Making a Difference in the Horn of Africa

A severe drought struck the Horn of Africa last year, and millions of survivors are still in crisis. Conditions improved in areas of Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia following rains in late 2011 that allowed crops and pastures to recover in early 2012. However, rains have been uneven and later than normal in the first half of 2012, causing many communities to experience crop failures this year. A food crisis continues to affect an estimated 2.2 million people in Kenya, 2.5 million people in Somalia and 3.2 million people in Ethiopia according to the World Food Program. Climate change continues to make seasonal rainfall more erratic.

Last year, Week of Compassion’s primary partner organization, Church World Service (CWS), carried out emergency food and seed distributions through local partners in Kenya and supported ACT Alliance members in providing food, water and other emergency aid in Ethiopia, Somalia and Somali refugee camps in Kenya. CWS is continuing to help drought-affected communities in four areas of Kenya: Mwingi and Kitui districts, Eastern Province; Kwale District, Coast Province; and Baringo District, Rift Valley Province and is focusing on improving child nutrition and helping rural communities adapt to drier conditions.

In February, CWS launched a project in partnership with Kenya's Ministry of Health to improve the nutritional status of 3,000 children under 3 years old. Through the project, CWS is providing micronutrient supplements to undernourished children less than 3 years of age and nutritional education to their mothers. The micronutrient supplements contain 14 important vitamins and minerals in powder form. Mothers are taught to mix the supplements into semi-solid foods, such as rice or porridge, to serve to their children. Mothers also consume the fortified foods themselves and pass the nutrients to their nursing infants through breast milk.

Previous studies by the World Food Program, CWS and other organizations have shown that micronutrient supplements reduce anemia among young children, decrease malnutrition and contribute to healthy development. CWS staff are observing similar results in Mwingi and Kwale districts. "I have witnessed situations of children, when we started this program in February, they were weighing 6 kilos, and now they are weighing 12 kilos," said Sammy Mutua, emergency coordinator for CWS Africa. What good news!

As part of this project, CWS is training 36 local women to serve as nutritional "extension workers" in their villages. These women will teach other local women about nutrition and organize weekly gatherings to monitor young children's health. CWS is developing educational materials for nutritional extension workers to use with community members who are semiliterate or illiterate. CWS is paying nutritional extension workers a stipend and purchasing 36 scales to use in weighing children. CWS is planning to begin distributing a nutritional food mixture such as Unimix as part of the child nutrition project, according to Mutua. This would include ingredients such as corn flour, soybeans, oil and milk powder.

Since January 2012, CWS has also worked with the Kitui Diocese of the Anglican Church of Kenya to help drought-affected communities build two sand dams in Kitui District. Sand dams are concrete structures that store water in the beds of seasonal streams under a thick layer of sand. Local people will be able to access the water for irrigation or household use throughout the dry season through nearby shallow wells. In addition, CWS and the Kitui Diocese are helping farmers in Kitui District adopt agricultural methods that are better suited for erratic rainfall. Two hundred and fifty local farmers have participated in three-day workshops on improving planting techniques and creating small dams or “catchments" to store rainwater on their land. CWS has also provided the farmers with digging tools.

Finally, CWS is beginning a project to help two villages in Mwingi District and one village in Baringo District to build greenhouses. The greenhouses will allow these communities to grow tomatoes and other vegetable crops throughout the year. Each village will build two greenhouses with support from CWS. As part of the project, villagers have agreed to save a portion of the proceeds from their greenhouse gardens in a community fund to meet future emergency needs in their villages. Each greenhouse will benefit approximately 90 households.

Thank you for supporting these life-changing programs through your gifts to Week of Compassion. In the face of even one of the harshest drought and famines on earth, we Disciples are making a difference. Glory be to God for your courageous compassion and generosity.

Click here to donate now to Week of Compassion.