This is a significant and unique project that is profoundly impacting the lives of thousands of orphans and vulnerable children suffering from severe malnutrition and stunting in the southern African nation of Lesotho, while simultaneously educating and empowering just as many young people in central Ohio. Formed over 3 years ago by 20 students from Wittenberg University, the Lesotho Nutrition Initiative allows students to use their liberal arts education to partner with area high schools to pack over 700,000 nutritious meals a year. These meals feed 3,000 children on a daily basis at 16 centers across the country.
Lesotho, a small landlocked country entirely surrounded by South Africa, suffered almost equally from the harsh realities of Apartheid for over forty years. As a result of this legacy, Lesotho is one of the thirty poorest countries in the world, with an HIV prevalence rate of 23.9%, and the highest per capita death rate from HIV of any country in the world. According to the UN, in a country of roughly 2.1 million people, the HIV/AIDS pandemic has helped create a situation in which there are 360,000 orphans living in the mountain kingdom. Additionally, due to poor soil and other climatic conditions, Lesotho only produces about 10% of its own food. These two crises combined led to the government’s 2013 proclamation that 550,000 children were facing severe malnutrition. In the mountain district of Mokhotlong, nearly 50% of children suffer from severe malnutrition and stunting. The extremely high incidence of malnutrition and stunting demonstrates the need for nutritional assistance to children in this remote and often neglected corner of Lesotho. While helping the nation surrounded by South Africa was once very much in vogue, after the dismantlement of Apartheid assistance to Lesotho has virtually dried up.
Almost 3 years ago, a small team from Wittenberg University went to Lesotho to study the feasibility of bringing a nutritional supplement to Lesotho. We met with government officials who were eager to see such a product brought to Lesotho. In addition to the support of several key government ministries, this project has been fully endorsed by the King of Lesotho, Letsie III who was recently appointed the head of the African Union’s campaign to tackle malnutrition on the continent. We believe that this eager desire on the part of the government of Lesotho to cooperate with our project is key to its continued success.
During our 2015 meeting with the World Food Program (WFP), we discussed stunting in Lesotho. In fact, many organizations are beginning to see this as the most significant crisis facing Lesotho because of both the short and long-term damage that stunting does to the people and the future of the nation. During our time in Lesotho, we secured partnerships with the WFP and Touching Tiny Lives. Touching Tiny Lives (TTL) is a small NGO operating in Mokhotlong, which provides medical care and food for orphans and vulnerable children. As our supplement reaches Lesotho, WFP will deliver it to Mokhotlong and TTL will oversee the distribution of the food to the orphans facing the greatest need. We have also created partnerships with Springfield Rotary and Bloom Africa to help orphans at the Leratong Community center, the orphanage at Motsekua, as well as children in need in the mountain village of Ramabanta.
Since identifying the intense need in Lesotho for a means to combat malnutrition, we have worked with local organizations to create nutritious and satisfying meals. We use a micronutrient formula developed by the Mathile Institute for the Advancement of Human Nutrition, which is part of the Nutri-Plenty® meal. It contains Mathile M+ Micronutrients™, which have been scientifically proven to alleviate and even reverse the effects of malnutrition in young children through a special combination of 21 different vitamins and minerals. The best part of this supplement is that it is easy to prepare once it has arrived at its destination. Without proper feeding and thereby not meeting their everyday nutritional needs, the future generations of Lesotho will likely not reach their full developmental or cognitive abilities.
During the 2015-2016 school year, a group of 20 students who had previously traveled to Lesotho on a service-learning trip formed the Lesotho Nutrition Initiative, to help turn our vision into reality. Their dedication to the children of Lesotho continues to inspire students. In addition to holding packing events at Wittenberg, we also partner with area schools to host smaller packing events. In the 2018/2019 school year, we will have packed over 800,000 meals at 25 different schools and churches. By the end of this year, LNI will have packed over 1 million meals for Lesotho.
Help us continue to make an impact on malnutrition and stunting in Lesotho by donating today. We thank you in advance for your support and consideration.