Hunger in Cambodia
As I hope you have heard, LWB has now expanded several of our program areas into Cambodia. One of our primary focuses in Cambodia will be in the field of nutrition, and today I wanted to give you a bit of background on why we feel that is so important.
During my trip to Cambodia in September, one of things I saw clearly in the rural villages I visited was that the majority of children I met were stunted in their growth. Boys that I thought were perhaps five or six years old were actually nine or ten, and many of the children I met were painfully thin.
As soon as I returned home I began doing research and sadly discovered that Cambodia has the highest infant and under-five mortality rate in the southeast Asia region, with malnutrition being a key cause of child mortality. Some studies report that a staggering 45 percent of all the children in the country are stunted due to malnutrition.
As we all know, this kind of hunger leads to not only poor physical development, but also poor cognitive development. It’s pretty sobering to consider that malnutrition in early childhood can lead to decreased learning capacity, which can lead to lower work performance and earnings for the remainder of their lives.
In the region where LWB is now working, many children are “left behind” in the villages when their parents travel to find work, often even traveling to other countries like Thailand.
The children’s diets here frequently consist of just rice or rice porridge, which of course doesn’t come close to meeting a growing child’s nutritional needs.
As I met the children in the villages, I noticed that many of them had blonde or red hair. At first I thought perhaps it was a cultural thing that families would bleach a child’s hair. I was absolutely wrong about that. I now know that kwashiorkor malnutrition, caused by a severe lack of protein the diet, will actually cause a child’s black hair to turn yellow and light red.
Far too many of the children I met in the rural part of Cambodia I visited had this condition, and it has really impacted my heart. How hungry does a child have to be to have their black hair actually turn blonde?
I am so excited that LWB is making a commitment to two villages on the border region of Cambodia to help improve child nutrition there.
In Rangsei Village, where we are partnering with a local NGO to create a Believe in Me school program, we are now building a small “kitchen house” next to the current school house.
We have hired two women in the village to source local produce and food supplies, and they will be cooking a nutritious hot lunch for the children each day. We are collecting height and weight intake data right now on the children and are very hopeful that in the long term, we can see a real improvement in their overall health.
In Sokhem Village, where we are building a new three-room brick school house, we will also have a kitchen area, with a very similar set up for the children to get a hot and nutritious meal each day.
Our hope is that after these school lunch projects are funded, we will then be able to look at even earlier childhood nutrition issues in the village, as it is estimated that only 1 in 5 babies in Cambodia is receiving the full nutrition they need.
We know we will face some challenges. As the World Food Programme has written: “Several studies have been done on the topic, which show that access to adequate quantities of micronutrients, such as iron, calcium and zinc, for instance, is not possible (in Cambodia) through a local, affordable diet.” So long term we have some research to do, but for now, simply filling these beautiful children’s bellies with a nutritious hot lunch each day is going to make all of us very happy.
We’d love for you to be a part of it as well. If you would like to make a one time gift to help feed a child in Cambodia or become a monthly sponsor of our Cambodia School Nutrition project, I can assure you that your donation will be used to make an enormous difference to some very special children.
November is the month of Thanksgiving here in the United States, and it would be a great time to consider helping a child who feels hunger every day.
I can’t wait to share more with you in the future about our work here. We are extremely blessed to have amazing team members in place on the ground, and our projects are already underway!
~Amy Eldridge, Chief Executive Officer