Stories: Children, Communities, Futures

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As the world moves to fight the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of children in Africa are going hungry as a locust plague destroys crops.

Swarms of desert locusts have been wreaking havoc on tens of thousands of hectares of farmland and pastures in Kenya, since arriving from Somalia and Ethiopia in December 2019.

It is the largest locust invasion in Kenya in 25 years. Farming families have been left devastated, struggling to feed their children and earn a living.

Five-year-old Mary, who lives in a disadvantaged community in Samburu County, says she is hungry “most of the time” because of the plague.

Since the locust invasion the lunchtime meals served at her school are no longer enough to keep her full throughout the day. Teachers and school co-ordinators have been forced to reduce the size of lunches because of fears of further food shortages as a result of the swarms of locusts destroying farmland.

Goat’s milk, a highly nutritious drink for children, has also become scarce in schools, increasing the risk of young students like Mary becoming malnourished.

At home, Mary’s situation is no better. Her parents rely on the sale of aloe vera plants to feed their five children and ensure they can go to school.

But the locust plague in recent months has destroyed their aloe vera crops, says Mary’s father Paul.

“With aloe vera we would be able to make US$1 daily and use it to buy some food for the children, but now we have nothing,” Paul says. “Life is really tough.”

Mother-of-eight Sousa is a force for change in her community.

As a ChildFund Community Health Volunteer, the 33-year-old is an inspiring role model to the women and girls in her remote village in Timor-Leste, helping families ensure their children can grow up safe and healthy.

She plays an important role, organising support groups to ensure mothers know how to best care for themselves and their children. She also regularly visits parents in their homes to monitor the growth and basic health of their children. If there are any signs of childhood illnesses or malnutrition, it is Sousa who will raise the alarm and refer the family to a health professional.

Through training female Community Health Volunteers like Sousa in remote disadvantaged villages, ChildFund is helping to empower women to become leaders and make a difference in their communities.

“Since I joined ChildFund’s activities I learnt the right nutrition and care for children aged five and under,” Sousa says. “I share the knowledge that I learnt during my training to other women in my community.”

Sousa also helps her husband on the family farm, growing maize, squash, peanut and string beans, and makes tais, a traditional woven cloth, (pictured above in main photo) to sell at the markets.

Her priorities, however, are being there for her children when they need her, and her work as a Community Health Volunteer.