Empty hands but warm hearts

During the four plane rides (39 hours!) it took to get from California to Malawi, I kept remembering my last visit here in 2007 and why they call this country ‘The warm heart of Africa’. The friendliness and openness of the people is truly disarming in today’s world. There’s almost an innocence in how happy people are to see you. This is one of the few countries in the world where I always feel safe.

And while the beauty of the people and the land is exceptional, so is the poverty. Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world. On the list of least developed countries, Malawi is near the top. Consequently the people here are up against some major challenges. 53% of the children are vitamin A deficient, 73.2% are anemic, almost all are stunted, intestinal parasites (worms) are a serious problem, and child mortality is high.

Reading these statistics doesn’t fully translate though until you see how difficult life is and how little people here have. Fields are still tilled by hand – so far I’ve yet to see one animal pulling a plow. Most people have a few sets of clothes, all worn and tattered. A family might have one or two pots or pans, but tools aside from a machete or a hoe are rare. People walk alongside the roads day and night – having a bicycle here is uncommon for most families. We passed many markets on the way to our first distribution and though there were some fruits and vegetables, dried fish and eggs for sale, more often we saw potatoes, corn or rice. For many poor families, the crops they grow are sold at the market, and then the money is used to buy corn and rice (which is less nutritious but much cheaper and more filling). The families we spoke with confirmed that their regular diet consists of porridge for breakfast and nsima (a hardened corn mush) for lunch and dinner. Children here are living with hidden hunger—eating foods that may fill them up but are almost entirely lacking in the critical vitamins and minerals they need to thrive.

In Milliot village, we immediately saw signs of long-term undernutrition. Brittle and light orange colored hair (signs of vitamin A deficiency) was everywhere, as were runny noses and hacking coughs. Distended tummies (a distinct sign of intestinal parasites) were present as well; and coupled with the fact that most children were not wearing shoes—parasites are often transmitted through the soil – hence the technical name: Soil Transmitted Helminths (STH)—it was a real concern. Fortunately anti-parasitic tablets are part of every one of our vitamin A distributions in Malawi. So not only are we helping to strengthen these children’s immune systems and increase their survival rates, we’re also helping rid their bodies of worms.

Thankfully, it seems many of the mothers here realize how critical our vitamins are and walk or travel for miles to come to the distributions. Shortly after we arrived at the second village we visited today, a huge truck loaded with mothers, babies and toddlers pulled in – they had come from another remote village to make sure the children didn’t miss the vitamin A distribution. I met Linly, a young mother whose daughter Sifati is now three years old. When I asked Linly what she hoped for Sifati, she smiled at me and said, “I just want her to complete her education”.

Finally, in honor of Father’s day, I wanted to note that we’ve also seen a handful of fathers bringing their young children to the distributions. Yesterday I met Symon Saize (honest that was his name!) and his three-year-old daughter, Roselin. Watching Symon look at Roselin with sheer joy in his eyes was enough to touch any dad’s heart!

Check out photos from our trip on the new Tumblr stream!

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posted in Notes from the Field

A war for the future

Recently, I experienced a war being waged in Vietnam. It was not the war I learned about in countless history classes. It is a war on poverty that families are waging every single day. They are fighting to feed their children. They are fighting for their children’s health. They are fighting for their children's future to be better than their own.

Being in Vietnam and experiencing the connection that Vitamin Angels’ work creates was incredible. I saw what an impact reaching these children with something as simple as a vitamin can make on their lives, their parents’ lives, and their community at large. Seeing all of this made a pretty dramatic impression on me in the process.

Today, Vitamin Angels is part of the solution. It is helping to provide a future for children whose options are defined by how much rice their mom can sell, or how many fish their dad can catch. Our contribution is providing vitamin A. We are doing our part to keep these children alive and to help them thrive, which clearly relieved a burden of worry for many of the parents.

Visiting the villages and talking with the women was so inspiring. The "communes" we visited were literally in the middle of nowhere. Long car rides down bumpy dirt roads led to shack households only accessible through little winding pathways. And there, the children who were running around barefoot, were receiving vitamin A. It was truly unbelievable to witness firsthand.

