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Friday, March 20, 2009

Malnutrition in Liberia

MONROVIA, 19 March 2009 (IRIN) - Health officials have launched a strategy to tackle hunger in Liberia, where 37 percent of children under five suffer chronic malnutrition.

Stella Subah, nutrition adviser at the Health Ministry, told IRIN malnutrition will kill 74,000 children in Liberia by 2015 if urgent action is not taken.

Chronic malnutrition causes stunting in nearly one-third of Liberian children and leaves one in five underweight, according to Subah. A further seven percent of children suffer from acute malnutrition.

The policy commits the government to improving food security for the majority of Liberians, decreasing dependence in imported foods and boosting education strategies to help prevent malnutrition.

“This policy refocuses nutrition and puts it where it ought to be – on the higher agenda of the government,” said John Agbor, head of child survival at UNICEF. This is the first nutrition policy the government has developed since before the war broke out in 1989.

“Malnutrition…is a major problem here, because all the factors contributing to it still exist,” said UNICEF nutrition specialist Kinday Ndella Samba. “You still have high rate of poverty, poor access to water and sanitation and a lack of health care.”

Only 30 professionally trained government medical doctors work in Liberia, along with 46 NGO doctors, for a population of 3.3 million.

Moderate hunger has been endemic in Liberia for years, but thousands of additional people were put at risk of acute malnutrition in 2008 because of rising global food and fuel prices, according to aid agency Action Against Hunger (ACF).

Liberia imports 90 percent of its rice, and prices have not dropped since they shot up to US$35 for a 50-kilogram bag in early 2008 – the average monthly salary for a security guard in the capital Monrovia. Liberians told IRIN 50kg of rice will feed a family of seven for two weeks.

Malnutrition in turn hampers economic growth, with conditions such as anemia and iodine deficiency lowering the country’s economic productivity by $431,000 each year, Subah told IRIN.


“If we want to address the issue, we have to address the underlying factors, such as food security, lack of access to water and sanitation, the failure of most mothers to breastfeed their babies and mothers not taking their babies for regular vaccines,” Subah said.

Improper care and feeding of children stems in part from low education rates and high rates of teenage pregnancy, according to William Dakel, director of local NGO Aid for the Needy Development Program (ANDP).

Forty-six percent of teenage girls are pregnant in Liberia, according to 2007 figures – the latest available. UNICEF says just 39 percent of girls attended primary school in 2007.

Agbor urges donors to maintain support to aid groups and the government to fight chronic malnutrition. “There are still a lot of children out there who need care, and if we have enough funding we can start to integrate aid groups’ work into government facilities.”

ANDP’s Dakel said: “It took us 14 years to fight a war, and it will not just take overnight to take care of all our problems. Donors and partners need to be patient.”


Sunday, March 15, 2009

Sliding Liberia

I just watched the movie, "Sliding Liberia." It played at the Boulder Adventure Film Fest. It's hard to imagine how the producers/directors could juxtapose surfing with a war-torn country in which 90% of people were brutalized in some way during the recent 14-year war. But they did, and they did it beautifully. The movie was meaningful. I really enjoyed watching it because I could finally put faces, actions, and emotions to the people that I've worked with at Common Ground Society, the organization that administers our scholarship program in Margibi and Bong counties.

From the movie, I learned how many Liberians talk; it's a crazy sort of Caribbean sounding English, but not quite Caribbean. And I finally saw clear images of what some Liberians look like. The only thing I felt was missing from the movie was the perspective of how girls were particularly and awfully brutalized during the war. But maybe that's an article I need to write. My goal is to get to Liberia later this year and to write a story for a publication--Oprah, Women's Adventure, one of those mags--about the fortuity of Liberian women.

Please someone call and tell me how I can spend my life raising awareness for disadvantaged girls? I want to write, climb, and enjoy my life as well, but if I could dedicate 90% of my work life to helping other people, that would be a dream come true.

I wish that someone out there would shine some light on Girls Education International--we need an angel donor. We are doing some amazing things, including educating 47 girls in Liberia and two girls in Nepal. We could do so much more if someone would pay a part-time salary for me to run the organization and for Heidi to run the fund-raising side of things. We work anyway, and we won't stop because we are driven by a mutual desire to make a difference for some women in the world. But, dang, it sure would be nice if we could pay the mortgage at the same time.

Where is our angel donor? Hello, are you out there?

Saturday, March 07, 2009

News in the world of Girls Ed

A lot of great things are happening with Girls Education International right now. Just last week I was asked to sit on a panel at the Global Alliance for International Advancement's first conference, to be held in May. I'll be answering questions about the international education of girls. The conference will also include a variety of workshops, panels, roundtables, luncheons and receptions. They expect approximately 800-1000 attendees each day, including corporate entities, NGO’s, UN agencies and institutions of higher learning, "creating a truly global community," says the organizers. The convention will be May 9th, 10th and 11th at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City.

One of the panels that is being put together is on education. It will focus on education as the silver bullet. They have asked me to speak on the panel and discuss the program. Cool. We are all very excited. Board member Elizabeth O'Neill and I are going to meet next week to discuss how to prepare for the conference.

I am also meeting with Jancy Quinn, our marketing director, who has put together a marketing/fund raising plan based on discussions we've had and information we've gleaned from other sources. This is excited.

We have also made progress on our 501(c)3 application and will be sending that off shortly.

We are going to re-launch our website mid-April. It won't be significantly different, but we will change the focus so that it does not seem as if we only work in Pakistan. Though we strive to operate a program over there, we haven't had much luck finding a NGO partner. We had one we thought was going to work out, but they disappeared when we were finalizing the details of the assessment in the village Khane. We are unsure how to navigate the very unstable world of NGOs in that country. We have a couple other options we are currently pursuing and we hope (Inshallah!) that something comes of them.

On the other hand (and the reason we are changing the focus of the website), our Liberia program is doing very well. Emily returned from visiting the girls and paying their fees a month ago and is now compiling information and grades for all the girls. We should have more news soon.

Finally, we are working on the first of our quarterly newsletters, to be launched also in April.

Things are going well at GEI. My next goals are to apply for additional grants.