By Navyn Salem
This year my husband and our four daughters spent time looking out the window of planes, cars, trains, and rickshaws—learning life lessons that can’t be taught in a classroom. We wanted to be together as a family, banded together, ready to conquer the world. For seven months we meandered throughout South America, Antarctica, Australia, Asia, and Africa.
I was eager to show my family the continent of Africa, the last stop on our adventure, and where I trace my ancestral roots on my father’s side. It’s a place where I spend much of my time working for the organization I founded that makes lifesaving food for malnourished children. I had to find the words to explain to my girls why, in this world we live in, much of the care-taking responsibilities fall on women and girls. They are the farmers, the cooks, the water collectors, and the glue that holds families, and societies, together.
We stumbled upon a village on the border of Angola and Namibia that brought this lesson to life. The women here are mothers, laborers, providers, fighters, and survivors who do everything in their power to provide for their little ones. The weight of the world rests on their shoulders.
In this remote part of Angola, men were not part of a traditional family. It’s quite common for the men to come through a village with their herds, sleep with the women and then, the following day, move on, never knowing that a child was the result of their actions.
Later that evening around dinner time, we watched in awe as these women turned into a network of sisters, mothers, grandmothers, daughters, all working together to prepare the meal, care for the children, and collect the firewood and water they needed to live. They laughed, they sang, they danced, they gathered, all the while working side by side to achieve a common goal of survival as equals.
On this World Food Day, I think about the possibility of another food crisis looming as the next El Niño weather pattern threatens widespread drought and flooding across much of southern and eastern Africa. I am thinking about the threat of malnutrition for millions more children. I worry about those most vulnerable—the women and their children. What safety nets are out there to catch them if they falter, if the rains don’t deliver, if they cannot feed their family?
Over the last nine years, I have chosen to focus on one part of the problem—that of malnutrition. The first 1,000 days of life from conception to a child’s second birthday are the most critical time to intervene. Better nutrition can have a life-changing impact on a child’s future and help begin the rise out of poverty. It is my hope that our factory in Providence can do our part to support women through food and nutrition and churn out enough lifesaving food to help make their daily struggle just a little bit easier.
Women are the backbone of this world. My daughters and I saw this clearly in our travels. We witnessed how African women—carrying heavy loads on their heads, walking miles to market with babies on their backs—would do anything in their power to protect their children’s lives and futures. From our corner of the world, we are doing our best to help them carry that weight.