I had the opportunity to interview some of the mothers, to hear their stories and to learn how the vitamins have changed their children's lives. It is like nothing I had ever experienced before in my seventeen years. Almost every mother I have talked to reported having healthier babies; chunky babies that wanted to eat more and got sick less often. It was a miracle, and such a gift to be there.

One woman I spoke with held her severely underweight daughter in her arms, as she told me her story. Thuong, and her two-year-old daughter, Quyns, eat rice and vegetables three times a day, buying milk and sometimes fish if there is extra money. Her family lives on $15 a week when there is work for the husband, and when there isn't they have to borrow money to survive. Quyns used to get sick once or twice a month with a runny nose, fever, and cough. Six months ago she received her first dosage of vitamin A, and during my visit she got her second. Thuong said that even after the first dose she noticed her daughter was more active and had a bigger appetite. I listened to countless stories like this, where the impact of our vitamin A was nearly immediate.

In talking to Thuong I realized even more, how lucky I am. My appreciation for running water, clean water, and other basic necessities which we take for granted, is all the more prevalent. The levels of poverty I’ve seen are hard for me to comprehend. Taking this trip during my gap year before college has put everything into perspective. Having dinner on the table, a bed to sleep in, and knowing I will attend university next year, are securities these children only dream of. I am so blessed. Being in Vietnam and being part of Vitamin Angels work has filled me up in a really big way. When I embarked on my journey, I didn't realize what an effect this work would have on me. But now that I’ve begun, I know that I need more. Seeing the hope on Thuong's face was a life changing sight. Seeing that Vitamin Angels is an instrument of change in these families otherwise predetermined lives, touches me on a very deep level. How can I not continue to support this effort? How can I not choose to fight for these children's futures? This is a war worth fighting for.

 

 

 

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posted in VA Ambassadors | Vitamin Angels | Child health | Maternal health

Multivitamin Distribution in Goleta, CA

Vitamin Angels is reaching 20,834 children and 46,516 mothers in the United States with essential multivitamins. Yesterday, a group of our locally based team volunteered at a multivitamin distribution just miles from our Santa Barbara headquarters. 

On October 11, Vitamin Angels completed its first local multivitamin distribution with the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County at the Goleta Valley Community Center in Goleta, CA.  This local distribution in Goleta is a part of the Foodbank’s Healthy School Pantry Program that benefits families whose children attend the three local elementary schools in the area.  Families are able to come and receive nutritious fruits and vegetables, bread, and other grocery items, learn how to plant and grow their own food, and get information on other programs in the area that assist families in obtaining access to nutritious food options.

Throughout the afternoon distribution a steady stream of parents and their children walked through the various stations. They arrived at the Foodbank knowing that they would be able to pick up food that day, but were also excited to find that they could receive bottles of prenatal and children’s multivitamins. For me, these parents and children are the faces of our community here in Santa Barbara County that we don’t always get to interact with. It was something very special to be able to look into the eyes of a mother, talk and laugh with her child or admire her baby, knowing that I was helping these families get access to vitamins that would impact the growth and development of their children in a positive way and have even more far reaching positive impacts on their future.

As one of the newer staff here in the Vitamin Angels office, I have yet to have the chance to go out into the field to observe international distributions of vitamin A or multivitamins. However, being involved with this local distribution, I felt just as privileged to participate as if I were going on one of our trips out into the field. As I spoke with the families, I was left with the 

impression that since these children and mothers are part of my local community, our paths may cross again. It was an exciting thought knowing that I may interact again with some of our recipients! This knowledge made the interaction with the moms, children and babies all the more special. I am pleased to have given back directly to my community in a tangible way and it makes my work here at Vitamin Angels all the more meaningful. The faces of the smiling moms and children and their gratitude for receiving vitamins inspires me to continue doing good work knowing that what I do on a daily basis in our office, though at times may feel somewhat detached from what happens in reaching out to our recipients, lays the groundwork for distributions that take place in the US and all around the world. It was an honor to be able to work in my community and serve local families who will benefit greatly from the vitamins they received. 

Thank you to ProCaps Labs and Vitamin World for their generous donations of multivitamins that were distributed at this event.

