Answering the Call

By Navyn Salem, Founder and CEO

In the early fall, the minister of health from Sierra Leone called me at Edesia to let me know that soon, the entire country would stock out of Plumpy’Nut. A stock-out means mothers walking for miles in flip-flops to clinics with their malnourished children on their backs, and having to turn back for home with their sick children no better, only worse. I realized that perhaps, understandably, funds had been redirected to larger emergencies, but I couldn’t help but think, even if there was just one malnourished child in the clinic, doesn’t that child deserve attention? Even if there’s just one? When we know there are thousands elsewhere? And then I sat and wondered: What if that one child was mine?

A month later I was in a hospital in Freetown armed with a few boxes of Plumpy’Nut. I found this little one all alone in the clinic ward. He wasn’t mine, but still, I was overwhelmed with the feeling of responsibility and the desire to make sure he would be okay. Like many of the children I’ve met who are wasting away from severe acute malnutrition, his breathing was shallow. He didn’t move or open his eyes. Too weak. I covered him up with a blanket because it was too much for anyone to see.

The supply chain of Plumpy’Nut from factory to the field is critical in saving lives. Mothers shouldn’t have to walk in extreme heat for hours, miles, with babies on their backs, only to get turned away at the clinics. We are always worried if there’s going to be enough Plumpy’Nut in stock when mothers arrive. I could tell you stories for hours of what happens to the containers of Plumpy’Nut that leave Port Elizabeth in New Jersey and end up on perilous journeys with challenges at every turn. There are almost always delays during the long rainy season because of impassable roads and washed-away bridges. And all year long truckers are armed to protect their precious cargo in war zones.

The week I was in Sierra Leone was no different. Andrew, our head of logistics, who grew up in Sierra Leone before he fled the civil war, personally spent three days at the port to clear our containers of Plumpy’Nut. His persistence and persuasiveness meant that we were able to restock 85 clinics throughout the country. You should have seen the sight when we filled smaller trucks and cars with the lifesaving cargo. And off they went to make the deliveries to the clinics so that no mother was let down after making the long trek to seek hope and nourishment for her little one. And with 900 cartons of Plumpy’Nut in that emergency shipment, in the coming weeks, over 900 little ones in Sierra Leone won’t go without.