Maryan's Milk Mustache

Three-year-old Maryan drinks milk . Her mother Habiba (left) enrolled her in Save the Children's milk voucher program when she showed signs of malnutrition.  Photo: Susan Warner. February 2013

Three-year-old Maryan drinks milk. Her mother Habiba (right) enrolled her in Save the Children's milk voucher program when she showed signs of malnutrition. Photo: Susan Warner.

Got Milk? A Little Girl Recovers from Malnutrition in Kenya

Three-year-old Maryan is wearing a pretty blue headscarf and a milk mustache.

She is drinking one of the 30 cups of milk that Save the Children provides monthly to each of the nearly 11,000 women and children enrolled in its milk voucher program.

Years of drought in Kenya have taken their toll on Maryan's village, in northeastern Kenya.

In Kenyan villages, many families have cows that they milk every day and their children rely on that milk.

But as water dried up and crops failed, the cows and goats that parents depended on to feed their children perished. Milk became increasingly rare and children began to show signs of hunger and malnutrition.

During the worst days of the drought, 1 in 4 children were malnourished. In response, Save the Children launched a nutrition project to give local dairy farmers a boost by issuing milk vouchers to those who need it the most. The vouchers, coupled with nutritional supplements, were distributed to malnourished pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers and young children under the age of five. The vouchers were traded for milk at the market, which traders and farmers redeemed for money. The cash infusion is slowly rehabilitating the local economy as investments in livestock, supplies and veterinary services increase.

Today Maryan's milk mustache is framed by cheeks that are round and full, but this wasn't always so. When she first enrolled in the program a few months ago she was weaker and thinner than her peers. Her upper arm circumference, one of the measures used to determine nutritional status, had shown her to be moderately undernourished. After three months in the program her weight increased by 10%, putting her closer to a healthy weight to grow and thrive.

"The program has helped my child. She is more playful and happier and even though she is not fat, she is quite strong." says Habiba Osman, Maryan's mother.

Though Maryan remains somewhat slender, "she has shown great progress in terms of her weight gain," says Saadia Ibrahim Musa, the community health worker who first treated Maryan at the local health clinic, where Habiba brought her for a screening in October last year.

Habiba and Maryan see Saadia regularly now, since they walk to the health clinic, where the supplements and vouchers are distributed, twice weekly. There, Habiba also attends nutrition classes with other village mothers. "We discuss the dangers of malnutrition to a child's development, the importance of feeding a child a balanced diet, and the importance of handling food in a safe manner," says Saadia.

"Saadia has taught me a lot of things," says Habina, "I now know to take Maryan to the hospital as soon as I notice something is wrong and how important it is not to share Maryan's [nutritional] supplements with anyone else in the household as this makes her recovery more difficult.

The changes are visible throughout the community. "The children are happier and more playful now. The mothers are happy as their children now get the milk they couldn't afford before the project. The traders involved in the project have increased their incomes and their lives are better. Everyone is happy," says Habiba. "And Maryan loves the milk!"

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