Americans love to eat. There is no time when this is more apparent than during the holidays. But while we’re tucking into our hams, latkes, cakes, pies, and whatever Aunt Bethany wraps up, it is important to remember that many people don’t have this luxury – now, or any other time of year.
Prolonged, limited access to food can lead to serious health conditions.
This is why, for every bottle of SmartyPants you buy, we make a one-for-one matching nutrient grant to Vitamin Angels – a non-profit that helps at-risk populations gain access to vitamins and minerals.
But how much good can a vitamin actually do?
Two SmartyPants employees traveled halfway around the world to find out…
WHERE DO THE GRANTS GO?
Vitamin Angels operates in more than 50 countries and 47 US states, delivering vitamins to over 40 million mothers and children per year. A few times a year, Vitamin Angels takes donors like SmartyPants to visit locations where they distribute vitamins. The purpose of these trips is to show donors how their contributions are helping those in need.
Two SP staffers, Laura Haas and Laura Talley (“Haas” and “Talley” as we affectionately refer to them here at SmartyPants), spent six days in Ethiopia. They visited villagers’ homes and clinics run by Vitamin Angels’ field partner, African Services Committee. At each clinic, they interviewed mothers who had received prenatal vitamins, children’s multivitamins, or a combination of both. Their primary questions were: “What are you taking,” and “what results have you seen?”
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?
In many of the villages, a typical meal consists of a chickpea stew called shiro, and a fermented bread called injera. There is little access to fresh vegetables, dairy, meat, or fish because it is too expensive. Extremely limited diets such as these result in severe nutrient deficiencies for mothers and children.
According to Haas and Talley, every person interviewed was able to state the differences from before and after taking vitamins, and, for the most part, they were the same:
Appetites came back, skin rashes and fungal infections began to clear; hair loss, vomiting, and diarrhea were all greatly reduced.
“I was shocked at the magnitude of change you could actually see,” said Haas. “We thought the vitamins might help over the course of people’s lives, but the changes these women reported were night and day, and, for some, they happened over the course of a week.”
WHO ARE WE HELPING
Many of the moms’ stories were difficult to hear. “Until you’re actually there, in their homes, you cannot imagine the poverty,” said Talley. In order to survive, many work in the sex trade; others interviewed had been abandoned by their husbands due to their HIV-positive status. Often, the people are either too sick, too poor, or both, to provide a wide range of nutrients for themselves and their children. One woman was so desperate, she said that giving her son to an orphanage would be a better alternative to their current situation.
But despite their heartbreaking circumstances, the people were polite and kind. “They welcomed us into their homes, gave us their seats; many offered us coffee,” said Haas. Above all, they were thankful. “They have nothing, they know they have nothing, and yet they are still thanking you,” said Talley.
“Every single person thanks you…Please don’t stop. It’s so imperative.”
The Ethiopian cities embody this kindness and respect. “Churches are next to mosques and no one cares,” said Haas. In the center of the capital city, Addis Ababa, stands a statue of Bob Marley with the motto: “One love.”
HEALTH BRINGS HOPE
“When your body knows it’s starving, you lose your appetite. The people can’t eat, even though they desperately need to,” said Haas. Many women are sick, so they cannot work. Because they can’t work, they can’t feed themselves or their children. Illness, coupled with limited food quality and availability, create a vicious cycle that seems impossible to escape.
But the quick and visible improvements brought by the vitamins given out at the clinics demonstrate that change is possible. “The kids look healthy because they’re eating again, and moms are glowing because they’re finally able to help their children,” said Haas.
SUPPORTING VITAMIN ANGELS
Vitamin Angels works with more than 700 field partners like African Services Committee all over the world, to deliver their vitamins in addition to health and nutrition services most needed by the communities.
The Ethiopian branch of African Services Committee offers everything from educational services on how to take the vitamins and guard against disease, to HIV testing and treatment, reproductive health and family planning services, counseling, and job training. “Many of the villagers have only a third-grade education at best,” said Haas. “African Services Committee is teaching them how to set up a savings account. They’re helping women buy their first sheep – if you can raise sheep, you can make money. They’re showing them that they can better their circumstances.”
“We fell in love with African Services Committee,” was the unanimous sentiment from Haas and Talley. “These people were bright, kind, passionate, and took so much pride in their clinics and programs,” said Haas, noting the incredible efficiency and impeccable level of care that is given to each clinic. “African Services Committee workers know how special it is that they can offer these services, and they honor that. They take good care of their facilities so they can care for the people who desperately need their help.”
It’s thanks to our loyal customers that we’re able to help Vitamin Angels and its partners like African Services Committee get these truly, life changing nutrients to those that need them most. Our goal is to make 10 million grants by 2018, and, with your help, we know we will make this happen.
This holiday season, we’d love for you to help us share the message about the amazing work Vitamin Angels is doing for those in need!
Posted on December 28, 2015