12 October 2023 – World Food Day is observed on 16 October each year to raise awareness and take action against worldwide hunger and malnutrition. In South Africa, millions of children are going to bed hungry and lack access to safe, healthy, consistent, sufficient food. This is leading to alarmingly high rates of malnutrition across the country.

According to Linton Mchunu, the Director-General of the Department of Social Development, an estimated 27.5% of children in South Africa are stunted due to malnutrition. Dr Kath Hall, a senior researcher at the Children’s Institute recently reported that eight million children in the country aren’t getting enough nutrition.

South Africa’s rising food prices and high unemployment rate, which according to Statistics South Africa stands at 32,6%, mean many can’t provide children in their care with a healthy, balanced diet. COVID-19 has led to increased levels of hunger due to the significant number of job losses it caused.

Children who are stunted are more likely to struggle to concentrate and learn in school, to not pursue tertiary education and thus find it hard to access employment, which perpetuates the cycle of generational poverty.  Because of their weaker immune systems, they are at greater risk of illness.

Since 2012, HOPE worldwide South Africa, an NGO providing Early Childhood Development (ECD) programmes, has been delivering free nutritional support to pre-schools and households with children aged zero to six years in rural, urban and peri-urban communities that are home to highly vulnerable families with young children. The organisation delivers wholesome food in areas within seven provinces of South Africa, which include, but aren’t limited to, Diepsloot in Gauteng, Khayelitsha in the Western Cape, Thaba Nchu in the Free State, Umtata and villages in the Eastern Cape among numerous others.

Dr Marc Aguirre, Country Director for HOPE worldwide South Africa, explains that good nutrition is vital for both brain and body development, especially in the early years. “When children don’t get the right nutrition, they can become stunted not only resulting in being short for their age, but it can also have a devastating impact on brain development.”

In working to address South Africa’s high rates of child hunger, in addition to delivering nutritious food to pre-schools, which are also known as ECD centres, and households with young children, HOPE worldwide SA also provides nutritious food to families with young children affected by disasters like floods and shack fires. The nourishing food items reach families who have lost everything and are forced to deal with the burden of worrying about where their next meal is coming from.

Dr Aguirre says a meal to a young, vulnerable child is more than just nutrition, it serves as a beacon of hope and security for parents grappling with food insecurity, alleviating their anxiety. “Importantly, it acts as a protective shield, reducing the risk of abuse and exploitation, particularly for single mothers who may otherwise face desperate circumstances to provide for their children,” he adds.

HOPE worldwide SA is the main partner coordinating crucial relief efforts and responding to food insecurity through the far-reaching KFC Add Hope initiative. Money raised online, in-store by customers donating R2.00 or more and from funds provided by KFC outlets is used by HOPE worldwide SA to buy healthy food like samp, beans, soya mince, pilchards, oil, rice and more at discounted prices from Makro, Cash & Carry and JUMBO stores, which are all part of Massmart. These items are then packaged into food baskets for children and their families. In addition to these food packs, funding from KFC Add Hope is also used to purchase FUTURELIFE® instant porridge, called UNITY meals, which are packed with essential nutrients. During the first five months of 2023, 40 612 children and their families received monthly food parcels through the KFC Add Hope partnership which meant they benefited from a total of 488 506 meals. Tackling childhood hunger has long been close to KFC’s heart and they have declared October as Hunger Month, where they will run a series of engaging activities across provinces in South Africa.

Furthermore, funding from FUTURELIFE®, the Dis-Chem Foundation, Octodec and NIVEA is also used by HOPE worldwide SA to buy additional UNITY meals through the “Feed the Future programme”. These meals are supplied to ECD centres and households as well as those impacted by the devastating effects of disasters. Through this partnership, 10 000 children are reached on a monthly basis. A once-off food parcel donation is provided to victims of shack fires, floods, storms and sometimes unrest due to strikes. Over the six years from 2018 to 2023, disaster relief was supplied to 40 165 children and their families who ate a total of 7 672 168 meals.

Food support is provided to ECD centres and households generally over a period of five to six months and is linked to other ECD interventions. The most food insecure families with young children are monitored to assess the impact of the various nutritional programmes and children are referred for assistance if needed. Providing healthy food to ECD centres enables them to free up money they would have spent on food to improve their infrastructure and buy resources to create a better learning environment. Reineth (34) from Mamelodi, near Pretoria, is a beneficiary of the care and support provided by HOPE worldwide SA and its dedicated donors through the monthly food parcel she receives. “I’m unemployed and support myself and my two young children with the Child Support Grant which is R500 per child per month,” says Reineth. “The food parcels I’ve received have enabled me to use the money I would have spent on food to buy school uniform and clothes for my children.  This makes me very, very happy and takes away some of my stress.”

She is also part of an ECD Parenting Support group run by HOPE worldwide SA. “It has taught me the type of food to give my children, the different stages of childhood, how to treat your child with respect and so much more.”

HOPE worldwide SA wants to assist as many vulnerable children as possible. If you would like to partner to bring hope by changing the lives of vulnerable children, please consider donating to HOPE worldwide South Africa at: https://hopeworldwidesa.org/donate-now/

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