Friday, October 15, 2010

Mercy Ships Food for Life Program Celebrates World Food Day

World Food Day, celebrated on October 16th, is a worldwide event designed to increase awareness, understanding and informed year-round action to alleviate hunger. The Mercy Ships Food for Life program is also focusing on alleviating hunger by improving nutrition in some of the poorest countries in West Africa.

The Mercy Ships Food for Life program partnered with the internationally recognized non-government organization, Bethesda, to train farmers in Benin, West Africa, in organic farming methods in efforts to reduce hunger and malnutrition. Representatives from other non-governmental organizations in other West African countries have also been trained so that they can take the knowledge to the farmers in their countries, thus creating a regional network of like-minded agriculturalists. More efficient farming methods and the selection of nutritious plants – including the moringa tree – will greatly improve health in West African communities.

The moringa tree, which is native to West Africa, is sometimes called the “miracle tree.” Thousands of years ago in India, the special qualities of the moringa tree were discovered and put to use. It may grow as much as 20 feet in one year! The leaves, seeds and flowers are edible and nutritious, and they can be used in a variety of forms, including a wonderful tea. The leaf powder has seven times the vitamin C found in oranges, four times the vitamin A in carrots, three times the iron in spinach, four times the calcium of milk, and three times the potassium of bananas. The powdered leaves – loaded with vitamins, minerals and protein – make a wonderful food supplement. Nursing mothers in Africa use it to increase milk production. In short, it is possible to survive by eating only from the moringa tree.

Research on different crops is conducted at the Mercy Ships International Operations Center in Texas. The climate there is similar to West Africa, thus providing a suitable environment to “test” crops. However, because the moringa tree can only be grown during the summer months, not enough powder could be produced to supply the needs onboard the ship. The additional supply, therefore, comes from the Centre for Ecological Development in Togo, West Africa. This is one of three private organizations partnering with the Mercy Ships Food for Life training program.

The Mercy Ships Food for Life program has been growing moringa trees for the past six or seven years and promoting its use in West African communities. Nutritionist Kelly Dahl and Agriculture Program Administrator Ken Winebark have been working together to use the health-giving moringa powder in the infant Feeding Program, and they have seen remarkable results. One infant from Liberia could not nurse properly due to a cleft lip and palate. As a result, he weighed only 6.7 pounds at 4 ½ months. His skin hung loosely over his tiny body. He and his mother were admitted to the hospital ward on the Africa Mercy. Since he was not strong enough for surgery, he became the first child to be given the moringa powder in the Infant Feeding Program. The highly nutritious moringa diet combined with loving care from volunteer nurses nurtured him to a healthy 10.5 pounds in just 3 weeks. This allowed him to have a successful surgery onboard the hospital ship to correct his cleft lip and palate…and to give him a normal life.

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