Malnutrition and hidden hunger

Healthy nutrition at kindergarten

In Peru it is children from small farmer families in particular who are undernourished. Valentin overcame an iron deficiency.

(13/10/2014) Four-year-old Valentin runs down the street and laughs about the rucksack bouncing up and down on his back. He is looking forward to kindergarten. For breakfast, his mother made him a fruit salad with almonds, there was an omelette, a glass of milk and iron drops as well. A perfect start to the day.

One year ago, Valentin was tired, quiet and lethargic. “He had anaemia, caused by a chronic iron deficiency”, something his mother now knows. Without his admission into the kindergarten, organised by the Welthungerhilfe partner organisation Puririsun, in a slum in the popular tourist destination Cusco, Lidia Espinoza would still not have known what her son was lacking. "For me, this kindergarten is a gift”, says the 35-year-old housewife. “I had no idea about healthy nutrition and what micronutrients were.” She is not an exception.

Hidden hunger is a big problem in Peru

Across the country, 18 per cent of all boys and girls under the age of five suffer from chronic undernutrition. In the countryside and in the city slums this figure rises to up to 70 per cent. Many more children are affected by micronutrient deficiencies. "Hidden hunger is a huge problem in Peru", says Oscar Cerne from Puririsun. 46 per cent of under-three-year-olds suffer from anaemia. In Peru it is predominantly a question of income. “It is absurd”, says Richard Haep, regional director of Welthungerhilfe in South America, “small farmers in Peru produce 80 per cent of all food, but they are regularly undernourished, poor and excluded.”

Four-year-old Valentin from Peru skips and laughs on his way to kindergarten. Today his mother can give him a balanced diet. An illustration by Julia Zejn.
Valentin skips and laughs again, as his mother can now give him a balanced diet. © juliazejn.de

Life in Peru: a question of income

Peru has long since ceased to be a developing country. But not everyone benefits from economic upturn and multi-million social programmes: almost one quarter of Peruvians still live below the national poverty line, most of them in the highlands. There, the people consume carbohydrates mostly in the form of potatoes and other tubers. Essential proteins, fatty acids and micronutrients such as zinc, iodine, folic acid, vitamin A and iron are lacking. They are also the people with least access to medical provision: “Social programmes like state basic insurance or free health insurance do not impact upon these people”, explains Oscar Cerne. “They don’t even know that they are entitled to such things.”

Therefore, Puririsun and Welthungerhilfe are engaging on all levels: courses in nutrition, cooking and health, cultivation of vegetables, fruit and herbs, small animal husbandry, information about citizen rights, education of health promoters, kindergarten teachers, teachers and medical personnel. “We are working directly with people and focus on personal change processes”, explains Cerne. The focus is on empowerment and Valentin’s family is a good example of this. “At the seminars in the kindergarten, I have learned what my children need”, says Lidia Espinoza proudly. 

Constanze Bandowski is a freelance journalist in Hamburg. You can read her unabridged article in the journal Welternährung 3/2014 (in German only).

Illustration: Julia Zejn

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