Photos (C) Emily Torrens/Vitamin Angels US12

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posted in children's multivitamins

Vitamin A and Vision

350,000 lives are impaired by blindness as a result of vitamin A deficiency (VAD) each year. In fact, the World Health Organization notes, “Vitamin A deficiency is one of the most important causes of preventable childhood blindness and is a major contributor to morbidity and mortality from infections, especially in children.”

At Vitamin Angels we know that vitamin A supplementation is an incredibly effective preventative intervention. For children from 6 months to five years old, just one dose of vitamin A twice a year can reduce the risk of early signs of blindness caused by vitamin A deficiency by 68%[1] and mortality rates from all causes by 24%.

This week we're celebrating World Sight Day and the approximately 25 million children around with world we're reaching with vitamin A. 

Help us save lives and vision. Donate today!

And click here to for banners to share on Facebook and Twitter

saving vision saving lives vitamin angels on world sight day 2012

world sight day 2012 vitamin angels help him see a brighter future

[1] Vitamin A supplementation can reduce the risk of xerophthalmia and night blindness which are precursors to blindness caused by vitamin A deficiency.

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posted in Vitamin Angels | Vitamin A

Photo Update: Honduras

We received the below update from one of our long-time field partners in Honduras, Cristo Salva. Through our most recent grant we supplied over 8,100 children with daily multivitamins and more than 10,000 pregnant or breastfeeding mothers with prenatal multivitamins.

"The first two pictures are of Gerson age 2 (he turned two last December).  While living in Honduras, the local hospital asked us if we could take care of a little boy requiring surgery.  His mom had abandoned him at birth and his grandmother who was caring for him was hit by a car and killed. Gerson's dad worked in the fields quite a distance from home and family was unable to care for Gerson. So he came to live with us.

Gerson was born without a rectum and was waiting for surgery but he was nutritionally not a surgical candidate. We first started with the parasite meds, and poor little Gerson produced many large round worms from his swollen belly. We began vitamins and nutritional food (he came to us with Pepsi in a baby bottle).

No more soda, only nutritional foods and snacks! He slowly put on weight and became a very social little guy. He did well with two surgeries and is now back living with his Aunts and Dad. Thank you Vitamin Angels, without your support this little guy had a poor shot at a good life. He is now a thriving child.

The next picture is of children in the area that are receiving the vitamins. The children in the kinder feeding program are starting to thrive. They actually lost a child to malnutrition last year before we started supplying these little guys with vitamins.

Alegria is a small village up in the mountains that we found.  They had never been dewormed or had vitamins. This little girl is one that we found, age 3. We were able to leave vitamins with the family and deworm the village (one man had parasites coming through his skin). We are hopeful that a return visit will find the children thriving and healthy.

Thank you as always for your long standing support of our ministry. We may be tiny, but with the help of folks like you we all make a difference in a child's life.”

All photos provided courtesy of Cristo Salva.

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posted in Honduras

A First Birthday Gift: Building a Global Village

The below blog was written by Vitamin Angels’ supporter and mom, Lydia Chen Shah.  When we saw donations being made in honor of her son, Ryley’s first birthday, we wanted to learn more about these generous gifts. Read on to learn more.

Our Village

As a kid, I never liked taking my vitamins. Regardless, my mom diligently made sure I ate my daily vitamin. Little did I know the impact those chalky-tasting, orange, red, and purple chewables were making on my health, or how the lesson of proper nutrition would influence my own actions as a mom.

When it came time to start my own family, I started taking prenatal vitamins as soon as I found out I was pregnant.  I educated myself about all of the special nutritional needs my body and baby needed during that important time. I ate right and took my vitamins hoping it would be enough to ensure my baby would be born healthy and strong. My diligence paid off - my son, Ryley was born healthy, weighing 7 pounds.

From the day we left the hospital with our baby boy, Ryley, our pediatrician instructed us to give him vitamins, starting with an over-the-counter infant supplement. We wanted to do the right thing to raise a strong and healthy boy. So, of course, we bought the vitamin without incident and gave him daily doses. The cost was reasonable and taking vitamins became part of his evening routine.

When our son hit 5 months, the doctor wanted him on a different multivitamin, one that is only available as a prescription. When I went to pick up the prescription, I gawked and even complained for a second, but only a second, when I learned his vitamin prescription cost more than $20 per bottle. What stopped me from thinking any more negative thoughts about the cost of my son’s vitamins – I’m happy I can afford to give him vitamins.

