Skip to content

The holidays are here, and many are looking forward to seeing their loved ones and counting their blessings. The Foliou family is no exception.  

As Abdoulaye stoops down behind his son, he holds a fist full of orange-fleshed sweet potatoes in the garden that now provides him and his family with the food they need. While he faces the camera, his son Barnebas is preoccupied with the vegetables his father is holding. The young boy carefully examines the straggly roots and the varied shapes of the sweet potatoes as he gently rests his tiny hand on his father, a moment Abdoulaye thought may never have come.  

“He was sick all the time. There was a moment when things seemed to have improved but soon after, he refused to eat and fell ill again.” 

Abdoulaye, Barnebas’ father

When Barnebas was born in August 2019 at the Niabouri Health Center in Burkina Faso, he weighed less than five pounds. His parents, Foliou Abdoulaye and Dahourou Ruth, remember that day vividly. “He did not have a break with his illnesses,” his father, Abdoulaye, told us. “He was sick all the time. There was a moment when things seemed to have improved but soon after, he refused to eat and fell ill again. This time, health workers told us he was malnourished.” 

A Worldwide Challenge 

Unfortunately, malnutrition is all too common, especially among poorer countries where access to nutritious foods can be challenging. It is the single greatest threat to child survival today, accounting for 45% of child deaths worldwide. Further, malnutrition can cause irreversible damage to a child’s brain affecting their ability to succeed in school or life, perpetuating a cycle of poverty and ill-health. The COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated this issue in places where livelihoods are already fragile – causing an up to 50% rise in severe malnutrition. 

But there is hope. Malnutrition is preventable and treatable. Micronutrients like vitamin A, folate, iron, and zinc are essential to helping a child overcome malnutrition and setting them on the path to good health. Helen Keller Intl supports the reduction of malnutrition by strengthening health services and training health workers to counsel families on optimal nutrition. 

Barnebas learning about nutritious foods
A Helen Keller staff member works with Barnebas to help him eat orange-fleshed sweet potatoes in January 2021, ensuring a nutrient-rich diet.

Filling A Need 

When Barnebas was seen by Helen Keller staff earlier this year, his parents received this support and guidance to prevent him from experiencing severe acute malnutrition. However, it wasn’t until a month later when the community-based health workers in Samon – a rural town in Burkina Faso – led discussions with the village that Ruth realized she and her husband had not acted quickly enough. “I was too scared and realized the negligence and the mistakes I had made,” she told us.  

“I set myself a goal. Overcome my child’s malnutrition and be a model husband in the village.”

However, while Ruth may have felt the weight of her delay, Abdoulaye was also receiving training about the role that husbands should play in their children’s upbringing and the support they can provide for their wives. “I set myself a goal,” says Abdoulaye. “Overcome my child’s malnutrition and be a model husband in the village.” 

Barnebas and his mother, Ruth August 21
Ruth and her son Barnebas stand in a garden in August 2021. Today, Barnebas is free from malnutrition.

Abdoulaye and his wife Ruth decided to devote more time to their son – being mindful of his nutrition and ensuring good hygiene. “When I undertook these actions, the women of the village called me names,” says Ruth. “They said that I [had adopted] city behaviors and that I will ‘rot’ my son too much. I ignored all this because it was the health of my child that worried me.” 

A Family Decides to Make a Change for the Better 

Ruth and Abdoulaye took things into their own hands – ensuring Barnebas ate a nutrient-rich diet, filled with vegetables they grow, like orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, and maintaining good hygiene practices to prevent further disease or illness. As a result, Barnebas is thriving. 

Barnebas and his father in their OFSP garden harvested for a special meal for Barnebas, april 21
Abdoulaye holds orange-fleshed sweet potatoes with his son Barnebas in their garden. Barnebas gained more than 6 pounds in less than two months after his parents made changes to his nutrition.

When the family visited the health center for a recent check-up, they found that Barnebas now weighed over 17 pounds – now closer to the 28 pounds that an average two-year-old weighs. He gained more than 6 pounds in less than two months after his parents made changes to his nutrition and we expect that his weight will continue to improve and increase with these changes in place.  

Today, Barnebas is free from malnutrition and his parents are celebrating their blessings. “I cannot measure the joy that drives me,” Ruth told us. “My son is very happy.”

Barnebas learning about nutritious foods

Situations like that of the Foliou family are not unique. Our global community of supporters is already making a difference, but there’s so much more to be done. Please join us! 

Thank you to the Helmsley Charitable Trust that supports this project.