Having to see a mother beg for help as her daughter lay dying in front of us is probably one of the hardest things I’ve had to witness.
I had accompanied Minara and her five-month-old baby girl, Sonia, to a hospital in the southern town of Khulna to learn more about what life is like for the poorest people there.
The family came to the hospital to seek medical attention for Sonia who was severely malnourished and had deteriorated rapidly over the last couple of days.
Sonia weighs the same as a newborn baby despite being five months old.
As Minara pleaded with medical staff, we could clearly see Sonia deteriate dramatically before us.
Her crying stopped and her movement slowed until the only way I could tell she was alive was the tiny up-down movement of her chest as she breathed.
Dangerously close to the edge
Sonia’s family live in a slum near the centre of Khulna. Her father collects scraps of vegetables from the town market that he then transports to the slums around his home to sell.
He earns around 27p a day. Their two elder children can’t go to school because they have to supplement their family income by picking wild vegetables that grow on the roadside and in ponds.
It’s a very hard life for them all, made harder by the fact that Minara’s husband is sick and therefore cannot work enough to increase the vegetable selling business and push the family out of this extreme poverty.
Sonia’s family are a chilling demonstration of what happens when there are no structures in place to help and support people to earn a living.
They eat rice and wild vegetables when they can afford it, but usually all they eat is flour mixed with water.
Both Minara and her husband often go without breakfast or dinner in order for their children to have at least two meals a day.
Project 1,000 Days
Save the Children are starting a programme called ‘Project 1,000 Days’ where we’ll be providing households with the resources they need to tackle the economic barriers that stop them from getting a nutritious diet.
We’ll be supporting the livelihoods of the extreme poor in this region so that these families can earn enough to afford nutritious food.
We’ll also provide training for them to learn what foods are most nutritious.
Saved by kindness
Despite being unable to afford the medicines the doctor needed to save Sonia, Minara was able to buy them through donations given by people in the hospital who could see how desperate she was.
It was a relief to see her smiling for the first time that day as she fed Sonia a fortified milk given to acutely malnourished infants.
Through Minara’s love and sheer determination not to give up on her daughter, Sonia lived to fight another day.
When I left the hospital, Sonia was sleeping bundled in an array of brightly coloured blankets.
Her mother, exhausted but relieved, gently rocking her from side to side.
More fights ahead
It was quite a traumatic day for all who witnessed it and Sonia still has many more fights ahead of her as the deficits in diet she has already experienced can cause irreversible damage to growth and mental development.
It’s a consolation for me to know that Save the Children and its partners have identified the family as beneficiaries and will be monitoring the little girl’s progress.
Through ‘Project 1000 Days’ Save the Children will also be working to ensure other little girls like Sonia never get so dangerously close to the brink and support their families to bring themselves out of extreme poverty.
Photo credit: Patricia Kapolyo/Save the Children