I thought about the children and the families that don’t have access to, or the resources for, obtaining vitamins. I thought about Vitamin Angels and the stories VA has shared about its work. Seriously, I had no reason to complain.

I think it’s easy to often take too much for granted when we forget we have everything we need and more. To complain about a prescription vitamin being “expensive,” when our boy is healthy, lively, and has an amazing group of family and friends, is simply unacceptable.

When my husband and I started planning our son’s first birthday party, I recalled that moment at the pharmacy. We talked about how our little guy has more than he needs. Clothes, diapers, food, toys, you name it. As a family and individuals, we have much more than we need and find ourselves particularly fortunate to have a village supporting us and helping raise our son.

As we created the invitation to his celebration, we decided to ask our family and friends to consider donating to Vitamin Angels in lieu of gifts. We didn’t know if people would give but hoped they would. We didn’t ask people to mention our son’s name or us in the donation but soon we started receiving email notifications from Vitamin Angels about donations being made in honor of our son.

Our hearts beamed.

Most of our family and friends ignored the “in lieu of” statement regarding gifts. They showered the baby boy with clothes, books, and toys, but they also gave to Vitamin Angels. In several of the birthday cards were notes inscribed that donations were also made to VA. Our village extended a generosity that truly warmed our hearts.

It’s pretty amazing how one line in a birthday party invitation can make a difference in the lives of others. We are inspired by our village becoming a part of a global village helping ensure children in need around the world are receiving critical vitamins. A little awareness, spurred by a little boy, can go a long way.

  

Photo credit: Brittanee Taylor

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posted in Children’s health | VA Ambassadors | Vitamin Angels | Multivitamins

A Charming Initiative

Vitamin Angels is pleased to welcome back guest blogger Tori Sung. Tori, a high school student from Canada, found out about our cause and was inspired to learn more and get involved. Last summer Tori traveled to Kenya through a youth volunteer program and saw firsthand the effects of undernutrition on some of the populations Vitamin Angels targets. 

For the past year I’ve been working on a fundraising and awareness initiative for Vitamin Angels. I first heard about Vitamin Angels a few years ago, and was eager to get involved with their cause as soon as possible. I have always been interested in global health issues because although health is outlined as a human right in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, it is not treated as one, but instead is seen as a privilege in most areas of the world. I think this is a huge injustice as health has a direct impact on, and is the foundation for, a person’s ability to learn, to work and to be an active member within their community.

vitamin angels charm sketch by tori sungI was inspired by a local Toronto children’s hospital where a simple beaded necklace had gained immense popularity and recognition. I decided to make a jewelry item for Vitamin Angels After A LOT of consideration, surveys and trials, I decided it would be much better to create a charm that would maximize versatility - it would appeal to a wide range of ages and could be worn on a variety of bracelets and necklaces.

I started by sketching ideas for the charm. I knew I wanted the distinctive logo to have prominence in order to make the connection with Vitamin Angels clear. After a lot of research and consideration I created the initial sketches for the charm!

Vitamin Angels charm - tori sung

Alexandra Watson Mendis and Uli Dehez from Pure Brilliance, a local Toronto jewelry designer and manufacturer, were responsible for the production of the charms. They’re a private jewelry company that creates custom fun and high-end jewelry that “incorporate both high-and lower-end components with style, wit and flawless technique”. They were amazing to work with, teaching and supporting me throughout the charm creation process. The charm was produced using the lost wax casting process.

Stay tuned for more on this exciting project!

Below is a collage demonstrating the various ways that the charm can be worn which was included in the promotional e-mail message.

vitamin angels charm by tori sung

I launched a pilot project in Toronto to test the charm’s appeal in my own personal network. The pilot charms have been produced in sterling silver and are packaged in a blue organza jewelry bag with a small card, providing information about Vitamin Angels. So far the charms have been a hit! People of all ages have shown interest and are very intrigued by Vitamin Angels’ fun logo. It has been amazing to see how people have embraced this initiative and worn their charms daily, while learning about the work Vitamin Angels does, and spreading the word.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” – Winston Churchill

Tori Sung

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posted in VA Ambassadors | Vitamin Angels

Nutritional advice for expecting moms

Danielle Omar, R.D., is a blogger for Life…supplemented’s blog, the Supplemental. Based in Washington, D.C., Danielle  has over 10 years of experience as a trusted and reliable nutrition expert and has been quoted in local and national media outlets such as The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Food Network. 

