“As I stood in the malnutrition ward of a regional hospital, my chest tightened, and I had to work hard to keep my composure. There were no welcoming smiles, only blank, empty stares. My camera, normally always at the ready, dropped down to my side. I couldn’t bring myself to snap images of so many children and mothers in despair.
To my left, a little girl lay on a bed, emaciated, listless, and very alone. I didn’t know her story. “Where is her mother?” I asked myself. All I could do was watch her chest rise and fall – as I did with my own newborn girls – and I clung to the possibility that, in this place, because of the nutritional peanut-paste we make, her life would continue.” -Navyn Salem, Executive Director, Edesia Global Nutriton Solutions.
Navyn Salem was shocked when she first heard the drastic statistics on global child malnutrition, and she was amazed that she had not heard about it sooner. As a mother herself she could not imagine a parent having to lose a child to something as easy to resolve as malnutrition, so the former stay-at-home mother of four, took it upon herself to do something about it.
With over 23 million children suffering from malnutrition in some form, and the cause of about one third of all child deaths globally, she realized there was not enough attention on the issue, and yet it seemed the simplest to tackle. Her father was born in Tanzania, and as an area that she had a connection to, she knew that she wanted to give back to that part of the world.
Five years ago the seeds for Edesia were planted. She began by speaking with experts, with a goal to increase access to products already out there, by expanding research and studying best practices until she developed a plan.
Navyn worked with Nutriset, a French company already producing ready to use therapuetic and supplementary food products. These products were revolutionary because unlike previous supplements available to treat malnutrition, they did not need clean water or refrigeration, two things scarce in much of the developing world.
Edesia began by opening it’s first plants in Africa, where it created jobs for production workers, helped local farmers and by producing the products locally, cutting shipment costs and lead time to access to the life saving nutritional aid when needed in the area. These plants are part of the Plumpyfield Network which is comprised of fourteen partners, twelve of which are located in developing countries.
The network strives to create nutritional autonomy in countries where malnutrition is prevalent. Plants in the Plumpyfield Network have continued to be opened in the areas of the world that need them most such as Niger, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Haiti, and The Democratic Republic of Congo, putting to use local human resources and raw materials. Most of these production facilities are being run by women, which is striking in areas of the world where women would not traditionally have the opportunity for such a leadership role.
The products are peanut based and filled with nutrients, unlike here in North America, peanut allergies are not an issue in these populations. Plumpy Nut, the Edesia product used to treat the most severe cases of malnutrition can bring a child from the brink of starvation back to health in just four to six weeks of use.
Three years ago Edesia opened a production plant in Navyn’s home state of Rhode Island, it was the height of the recession and provided much needed jobs to the area. West and East Africa have the greatest need for the products produced by Edesia, and with drought becoming more frequent, and weather patterns becoming more severe, the need to put early warning systems in place and invest in agricultural development in these areas is critical to success. Despite what may seem an a bleak issue to some, Navyn remains optimistic.
She told me that she sees the potential within a couple of decades of investment in African agriculture and infrastructure as beneficial to the rest of the world. Africa is a large continent with untapped agricultural resources poised to become a net exporter of food that will benefit populations globally. Meanwhile better planning and strategies such as early warning systems and pre-positioning of supplies in advance are critical in getting help in time to those who need it most.
She says that although sometimes it seems insurmountable, when she sees what a better solution Plumpy Nut has provided than previously available it gives her hope. The solution exists, she believes and increasing awareness is just one step in the right direction. In the meantime until we figure out better solutions to agricultural issues Navyn says that when she sees just one child’s life saved by these products, she knows that is one family who has been spared the grief of losing that child and it is all worth it.
What has inspired you to change your life and give back to those in need?
This post is by Elizabeth Ataley,Documama in Rhode Island, USA. As an exception, it is being re-run in World Moms Blog’s Social Good column. The original can be viewed at Documama.
Photos used with permission by Navyn Salem of Plumpy’nut.