Our truck journey across Kenya reached its end on day six. The day we saw a little girl brought back to life.
Three months ago on 4 July, a small baby who was closer to being dead than alive was brought into this very same remote health clinic.
Her name was Umi, and she was three months old. She had been suffering from diarrhoea and malnutrition since she was a few days old and her terrified mother didn’t even think she would survive.
In a photograph taken that day in the hospital our team escorted them to, we can see Umi’s fragile human features threatening to give way as her withered skin shrunk around her tiny bones. The look on her mother’s face is one of fear and uncertainty.
Three months later, the baby we saw in that photograph is gone, but she is not dead.
Umi is no longer an iconic image of hunger and drought; she is now a healthy, plump, and smiling six-month-old baby girl.
Umi survived, but thousands like her still face starvation
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We found Umi and her mother Halima at their home as our nutrition team was setting up a site to treat the village’s malnourished children.
Halima greeted us with a shy nod and a coy smile – giggling even, when we asked her how her daughter was doing.
“She’s grown so strong that I am even thinking of sending her out to do chores soon,” she said slyly, and then burst out laughing girlishly as our translator Omar explained to us that this was a small joke – a wry example of Somali wit.
It wasn’t hard to see why she felt like laughing and joking.
She laid Umi down on the mat inside their small dome hut, and the baby girl immediately started kicking her legs, waving her arms in the air, and cooing with pleasure at the small bit of freedom that any six-month-old baby enjoys.
“You know well that my daughter was so sick that day that she was almost dying,” says Halima, “so you can only imagine how unhappy and how sad I was as a mother.
“But today I have a healthy daughter and I’m so happy. You cannot even compare the joy I feel today to the sadness I felt three months ago – it is just not comparable.”
When we stepped out of the low opening of the hut and out into the dry morning air, the hot light of the sun flashed into our faces.
My vision turned white for a moment while my eyes adjusted to the sudden flash. Halima walked past me carrying Umi down a sandy path on her way to our team’s makeshift treatment centre.
It’s a small room constructed of stick walls with corrugated aluminium sheets laid across the top for a ceiling. Here, Umi’s was weighed and measured according to our nutrition team’s routine of updating her progress.
Then Hassan opened a box – one of the boxes that we have been following since it left the UK nearly a month ago – and pulled out a foil pack of thick and nourishing high-nutrient peanut paste.
The box from the UK is opened
He cut off a corner, squeezed a dollop out onto Halima’s finger, and Halima put her finger to Umi’s mouth.
Umi’s eyes opened wide as she gobbled down the sweet food behind her toothless gums. A tangible calm came over her as, over the course of the next half hour, she steadily swallowed the entire contents of the package.
Come back to life
Day after day for six weeks since she had been discharged from the hospital, this therapeutic food has been helping her gain weight, stay nourished, and come back to life.
Our team filled a bag with enough rations for another week as Halima sat holding and feeding her baby – a quiet joy passing between her and her daughter.
This was the moment we had travelled all the way across the country to witness, and this was the reason the food had travelled all the way across the world to be here.