One of the most common questions I get from women and especially newly pregnant women is about nutrient needs. Expectant moms want to know what they should eat to get everything they need to support a healthy pregnancy. This is great, but it’s important to remember that a healthy pregnancy begins months before conception! This is the time to start preparing your body for a healthy, successful pregnancy and there are many nutrients that help. For starters, along with maintaining a healthy weight, woman of child-bearing age, and especially expectant moms, should be sure to get the recommended 400 micrograms of folic acid every day to reduce the risk of neural tube defects (NTDs). Start before pregnancy by consuming foods rich in folate like beans and lentils, broccoli, leafy greens, and fortified breakfast cereals, and if not already taking one, consider a multivitamin with folic acid. Choline is also an essential nutrient, as it works with folic acid to help further reduce NTD risk. Women should aim for 425 mg each day of choline prior to getting pregnant, which can be met by including eggs, pork, salmon, cauliflower, navy beans and almonds in the diet.

Having adequate nutrient stores can be a key factor in getting pregnant, as well as in the outcome of pregnancy, by helping to reduce the risk of birth defects, low birth weight babies, and other complications. For example, DHA, an essential fat, is important for proper brain development and visual acuity. Women require at least 200 milligrams of DHA daily. Iron status is also important during pregnancy, with recommended daily needs more than doubling! It’s a great idea to get your iron status checked prior to conception and again 20 weeks into your pregnancy. Because the body needs extra iron during pregnancy and for several months after, a pregnant woman will absorb more iron from food to compensate for her increased needs. Rich food sources of iron include lean beef, and poultry, beans and lentils, leafy greens, and pumpkin seeds. A prenatal supplement usually provides about 28 milligrams of iron. Iron supplements can sometimes cause constipation, so it’s a good idea to increase your fiber intake (and water, too) to help lessen the effects.

Calcium and vitamin D are also essential before, during, and after pregnancy. Vitamin D supports healthy nervous system and immune system development. Calcium helps to protect against osteoporosis and build baby's bones and teeth. Absorbable sources of calcium and vitamin D include low-fat or nonfat milk, yogurt, cheese, fortified nut and soy milks, leafy dark greens, and canned sardines with bones. A quick way to determine the calcium level in packaged foods is to convert the percent daily value for calcium on the food label to milligrams by adding a zero. For example, a food supplying 30 percent of the daily value provides 300 mg of calcium.

In addition to a balanced diet, a prenatal multivitamin is a great way to ensure your nutrient needs are being met. However, pregnant or not, sometimes it’s hard to remember to take your vitamins! I love the new WannaBeWell mobile application for this reason. This helpful, easy to use app can assist by offering tips, reminders, and inspiration to stay mindful of your nutrient needs while on-the-go. Simply enter what supplements you want to take and when you want to take them, and the app will send you serving and restock reminders. Be sure to share your supplement regimen with your doctor or other healthcare practitioner.

By partnering with Vitamin Angels, the WannaBeWell app is also helping to support women who don’t have access to these vital nutrients. Lack of these important nutrients due to malnutrition, back to back pregnancies, and inadequate health care could mean low birth weight and preterm births, as well as anemia and other complications for mothers. If you are one of the first 13,500 people to download the free mobile app, the Life…supplemented campaign will make a donation to Vitamin Angels and help them to provide these essential nutrients to mothers and children in need.

Danielle Omar

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posted in Multivitamins | Maternal health

Vitamin A for Exerline

Disclaimer – Some of the below images of a young child affected by vitamin A deficiency are graphic and may be disturbing to some audiences. Please view with caution.

