This post is my contribution to the international Blog Action Day taking place on the 16th of October. The theme for this year is ‘inequality’. Follow all the action at #blogactionday
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When Shanti told me that her first four children had all passed away when they were between 6 – 12 months old, I was stunned. What do you even say to that? How can you possibly continue the conversation from that point on?
At that moment it was like I was having this surreal ‘out-of-body’ experience. I was looking down on this young dumbstruck Australian, staring back blankly at a woman whose life had known the kind of hardship and struggles that he could never possibly begin to imagine, let alone relate to.
Moments like this make me feel way out of my depth and completely inadequate in what I have to offer to women like Shanti and their communities here in Nepal. But I was about to be reminded that this wasn’t about me.
Like most of the women in her village, Shanti was married young. Really young. In fact she was just 16 years of age (what were you doing when you were sixteen?). Her village – a cluster of mud brick homes thrown across the side of a hill that fell steeply down to a rushing blue glacial river below – is located in Jumla, 3300m above sea level in Nepal’s remote Western Himalayan region. And life there is tough.
Shanti was 19 years old when her first daughter was born, and 19 years old still when she lost her 6 months later. She then lost her next child, the one after that, and the one after that…
And now sitting in her lap is Dakshina, whose name means “Gift from the gods”. Her eighth child in total and the youngest of the four that remain, Shanti told me that when Dakshina was two years old, she was classified as ‘severely malnourished’, weighing in at less than 6 kilograms (a healthy weight for that age is between 10 – 12 kilograms).
Thankfully for Shanti and precious Dakshina, I was meeting them at a feeding program run by World Vision Australia, part of their Maternal and Child Health project in the area.
The feeding program takes children from the community who weigh less than 5 kilograms at 6 months of age, and refers them to their 15 day intensive feeding program run at a local female health volunteer’s house. Mothers and their children gather daily for a nutritious meal of either ‘local porridge’ (a specially formulated mix of local grains, lentils and vegetables), ‘super flour’ (equal parts of wheat, corn and soya) or eggs. At the same time they are taught how to prepare similar food at their own homes, and taught the importance of good hygiene and sanitation practices.
On the morning that I met them, the women were spread out across the balcony of the health volunteer’s house. Each was cradling their baby or toddler in their laps, who all gulped quickly and greedily from the bowls in front of them, each one hopefully putting on the weight they so desperately need to gain.
As Dakshina spooned another mouthful of daal and leafy spinach towards her mouth, I asked Shanti how it was that she was able to continue after the grief of losing her first four children.
“I might have lost my first four children but I still need to care for her (looking down at Dakshina). I gave birth to her and I love her. It’s my duty as her mother.”
Today Dakshina still has a long way to go. She is now three and a half years old and still weighs only 8 kilograms. But under the watchful eyes of the local female health volunteer, she is steadily putting on weight and the future looks a lot brighter.
And as for me, as I walked away from that village having met Shanti, I realised that it didn’t matter how different we were or how totally inadequate my life’s experiences were in their ability to measure up to those of her own. I knew I had done my job.
I had written her story and now I’m sharing it with you.
Together, we can be inspired by Shanti’s strength and lead to give generously out of what we’ve been so abundantly blessed with, to organisations like World Vision who enable such incredible stories of hope and change.
- Sponsor a child like Dakshina through World Vision and see an entire community flourish as a result.
- Honour Shanti’s story of strength by sharing it with your friends using the share buttons below.