We have all heard the expression that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but many children in Africa barely get to eat even one substantial portion of food in a day. Food is a basic means of survival and the lack of it is at the root of many, many other problems. Being starving prevents people from performing even the most basic of daily functions adversely affecting many aspects of society.
The Situation in Africa
Africa is a continent with many problems and it is usually the children who bear the brunt of these troubles. South Africa is one of the continent's most successful countries and yet 12% of children in the country are classified as starving or drastically underweight. This helpless section of the population goes without daily meals, affecting their concentration, health and even their future. Starvation and its consequences lead to 95 in every 1000 children under the age of five dying in South Africa each year, be it from malnutrition, disease or the pure desperation and dangers of having to scrounge for food on the streets.
Other Southern African countries are even worse affected as they experience political unrest, natural disasters and poor infrastructure, compounding the already troubling amount of children without enough food to eat. In a country such as Zimbabwe, which is experiencing political problems as well as massive food shortages and inflation, over 17% of children are starving and through no fault of their own. As unpredictable droughts, floods, storms and wars ravage African countries, these figures soar and more and more children and adults need help.
Feeding a child is not an expensive task and does not involve massive effort. A child between the ages of 3 and 7 years old, given the proper foods, needs only what we Westerners would consider the bare minimum to survive. The average child needs two to three cups of milk a day and this dairy intake can come in many forms – with yoghurt and cheese being easy equivalents. Two servings of meat are also recommended per day per child, but, with the expense of meat, legumes, eggs or even peanut butter make up this protein intake easily. Four servings of fruit or vegetables are necessary per day and with the massive variety of fresh produce available is easy to achieve. Lastly, four portions of grain foods are needed to complete a healthy daily diet. Cereal, maize, pasta or bread are all cost effective and high energy options. A constant intake of these foods will ensure healthy children who can concentrate at school and grow into productive members of their own societies.
The Consequences of Malnutrition
The consequences of malnutrition in children can be devastating and depend on the length of time that a child has been deprived of food. The long term effects include growth stunting, anorexia, susceptibility to infections, behavioural changes and learning disabilities. Many of these effects can have far reaching consequences, even long after the deficiency has been corrected. Malnutrition during infancy has been known to cause mental retardation or inferior psychomotor functionality later on in an otherwise healthy childhood.
Other less direct consequences of malnutrition can often be less obvious or measurable and no one can really predict how prolonged starvation can affect an individual. Desperation for food often sends children to the streets where they are susceptible to diseases, crime and exploitation. Frustration on behalf of parents who can not earn enough to feed their families can also lead to abandonment, abuse and a host of other problems.
One of the most effective ways to combat these problems is by feeding adults and children alike at soup kitchens. These charitable organisations work tirelessly day in and day out to provide meals to starving people. Some kitchens provide over 300 meals a day and give people the strength to be productive and try to better their own situation. Many times this one meal is the only time that many of these people will eat in a day and is the key to their survival.
Other ventures of this nature focus solely on children and try to ensure that each child has something to eat at school so that they can concentrate and get the most out of their education. Projects like the Makhundu Christian Support [http://www.breadlineafrica.org/projects/nutrition.html] programme not only ensure that over 3000 orphans are fed at least once a day, but also that each one is registered with social services and regularly attends school. Programmes like these recognise the importance of nutrition in children's lives and aim to give them a decent start to life through food and support – the basics that many of us take for granted.
Similar charities have food parcel programmes that put together a selection of food to send out to families in more rural areas. These areas are the worst hit in relation to droughts, unemployment and famine and have some of the highest rates of starvation, malnutrition and deaths in young children. Food parcels consists of basic essentials as well as flour, oil and other ingredients that mean people can cook or bake bread for themselves, promoting self-reliance a extending the utility of the parcel.
These parcels are also essential life lines for people in areas of natural disasters such as droughts or the recent floods in Kenya. Many of these people lose whatever meagre belongings they have and are left with nothing. Rural African areas are usually supported by farming and in the event of these disasters; land, animals and crops are destroyed, leaving behind starving children and adults. Food parcels sent through various charities are a lifeline to tide people over until they can once again begin to take care of themselves.
What Can We Do?
Many of us live far away from the troubles of Africa and would not know where to start if we wanted to help. For those closer to these areas, volunteering your time at a soup kitchen is one of the best ways to help. A friendly smile and chat helps as much as the hot meal does and this is one case where the more chefs in the kitchen the better. Donating fresh food and supplies to these kitchens is also a great way to help improve the standard of nutrition of the people the charities feed
For people further a field, a simple donation is the easiest and most effective way to help. Charities like Breadline Africa have links throughout Africa and send out an incredible number of food parcels to desperate people each year. Careful planning has enabled these types of charities to be able to put together the best parcel possible for between £ 12 and £ 16. Donations ensure that an entire family will be able eat for a long time thanks to your generosity.