A 2-year-old girl weighed just over eight pounds when she was found in a house-to-house screening in Fufore, Nigeria. She was acutely malnourished with complications.
Her mother — whose name was only given as Ramatu — did not know what to do for her daughter Adama: “I was seeing her as a dead child because she was so emaciated and had no strength to eat or play like other children,” said Ramatu.
Luckily, help came just in time. Helen Keller International referred Adama to inpatient care, and paid the bills as she spent five days in the hospital.
Her preliminary complications were treated, and when she was discharged, she weighed 11 pounds. Then she began an outpatient therapeutic program, and continued to grow and thrive.
Meanwhile, Helen Keller team members taught Ramatu how to prepare nutritious food for her daughter with locally sourced protein and grains. “I am grateful to Helen Keller and your donors for saving my child,” said Ramatu.
In 2021, funding from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints helped Helen Keller workers to train 36 community health workers in Adamawa, Nigeria, to conduct routine screenings and monitor children for signs of malnutrition.
Besides Adama, another 27 children were found to be severely malnourished with complications. All of them subsequently received life-medical intervention.
The organization’s country director for Nigeria, Philomena Orji, told the Church News the project in Nigeria targets children under five, and adolescent girls — some of whom are young mothers. The project this year has expanded to reach people in host communities for internally displaced persons who are often forgotten.
Orji said the community health workers go door to door but also teach mothers how to identify proper growth through measurements. A tape measure for example placed around a child’s upper arm has markings in red, yellow and green. If a child’s measurement is in the red, they know that child needs intervention.
And what they learned from Adama’s story is that there was another need for Ramatu — she needed to be supported to stay with her daughter and care for her properly. Orji said in the second year of the project, they will make more allowances for these situations.
“We were so inspired by how greatly she improved by getting the right care,” said Orji. “Even when we don’t provide direct services, we link them to other organizations that are providing services as well.”
Orji also shared the story of a woman named Hauwa Abubakar, who is around 25 years old. She was displaced eight years ago, and lives in a host community with her two children in northern Nigeria.
Helen Keller workers trained Abubakar about homestead gardening and growing her own crops in containers around her home. She became successful, and moved to a bigger place with more land.
Now she grows a variety of vegetables and has an excess and sells those for income. And she teaches other women how to grow food in everything from plastic bowls to old tires to other containers.
“Those stories show us that our work really does have impact, and it motivates us to work with more people,” said Orji.
Orji said adolescent women have formed support groups where they teach and train and uplift each other. For example, one group has learned how to make fans and hats to sell.
These approaches help vulnerable families with tools and education, promote nutrition and health, and strengthen each household’s economic situation, said Orji.
Helen Keller Intl’s projects in Nigeria, with funding from the Church, are not the organization’s only work.
Corporate and foundation relations manager, Erin Sawaya, explained that the global organization was co-founded by Helen Keller herself in 1915. Keller lost her sight and hearing as a child and overcame that with support from teachers and others. Later in her life, she became an activist for people with disabilities and women and people of color. That’s the model the organization is based on today.
“We try to help people overcome long standing cycles of poverty by giving them the building blocks of good health, sound nutrition and clear vision,” said Sawaya.
Sawaya said the Church supports Helen Keller Intl in Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Niger and Sierra Leone. The Church also supports Helen Keller’s vision work with refugees and others in the U.S.
“The goal is to help everyone live up to their true potential,” she said.