead of fighting back tears as I had the first time, I found myself feeling grateful for the experience and excited to be given the opportunity to make a difference. Building a factory in Zambia, means 100,000 severely malnourished children – like those I saw here in Malawi would have a chance at life.
There aren’t words to describe seeing children that were once near death, now healthy. There were two graduates that especially stood out to me – twins – who were brought to the clinic by both their mother and father. Both well dressed and looking happier than ever to find their children were given a clean bill of health.
It’s exciting to think of the parents and children that we will help in Zambia. The pain of seeing children suffering will never go away, but seeing the healthy graduates gives me hope and reminds me of what I am working for and why I am here to set up a factory – to produce the product that will ultimately save kids’ lives.