Back when I was an elementary school student, I stumbled upon an article about a family in Somalia. The family had journeyed across a desert for 15 days to reach an aid camp, enduring the relentless heat and uncooperative terrain, only to be turned away because the camp was overfilled.
This family wasn’t the only family to be rejected –30,000 children in total perished during the 2011 Somalia famine within a 3-month period. 30,000 children! When I thought about it, that was more than the entire population of my hometown of Milton, MA.
The article stuck with me, and I mentioned it to my mother. In response, she offered me a parallel and personal story from when her parents lived in British India. When the Indian subcontinent separated into three different countries in 1947, both of my grandparents lost their homes when they were small children. My grandfather migrated 300 miles away to a refugee camp with his family, while my grandmother migrated 600 miles away to a different refugee camp with hers.
Both of my grandparents had difficult experiences at these camps. My grandmother recalls waiting in line for hours to get a drink and only receiving about ¼ of a cup of milk. The lack of protein, calcium and calories stunted her growth. In a similar vein, my grandfather temporarily lost his eyesight due to nutritional deficiencies. Thankfully, an aid worker gave him Vitamin A pills that restored most of his vision. Decades later, my grandparents moved to the US and had three kids, including my mother. In a way, I exist because people treated my grandparents kindly long ago.
My mother’s anecdote has resonated with me all my life. The story came back to me recently at a UNICEF convention in Washington D.C., where I learned of a fortified peanut paste called RUTF, or Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food. Apparently, a single packet of this paste contains more nutrients than in 3 cups of milk, 1 orange and 1 ½ carrots combined. When I heard of its powers, I immediately wished that my grandparents had had access to it all those years ago, when they could have benefited from its existence.
My goal now is to raise awareness about these packets, so that others around the world don’t have to suffer the same problems that my grandparents did. For example, there is an area in Nigeria where 1 in 5 at-risk malnourished children may die. The packet changes this statistic to 1 in 100.
One mother in Sierra Leone called this treatment “magic.” When her 1-year old daughter, Naomi, was sick and on the verge of dying, a UNICEF worker gave her the packet. The mother later stated, “I was so surprised about the improvement in her look after she started eating those packets. I used to wonder what magic was in the treatment that made her recover so soon."
I wanted to be part of this transformation, so I donated part of my savings to this effort. Furthermore, I created a Crowdrise page where all donations go directly to UNICEF USA who buys 80% of the world supply of this “magic peanut paste” to give to the most vulnerable children.
I have a simple request: If you have benefitted from the kindness of strangers, I ask that you consider being the kind stranger in the lives of vulnerable children. If 25 people donate $40 each, we can raise $1000 and save the lives of 25 children using this nutritional treatment. Transforming peril into hope - it’d be hard to top this for the best kind of magic trick.