A Samaritan's Purse nutrition program in Niger gives a mother and daughter a fresh chance at life
Meet Nafissa. She is 2 years old, gaining weight, and completely blind.
Her hands are sticky with Plumpy’Nut, a peanut paste full of calories and vitamins that her mother, Rahamou, is fingering into her mouth. She is growing noticeably bigger, her arms and legs once so thin and frail, are filling out. The edema, a symptom of severe acute malnutrition that makes its victims’ bodies bloated with fluids under the skin, is now gone.
She has made much progress in only three months.
Nafissa weighed 5.2 kilograms, or 11.5 pounds, when Samaritan’s Purse staff first met her. That’s 22 pounds below the weight of the average 2-year-old, and ranks well below the chart levels for severe acute malnutrition.
Her malnutrition case was one with complications. Besides edema, young children exhibit symptoms such as discolored, red-tinged hair; parched, dried skin; brittle nails; and in some cases even blindness. Nafissa had all of these.
Rahamou too was plagued with the symptoms of what it means to go hungry. Like her daughter, her skin was dry, her bones showed through, and she was tired.
A health care center in the Banibangou region of Niger that is a Samaritan’s Purse partner took Nafissa and her mother in and gave them both proper treatments. By providing access to basic medical care and doting doctors, Samaritan’s Purse helped treated both the physical and spiritual needs of this mother and daughter.
Rahamou, pregnant with her fifth child at around 25 years of age, was put into a supplementary feeding program. Through provisions from Samaritan’s Purse and the World Food Programme, she was given a corn-soy blend containing enriched flour that is added to her home-cooked meals for the duration of her pregnancy and subsequent lactation period. After the birth, her new child will be given the same enriched flour in her infant formula up until six months of age to ensure a strong start to life.Today, Rahamou looks noticeably different. She is vibrant and smiling.
“I now have hope for my fifth child thanks to access to this health care center,” she said.
When Nafissa arrived at the health center, she was given a supplemental supply of Plumpy’Nut to eat daily in small quantities, in addition to her meals cooked at home.
Nafissa now weighs 14.5 pounds. She’s still about 19 pounds behind her healthy 2-year-old counterparts, but is rapidly improving. She has gained muscle strength and is no longer classified as severely malnourished. She will participate in a moderately malnourished program until her health is entirely restored.
By having follow-up appointments with a doctor every two weeks in one of the four integrated health centers supported by Samaritan’s Purse within this region, Nafissa, Rahamou, and her unborn baby already have a step-up in life.
Another very important factor at the health centers is the maternal and childhood health education that Samaritan’s Purse provides for mothers.
“Education is very important,” said Grace Nganga, the Samaritan’s Purse health and nutrition program manager in Niger. “As the Bible says, ‘my people perish due to lack of knowledge.’ Behavioral change always begins with the reception of knowledge and, of course in time, the practice of it. Because knowledge is the key ingredient, and the base of behavioral change, we put a lot of emphasis on promoting health and nutrition education.”
Nafissa’s story is sadly not unique. While Samaritan’s Purse provides supplementary feeding and treatment to almost 27,000 children per year, 800,000 children nationwide are still at risk of malnutrition. There are hundreds of thousands of others who still do not even have access to the most basic of medical needs.
“When every two out of five children in a nation are malnourished, even in relatively good years in terms of food and livelihood crises, the burden of this situation is very high,” Grace said. “We need people to pray that God heals the land of Niger so that the soil can produce enough food to feed the people.”Nafissa’s motor skills have improved drastically as her nutrition levels have improved. She now crawls again, and responds to the sound of her name. There is even a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel for her vision to be partially restored. Malnutrition has caused scar tissue to build up on the corneas, causing them to extend beyond her eye sockets. But because she is still young, it is possible that an operation could partially restore her vision.
In Arabic, the name Nafissa means “precious.” And she is just that—precious in the eyes of those who love her, and precious in the eyes of the One who created her.
Nafissa has a long, hard road set before her. However, medical intervention, and the assistance of Samaritan’s Purse, has helped her regain some of that which malnutrition had taken away. She is improving day by day, regaining strength and weight with great speed.
More importantly, we can have hope in the One who restores sight to the blind. Please pray that one day Nafissa will be able to see, and that she and Rahamou will be given eyes to behold Christ.