I knew starvation and hunger was a prevalent threat in the developing world, but I had no idea of the sheer evil and horror caused by severe malnutrition.
My recent education, research and first-hand experience has not only deeply affected my life, but has completely restructured my worldview.
In Haiti alone, nearly 300,000 children suffer from moderate to severe malnutrition. Think of how nearly impossible it is for us to focus at school or work when our stomach is screaming from not being fed for a few hours. Everything is accentuated when hungry. Now multiple your pains and discomfort from missing lunch and multiple that by several thousand.
Children who suffer from malnutrition are not only at a greater risk of early death, but are highly susceptibility to other life threatening illness and disease due to their weak immunity.
Brain development is at a risk of being severely impaired and the loss of vision is increasing likely as well.
Malnutrition is the number one risk to health worldwide, and causes eleven percent of all disease in the world.
As I began to do my in depth research of the cause and effects of malnutrition at the beginning of this year, my eyes were opened unlike ever before and newfound passion began to birth inside my heart. But nothing can truly give you a real sense of the impact malnutrition has on a young, fragile life until it's standing right in front of you.
Several weeks ago I wrote about about two children we met on our hike through the village of Bais D'Orange. It was as if they had emerged right out of the pages of National Geographic, with their thin bodies clothed by tattered and worn garments and their eyes deep and piercing.
The sister, Noudelie, age nine and the brother, Anior, age seven, live with their single mother and two baby sisters in a small tent made of twigs and tarps. They don't wear shoes and their entire family huddles together to keep warm from the cold mountain nights as they sleep on a dirt floor.
Their father has a new family and lives in another town. Their step-father was recently put in prison. Their mother only gave birth to their newborn sister a month ago, leaving her physically unable to properly provide and care for them.
There is a gnawing question regarding malnutrition that seems to always go through people's heads.
How does this happen?
Most people, especially those who are privileged to have been born and raised in the developed world, cannot wrap their heads around the idea of a parent being so neglectful and incapable that they would let their child starve.
Not only is this assumption entirely harsh and insensitive, it is extremely misinformed and just wrong in general.
Malnutrition is one of the primary results of a life oppressed and tortured by poverty, and can be triggered by any amount or combination of disadvantages.
Parents aren't just "letting" their children go hungry.
The absence of meals is not a form of cruel and unusual punishment. It's a raw and horrendous reality for individuals who are forced to survive on less that $2 USD each day, because of the lack of education, and remote opportunity for employment.
Deforestation (the removal of a forest or stand of trees where the land is thereafter converted to a non-forest us) in Haiti has become a severe environmental issue. In the 1920s over 60% of Haiti's land was richly forested, by 2006, that statistic had dropped to a frightening less than 2%* Deforestation is linked to other dangerous environmental issues such as soil erosion, landslides and flooding and the main ingredient in the scarcity of resources and vegetation.
Being born into these conditions is the epitome of misfortune. Placed at the bottom of the societal chain without much hope of ever climbing out of the dark and hopeless hole. Without anyone to encourage you to succeed, or provide the knowledge and education to help you gain the ability to rise above the despair.
To assume that parents are simply negligent or do not love their children is frankly wrong and entirely judgmental and ignorant. Most parents are rigorously finding ways to provide for their children and are absolutely heartbroken by the reality that their child has to go to sleep hungry.
This is the case with Noudelie and Anior's mother. She is warm and kind woman who expresses a deep love for her children and would do anything to offer them a better life.
We had the opportunity to return to Bais D'Orange this past weekend to visit this little family. Not a day goes by since our first encounter, that I don't close my eyes and see their faces. I've asked Brittany on a weekly basis when it is the we can return and begin to transition them into our malnutrition program. This past Saturday, the day finally came.
Along with the local nurse we have partnered with, Magdalla, the one who joined us to help Wilson last week, we took motos (motorcycle taxis) up into the mountains to the village I tenderly refer to as "the land before time."
About halfway into our hour-long ride, I discovered that my fairly new iPhone 5s was missing from my pocket.
My initial reaction was as most would be. Shock. Disbelief. Horror. Frustration. I knew the chances of retrieving my three-month old, lifeline to communication were slim to none, but I wasn't going to give up that easily.
I quickly explained to my moto driver what had happened and asked him to turn around. We attempted to look for it, with the hope that by some miracle, it would still be on the road nearby.
This went on for about ten minutes and within those ten minutes something astonishing happened.
Within a matter of a few seconds, all of my excitement and anticipation to return to the precious children I had thought about and prayed for every day for the past month, disappeared. Suddenly finding my replaceable, insignificant, material, technological device, was more important then them. So important that I nearly lost all desire to go to Bais D'Orange altogether, because finding my phone was just THAT NECESSARY.
Finally my moto stopped and basically told me that we needed to go on to Bais D'Orange and he would tell the passing drivers to keep an eye out for the phone. Shockingly, I hesitantly said yes, all that seemed to matter at the moment was retrieving my lost device.
As we began to resume our journey, the events of the past few minutes began to hit me. Did I really almost sacrifice the opportunity to return to the kids I had become so passionate about for a phone?
And that's when I realized. This is the culture and societal chain I was born into. I didn't grow up wondering when or where my next meal would could from. I didn't sleep on a dirt floor and never have the opportunity to attend school.
But I grew up in a society that conditions you to place a lost phone at a higher priority than children who are starving and dying all over the world.
Malnutrition is not something we just watch on informercials or hear about in an international development class in college.
Malnutrition is a very real, prevalent threat that claims millions of lives each year.
Yet the greatest element of malnutrition is that it can be helped and prevented.
When we arrived in Bais D'Orange, Noudelie ran out of her house filled with ecstasy and delight, tightly embracing Brittany and I as if we were her closest friends and family. We were completely dumbfounded by this transition from the timid and shy little girl she was when we first met her.
She held onto my hand and would not let me go. I quickly realized my phone really doesn't matter that much.
For everyone who doesn't have the constant reminder of the cruelties of life in the third world, I beg and plead with you to not turn a blind eye to these realities.
It's so easy to get caught up in our day to day lives, be lost in our phones and completely shut out and unaware of the world around us - especially a world that seems irrelevant to our own.
Anior and Noudelie will soon be admitted to the Reimagine Haiti Malnutrition Center, where they will receive treatment and care and their mother will receive education on how to keep them healthy and prevent the vicious cycle from returning.
You may think that the life we live and work we do here in Belle-Anse is completely separate and detached from you, but that is the biggest lie of all.
Without you, we CAN'T do what we do. The Malnutrition Center can't exist and children just like Anior and Noudelie can't receive help and the cycle of poverty will continue to ravish Haiti.
Your love, support and financial donations are the fuel that keeps our fire burning.
Malnutrition matters and it can't be stopped without people who choose to take action and say enough is enough.
If you would like to support my birthday fundraiser as I attempt to raise $3000.00 for the completion of our Malnutrition Center, please click here.