A better future for Balki – thanks to you

Ashta holding her daughter Balki, photographed in December 2019

By Rakietou Hassane Mossi

Last year, we asked you to help give children like Balki a life to live. Here’s how you have transformed her life.

When we first met Balki a year ago, in a village in the Maradi region of Niger, she was so weak from malnutrition that she was struggling to walk, despite being 2 years old. You could see that she was very sick and needed to be carried everywhere.

Her mother, Ashta, was holding her as if she was a 6-month-old baby that couldn’t grow. Her skin was on her bones and she was crying in pain. The smallest movement caused Balki to cry out. Her cries would give you shivers and break your heart.

Ashta holds Balki as her arm is measured for malnutrition
Balki’s arm measures red, showing that she was suffering from acute malnutrition. Balki’s story was featured in our Life2Live appeal a year ago.

Ashta recalls it as if it was yesterday:

Last year, Balki was really sick. I took her to the hospital and I was treated as if I was crazy. I thought I was going to lose her. I was so certain she was going to die and I had lost all hope. I was just praying to God for her recovery. I wasn’t sure she was going to make it alive. I really lost hope.

Even in so-called ‘normal’ harvest years, the nutritional status of the majority of people in Niger is poor – due to a combination of factors including shortages of food, lack of money to pay for food, inadequate medical care, inadequate sanitation and hygiene, and one of the highest birth rates, and rates of population growth, in the world.

In the regions of Zinder and Maradi, around 15% of children under the age of 5 suffer from acute malnutrition. Children aged from 6 to 23 months are the most affected by malnutrition. And due to social and cultural norms, the health of children is nearly always the responsibility of the mother alone.

That’s why CARE Niger set up a project in the Zinder and Maradi regions targeting the first 1,000 days of a child’s life. Our approach focuses on communities, in order to give families the practical help they need to keep their children healthy. We train mentor mothers who then share what they have learnt with other parents in their communities. The programme includes providing nutritious food as well as teaching recipes to get more nutrients, such as salt and peanut oil, into meals. The aim is to help improve the health and nutritional status of children during the crucial first 1,000 days of their life.

Ashta and Balki in Niger
Ashta with Balki, photographed in December 2019

Thanks to your support, Ashta was able to start the training with the Mothers of Light group in her village. She says:

She got better thanks to God. The medicine from the hospital helped I suppose. But I’m sure the recipes healed her. Thanks to the 8 recipes I’ve learn through the project Mothers of Light. I would cook it at home. I was so happy when she got better. Her weight is normal now. She still doesn’t walk but she can stand on her two feet. The road to recovery was long but I’m sure we will eventually put all this behind us.

My wish is for her to be able to walk like everyone else. I want Balki to be able to go school, finish her studies and start working in a project like you guys to help others as well.

I would never let any of my children to be malnourished again. I can’t even let my enemy to be malnourished. The project also trained us in income-generating activities and also brought us the VSLA concept. [VSLAs – Village Savings and Loan Associations – are CARE-supported savings groups which empower women to save, invest, and support each other and their community.]

With that, I’ll be able to fight malnutrition at all costs and help others who are struggling with malnutrition.

Thank you for your support for our Life2Live appeal – with your help, Balki’s future is looking much brighter!

Ashta with Balki sitting down (Niger)

Story and pictures by Rakietou Hassane Mossi, CARE Niger Media, Communications and Resource Mobilisation Officer.

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News and stories are provided by CARE staff working to support our emergency responses and long-term development programmes.