Vitamin Angels recently received the below story and photos from our partners AmeriCares and Real Hope for Haiti. While the images of a child affected by vitamin A deficiency are potentially disturbing, we felt it relevant to share them in order to demonstrate the real effect that VAD can have on young children, as well as the dramatic impact vitamin A supplementation can make. Vitamin Angels is reaching almost 50,000 children 6-59 months in Haiti through these partners. While most of the vitamin A we provide is used in universal supplementation programs to prevent vitamin A deficiency, our partners do see cases of severe vitamin A deficiency and use vitamin A supplements to treat such conditions. 

"Exerline was referred to our clinic by another NGO that knew we cared for malnourished children. She was 18-months-old and weighed 14 pounds on January 31, 2012. She and her family live in a mountain village called Tibwa and they traveled about 4 hours to get to our clinic. Exerline is one of six children and her parents have difficulty feeding the whole family. She was swollen with kwashiorkor (a form of malnutrition that occurs when there is not enough protein in the diet) in her feet and stomach, yet her ribs were clearly showing and her arms very small. She was in the third degree of malnutrition which is the worst. This lack of food had taken a toll on her body. She was deficient in many vitamins, but especially vitamin A. On that first day, she could barely open her eyes because the pain was so bad. We immediately started her on vitamin A, other vitamins, plumpy nut (RUTF), and a balanced diet. As she slowly improved her eyes became clearer and she gained weight. It was evident to all that the vitamin A that she received helped restore her vision. We were able to encourage her mother to provide foods high in vitamins to the other children and come to the clinic with the other children for vitamin A supplements.  We were excited for Exerline’s sight to be restored and also for the teaching example that this medical case gave us show others the wonderful benefits of Vitamin Angels vitamin A capsules."

All images courtesy of Real Hope for Haiti.

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posted in Children’s health | Haiti | malnutrition | operation 2020 | Operation 20/20 | Vitamin Angels | Vitamin A

Photo update: Malawi

Vitamin Angels is working with CitiHope International in Malawi to reach 12,000 children with vitamin A and an additional 6,711 mothers with prenatal vitamins. These pictures of the vitamins reaching the clinics for distribution and some of the mothers who received them just came in.

beneficiaries citihope international malawi

citihope international malawi

citihope international malawi

citihope international malawi

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posted in Vitamin A | Multivitamins | Child health | Maternal health

Help and hope in Guatemala

The below post is excerpted from a letter written by a physician who recently volunteered with our partners at Faith in Practice in Guatemala in the remote village of Victorias El Salto, Retalhuleu. Vitamin Angels is partnering with Faith in Practice to reach 11,000 children, and over 10,000 mothers with prenatal vitamins.

women clinic faith in practice“There are lots of skinny dogs, pigs that run amongst the village dwellings and as always, there are plenty of children who love to have their photos taken. We use a school which has been on recess for the clinics. The old wooden chairs are piled in a corner under a 1/2 inch of dust and are covered with bird guano. Everyone pitches in and prepares their room with a Clorox scrub before we can begin.  It requires flexibility and teamwork to be seeing patients within 1/2 hour of arrival!  We have a triage team, adult medicine, pediatric clinic as well as ENT (ear, nose and throat), ophthalmology and a cardiologist. The logistics team distributes water, and works on making sure all the equipment like ultrasound machines end up in the correct room.  I think it is amazing to pull off such an effort so efficiently.

I worked in pediatric clinic and saw so many kids today. Simple public health measures we take for granted like access to vitamins, basic medical care, dental cleanings, clean water,  and clean indoor cooking (instead of wood stove inside the house) would decrease the malnutrition from parasites and reduce chronic coughs. This village doesn’t have running water, sewage or electricity and providing for the children is very difficult.

My most memorable patient was a 30-year-old woman with 5 children and a baby.  The children all had rotting teeth, parasites and coughs.  The moment this young mother walked through the doors of our clinic, a look of relief and hope spread across her face.  She knew that she could count on Faith In Practice volunteers to help her and her children. In addition to the examination of each child, medication to alleviate their coughs and multivitamins were provided for each child.  3 of the small children (ages 2 to 5) were given Albendazole and vitamin A.  Even the mother left with a supply of prenatal vitamins.  This was one of the many families who came to the clinic that day filled with hope and left fulfilled by the help provided by Faith In Practice. “

All photos courtesy of Faith in Practice.

faith in practice mom vitamins

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posted in Vitamin A | Multivitamins | Child health | Maternal health

The Things We Carry With Us

Notes from the Field: Kenya 2012
June 28, 2012

This blog was written by Sarah Gasca, the Web Marketing Manager for Vitamin Angels. She is joining VA’s President, Howard Schiffer on an observational trip to Kenya to meet some of the mothers receiving multivitamins through our Thrive to Five program.

