The Gift My Father Gave Me

By Navyn Salem

During these winter months when the sun sets too early and the mercury dips into the single digits, the holidays keep me busy and delightfully distracted. I look forward to a Thanksgiving feast with all the cousins gathered around a noisy, rambunctious table or time in my kitchen baking cookies with my four bright, kind, thoughtfully curious and sometimes sassy daughters. When I think about all of us laughing because we’re covered in flour and chocolate, two things cross my mind: 1) I hope to never forget these small moments in time. 2) Every day is a gift.

“To those to whom much is given, much is expected.” Luke 12:48

I am one of the luckiest people on the planet and I suppose that’s why I live by these words. The importance of giving back was a gift my father gave me. He was a Tanzanian immigrant who came to America because of a USAID scholarship. It was because of him that I started Edesia, a nonprofit factory that makes lifesaving food to help treat and prevent malnutrition for the world’s most vulnerable children.

I chose the name Edesia because it represents a powerful she, the Roman goddess of banquets and plenty, who as a she symbolically provides the gift of food like so many women do around the world. I could relate to her each time I set food down on my own kitchen table. And now I’ve made it my life’s work to make sure that nutritious food is the fundamental right of all of the world’s children.

Each year, Edesia makes millions of silver and red “miracle” packets of a fortified peanut butter called Plumpy’Nut (invented in France) that revives severely malnourished children in about seven weeks. Plumpy’Nut is based on the formulation of F-100 milk and complies with the World Health Organization’s definition of Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF). We ship to countries all over the world like Ethiopia, Syria, and Sierra Leone. Humanitarian organizations make sure the packets get into the hands of the children who need it most.

When I first began this work there were five million children needlessly dying of malnutrition each year. That number has dropped to about three million, a troubling stat but incredibly encouraging too because it means there is a downward trend. Since Edesia opened, our little factory with big dreams has made enough food to either treat or prevent malnutrition for almost four million children. With many millions more still yet to be reached abroad and right here at home in the USA, it makes me think of what Mother Teresa once said, “If you cannot feed a hundred, then feed just one.”

So as I make my to do lists, string the twinkle lights, plan holiday meals and festive family gatherings, I always take a moment to pause, reflect and remember that l have the power to give the gift of life, even if it is to someone I may never meet. In fact, we all hold that power. And when we make a decision to take action there is no better feeling in the whole wide world.

This blog post was first posted on Alex and Ani’s blog for #GivingTuesday 2015.

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