In the remote village of Kaikor, in the desert of Turkana, northern Kenya, a little boy listens as strangers get out of a car. As soon as they approach him, he scampers away, too shy to stick around and be introduced.
Kenya Red Cross team leader James Mwangi knows the boy, though, and with a few gentle words and gestures soon convinces him to meet the strangers.
“This is Kanyang,” James says. “He’s nine.”
There are gasps. Nine? The boy is the size of a four year old.
For the last six weeks, Kanyang has been staying at a Red Cross centre for severely malnourished children. The centre is housed in a maternity building that the Kenya Red Cross built during its maternal and sexual health campaign in Turkana. But with 37 per cent of children under five acutely malnourished (9.4 per cent severely malnourished) in the northern part of Turkana, it’s been converted into a stabilisation centre for the worst cases.
Donations save lives
Six weeks ago, Kanyang’s grandmother brought him to the centre. She was at her wits’ end, not knowing or having the resources to help this little boy survive Kenya’s food crisis. A photograph of him being cradled by the Kenya Red Cross secretary general was soon broadcast around the country and spurred thousands to donate for food relief.
The photographer who took the pictures sees him today and exclaims: “I can’t believe it’s him. He looks so much better.”
Thanks to the Kenya Red Cross feeding him highly nutritious foods designed for severely malnourished children, Kanyang is not only walking around but is able to run short distances. The lack of nutrition has clearly hampered his development, though. He doesn’t speak, he may be visually impaired, and he’s tiny for his age. But he’s able to run around, and he’s survived.
Food for babies and mothers
In one bed at the centre, there’s a little boy – probably around five years old but it’s so difficult to tell, holding a swaddled baby. The baby looks like a newborn but is actually around three months old. He was a triplet. One of the babies died, and the mother is breastfeeding the other.
This little one was given to his grandmother to raise, but she didn’t have any milk so the baby became severely malnourished. He was brought to the Red Cross stabilisation centre, where he’s given a special milk for malnourished babies. His mother receives a highly nutritious corn/soy porridge called Unimix so she’s healthy enough to continue feeding the other baby.
In an area where there’s one doctor for every 155,600 people, the centre has literally been a lifesaver for children.
Read about the East Africa Food Crisis Appeal