Kenya is captivating. The drive from the airport in Nairobi to Eldoret gave me an opportunity to breathe in the rich landscape of the country. Every shade of green was present, from the lime colored corn stalks (maize is a food staple here) to the deep, lush leaves of the acacia trees that are iconic to Africa. It's no surprise that Kenya has a number of runners competing in the upcoming Olympics. What a beautiful place to train and let your body run freely.

Upon arriving in Eldoret, our partners at Global Network showed us around the Moi University Hospital. The facility and everyone who works here are quite impressive. A love for people and their country drives them to working incredibly hard to bring health and hope to the people they serve.

Our hosts took us first to the Turbo Health Facility west of Eldoret. The facility provides antiretroviral drugs, education, and other support to HIV positive patients. Recently, Global Network began providing expecting and new mothers who are HIV positive with our prenatal vitamins. Mother after mother told us about how the vitamins were making them stronger and more energetic. One woman, Ann, took out a piece of dry soil from her purse. This was her first time to the clinic. She's been eating a lot of soil during her pregnancy, a sign of her body’s dire craving for nutrients and minerals. She told us she had more in her purse - her sustenance for the day. Wow. I felt my mouth (with my heart) drop a little. Imagine an expecting mother you know packing pieces of soil in her bag to get her through the day. Today, she was given prenatal multivitamins which will carry her through her pregnancy and while she's breastfeeding. I felt so relieved and could sense the same feeling from her as she laughed and pulled more soil out of her bag. The other women in the group who had been eating soil before they started taking vitamins no longer crave it. They are feeling good and have strong, healthy appetites.

Our next stop was the Webuye Health Facility, where we received a joyous welcome. New and expecting moms singing and dancing to say welcome. I admit that at first I felt a little shy and out of place as they danced around us. But that kind of outright joy is contagious. We joined in and tried our best to mirror some version of 'head, shoulders, knees and toes.'

As before, woman after woman stood up to thank us and tell us how the vitamins have made them stronger and more focused, and to ask us to please continue sending vitamins. These women are not able to afford the vitamins that are locally available at the market. Their gratefulness was so blatantly apparent. Dora, a school teacher and fourth time mom, recited her thanks in poem. Emily who weighed just 42 kilos (about 92 pounds) when she came to facility, now weighs 87 kilos (about 191 pounds), is healthy, and has a beautiful, healthy, HIV-negative baby. Emily named her baby girl Hope because of the hope she has given her. The name seems completely fitting. Emily hopes to return to college and complete her education now that she is healthy.

We ended the day visiting the village of Kocholya. The dirt roads we traveled and mud huts where these families live, like the acacia trees I’ve seen everywhere, solidified the feeling of being in a country vastly different than my own. (I grew up in a classic southern California suburb, where houses are made from stucco and lawns are landscaped with grass.)  As we arrived, people from the village gathered around to welcome us, the group growing by the second. All of the mothers told us how the vitamins have made them stronger. I was so grateful and in awe of the health workers and the Global Network team. Though the hospital and clinics are located far from these small villages, the Global Network team has built communication networks and organized leaders in the villages that are able to reach the expecting moms with nutrients that are transforming their pregnancies and the lives of their babies. All of these women have or will give birth at home, with little or no medical care, but they each laughed cheerfully when telling us how the vitamins have helped them. They are not craving soil and now have voracious appetites and can't seem to get enough food, all signs of a healthy pregnancy.

After jumping around and playing with the children, we were forced to rush off to avoid the downpour of rain. The dark and ominous clouds just made the Kenyan landscape even more stunning. Perhaps mirroring the beautiful spirit of the mothers I met today - ferocious and joyous at the same time.
 

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posted in Africa | Kenya | prenatals | Thrive to Five | Vitamin Angels | Multivitamins | Maternal health | Notes from the Field

Impacting lives at home

We are pleased to share the below message of thanks from Jack Miller at the Regional Foodbank of Oklahoma. Vitamin Angels has provided the organization with enough children’s multivitamins for 1,784 children a year and prenatal multivitamins for 1,678 women annually.

