BLOG: Erin O’Connor visits India with Save the Children

Having made the decision to support Save the Children, model Erin O'Connor traveled to Delhi to see the reality behind their No Child Born to Die campaign. Read her blog here...

Having made the decision to support Save the Children, I knew it was essential to try and comprehend the reality behind their ‘No Child Born to Die’ campaign. Earlier this year they revealed that almost half a billion children are at risk of chronic malnutrition over the next fifteen years. That is why I decided to go to Delhi.

India shoulders one of the heaviest burdens of malnutrition, with almost half of children in the country left physically and mentally stunted from not eating the right foods when growing up. The only way I could truly observe this was to go there and have direct communication with some of the many families who were suffering.

I arrived with a huge sense of anticipation. I’d previously travelled to India as a tourist, but my first day in the urban slums of the capital proved to me that this was not the India I knew.

The reality of this was driven home to me when I met Beena a grandmother in Delhi. She was so welcoming and at once trusting of a person she had never met. I was aware that in my company she was still giving despite having nothing left to give. She shared her home, a single room, with her son, daughter and two beautiful grand daughters. It is no bigger than 6 ft by 4 ft.

This family have no choice concerning their situation. They are an example of many families forced to leave their rural homes to migrate to the city because they are unable to sustain living off their land or to secure regular work. Despite her best efforts, she talked of her shame in ending up in even worse conditions she and her family fought hard to flee from. Work for her son and daughter in law, she told me, is inconsistent but they leave early every morning in desperate search.

The children are left in her care and she worries that she is so weak with hunger that she is unable to look after them safely. If the working day is successful, the family can expect to eat one meal a day consisting of rice and pulses – not enough to provide any child with the nutrients they need to stave off malnutrition. Not enough to stop the potential of these children being permanently stunted from their unfortunate beginning.

The youngest girl in that family, Mahina, aged 15 months, has never eaten a vegetable. My eye was instantly drawn to her stomach which looked painfully swollen. Her fragile digestive system, I was told, was working hard to break down the only food accessible to her. She was exhausted from hunger and yet sometimes too lethargic to eat. She still smiled broadly, distracted by the bubbles I had brought along…….

Grand mother’s salvation comes once a week when she takes her granddaughters to Save the Children’s mobile health unit. It is not only a vital resource of medical care and advice, but a place of like minded women coming together as part of a growing community. 

I spoke to Dr Duggal who works there; an impressive, forthright woman. She strongly believes that we can equip these families with an increasing ability to help save their children’s lives by educating them about the resources that are available to them, and where to go to seek help.

But it doesn’t all fall to these families to find a fix to the problem. Today, G8 leaders are gathering in the US to craft a new document saying how some of the richest countries in the world will help stop food insecurity and malnutrition. This presents a huge opportunity for world leaders to tackle hunger and save children’s lives. I have come to the realisation that it is not only incredibly important, but critical, that we do all we can to make sure they think about the realities of the daily struggles that families like the one I met in Delhi are facing when they do put pen to paper.

The Indian government has its part to play too. India has flourishing fields and markets of fresh fruit and vegetables and I’ve now seen for myself that this produce is most certainly not reaching those who need it the most. It’s high time the country had a Food Security Bill that looks at nutrition.

This is a problem about systems. This means it’s a problem that can be solved.

To find out how you can support Save the Children’s hunger campaign, visit savethechildren.org.uk. 

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