My 2-year-old nephew, Emerson, loves books … and he can’t even read yet. He’ll tote around his favorite board books, flip through them upside-down, and jabber a story he’s making up in his head. You can tell he can’t wait to read on his own. He already knows his alphabet!The brains of children his age are developing at a faster rate than they will at any other time of life. But did you know that not having enough healthy food to eat can stop that development in its tracks?It’s a little strange that the two are connected, but it’s true. When you feed a child, you’re not just feeding his stomach — but his mind, too.
According to the World Health Organization, malnutrition is one of the leading causes of stunting in children. When a child doesn’t have enough to eat, he can be the size of a boy or girl half his age. His limbs become skinny and frail, he stops growing taller, and sometimes he’s not even strong enough to walk.
But what’s even scarier than the visible stunting of a child’s growth is the stunting you can’t see — the delayed development of critical organs like the heart, kidneys, and especially the brain.
Stunting doesn’t simply keep a child from growing. It can keep a child from learning.
When a kid has been starving most of his life, it often doesn’t matter how determined he is to learn to read. His brain will not be developed enough. Katie Vargas, one of World Help’s partners in Guatemala, says illiteracy is a growing epidemic because they do not have food to keep them nourished.
“Malnutrition starts in the womb,” Vargas said.
“If you get through [infancy] and don’t pass away, what’s your quality of life look like? Will you learn? Will you be able to work? How far can you go? Will you be able to walk?”
Vargas went on to explain that many of the people she interacts with on a daily basis in Guatemala are illiterate. “They could just never learn … they were malnourished as children.”
So, if an impoverished child cannot succeed in school, it’s not always from a lack of trying. And uneducated, malnourished children become malnourished adults. They struggle to find good jobs and afford food for their own families. Just like their own parents did, they will worry constantly about their children starving to death. And the cycle of hunger continues.
Can you imagine your own child or grandchild being so weak from hunger that he couldn’t play with his friends, run around the house, or even try to learn new things? It would absolutely break your heart — because no child should be that broken. Sadly, many children around the world are.
That’s why World Help is working to provide food for starving children around the world, especially during the most crucial points of development in their life. When a child is well-nourished early on, he or she can grow, learn, and succeed long into the future.
Kelsey Campbell writes for World Help, a Christian humanitarian organization serving the physical and spiritual needs of people in impoverished communities around the world. To learn more, click here.
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- United Nations Photo, Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)