“The Regional Food Bank will be able to distribute pre and postnatal multivitamins to its network of more than 450 partner agencies in central and western Oklahoma. This pallet of product, more than 3,400 bottles of daily multivitamins, will nourish 1,678 women for a year throughout our 53 county service area! Vitamins are not something we normally get donated. These prenatal vitamins will be especially helpful for expectant mothers and lactating women who might not be getting the nutrients they need from their diet.

We hear the stories every day of the lives that are impacted by your gifts. You may never see their faces or hear their voices, but I can assure you, your donations make all the difference!

Thank you for responding to the need. Your continued support enables us to fulfill our mission and continue the work of “Fighting Hunger…Feeding Hope.” ™”

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posted in Thrive to Five | Vitamin Angels | Multivitamins | Child health | Maternal health

Welcoming a new angel

We are pleased to welcome Carla Maxwell Ray to the Vitamin Angels family as the new Director of Strategic Partnerships and External Relations. Carla recently spent a week in Santa Barbara with the VA team. Below she shares a bit about her experience. 

I am on my way to the Santa Barbara airport after my first full week with Vitamin Angels. It’s been incredible. This is among the top career moves I have ever made. I feel so fortunate to join an organization that is focused on health and wellness; it’s the ultimate way to prevent illness and disease. I couldn’t have picked a better time to join this cause; 2012 marks the 100th anniversary of the coining of the word “vitamins”!

Vitamin Angels has so much to offer. Most compelling to me is our focus on helping the most vulnerable and hard to reach children across the globe survive and thrive. Second, with my MBA focused on finance and marketing, Vitamin Angels’ ROI is very appealing: just 25 cents per child per year to impact health and survival rates of children in need is hard to beat. Third, Vitamin Angels has a 4-star rating (top tier) from Charity Navigator, America’s premier charity evaluator. Fourth, VA’s president and founder, Howard Schiffer, and the staff at Vitamin Angels, are competent, effective, entrepreneurial, warm and fun. Lastly (for now), my job is all I could wish for, it will allow me to use my most enjoyable skills of board management, building corporate partnerships, and creating a development infrastructure for sustainable fiscal growth. 

In my new role, I look forward to connecting with Vitamin Angels’ existing supporters and working to strengthen our partnerships and promotions. I’m also planning to expand our reach to new corporate partners outside of the natural products and dietary supplements industries. I’m excited to grow the cause marketing model that has already been so successful for VA and to continue expanding our outreach to more "regular folk" who are active in social networking and online media. Our Boards are an exceptional resource. Together we will increase significantly the revenue Vitamin Angels receives and that will enable us to serve even more children in need across the globe and at home. 

My first visit to Santa Barbara as part of the VA team included several highlights that compliment my personal and professional quest for healthy living: bonding lunch with Howard, strategic breakfasts with Rob, and one on ones with the development team. Of course the team kept me busy after hours too; I did yoga with Maureen, enjoyed “First Thursday” downtown with some of the VA team, and enjoyed a vegan dinner at the Schiffer’s. Thanks to Howard, Rob, Jeff, Clayton, Maureen, Brittany, Natalie, Jessamyn, Kelsey, Phoebe, Sarah, Kim, Becky, Ada, Amy, Ann, Eva, and Joyce for the comradery. I am grateful and look forward to helping Vitamin Angels prosper.

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posted in Staff

G-8 Summit Highlights Action on Food Security and Nutrition

Last month during the G-8 Summit, saw the creation of a $3 billion initiative, the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition that calls on world leaders, African nations and the private sector “to ignite sustainable and scalable initiatives to reduce hunger and malnutrition around the world. The New Alliance commits G8 countries to lift 50 million people out of poverty in the next decade.” In addition to a variety of other measures meant to mobilize the private sector, promote innovation, and reduce risk and ensure accountability, the initiative will place particular emphasis on improving nutritional outcomes and reducing stunting via the following efforts:

Read the Summit Fact Sheet >>

Read a Summit recap by Thousanddays.org >>

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posted in Child health | Maternal health

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