Not All Superheroes Wear Capes

A Stupendous Tale – as told by “Uncle” Norman

At the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was not uncommon to hear or read that not all superheroes wear capes – or strut around with their underwear over their spandex tights. However, considering that the phrase – not all superheroes wear capes – has of late been associated with healthcare workers and others who have been risking infection with COVID-19 for the good of others, Joe Grunenwald carried out an extensive investigation on the subject of bizarrely dressed superheroes’ and concluded that it would be most prudent and sagacious of us to rather state that in actual fact, most heroes do not wear capes. I wonder who is going to tell Joe that nobody really likes a smarty-pants?

At this point you are probably wondering why we have not attempted to answer the question of what may pose as a real eyesore: the question of why superheroes wear their underwear on the outside. Well, it’s simply because we at HeadStart Kids are a child centred organisation, and as a result we prefer to stay clear of subjects that are below the belt. But, in case you are using this platform/blog as your open source knowledge base, then by all means please read Robert Frost’s article, which we believe gives a believable account as to what is the rationale for superheroes wearing their underwear on the outside. Oh by the way, Robert Frost is accredited with being an instructor and flight controller at NASA. Sheesh! Is it too much of a coincidence that we find another smarty pants that is obsessed about the dress code of superheroes. Goes to show that The Big Bang Theory TV series might have been on to something.

Hopefully we can now swiftly move away from underwear to personal protective equipment (PPE) – assuming that we have all come to the same conclusion; that most heroes do not wear capes. In that case, it may come as no surprise that these everyday superheroes, aka – no! not that hip-hop fellow in a Versace shirt – essential and frontline workers, would therefore be expected or are known to possess some special powers (and in some cases special nutrient  powders).

For one, they have their own language. Like really! What is MUAC?

Secondly, they are a true force for good, and are revered in the communities they serve – even before the pandemic. It is common knowledge that frontline workers are the essentially the backbone of any effective health systems. In fact, according to Frontline Health Workers Coalition, without frontline health workers, there would be no health services for millions of children and their families in the low- and middle-income communities. This is because, these superheroes are often based in the communities and come from the communities they serve, including that they play a critical role in providing a local context for proven health solutions, and they connect families and communities to the health system. Furthermore, frontline workers are known to be the first and often the only link to health care for millions of people and are capable of providing many life-saving interventions. They also help families, and or children’s custodians in the early childhood development centres, orphan/child-care centres, clinics and many other community-based institutions within which they sometimes identify health-related conditions which require higher levels of care and in such cases provide a link to that referral care. Families rely on these frontline workers as trusted sources of information who have valuable skills in preventing, treating and managing a variety of serious health issues such as iron deficiency in children under two years of age, which can have significant and irreversible effects on brain development and can lead to negative consequences on learning and school performance later in life.

So, albeit that we may find their dress code rather starched, let’s continue to honour and celebrate our cape-less superheroes and their ongoing sacrifices. It is for this reason that we at HeadStart Kids, can boldly say: We are certain that Jeff Silbar and Larry Henley would not contest our claim that they were  thinking of our everyday frontline workers, when they composed the song Wind Beneath My Wings (which for obvious reasons, has been performed by the wide array of artists such as Roger Whittaker, Sheena Easton, Lee Greenwood, Colleen Hewett, Lou Rawls, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Gary Morris etc.).

Come now, sing along with us….

Did you ever know that you’re my hero?

You’re everything I wish I could be

I could fly higher than an eagle

For you are the wind beneath my wings……

A Little Bits™ of Kindness Goes a Long Way

A Buzzing Tale – as told by “Uncle” Norman

There is an African proverb that was brought to the fore by Gyalwa Rinpoche to the Tibetan people (aka the 14th Dalai Lama) which affirms that: “If you think you are too small to make a difference, you haven’t spent a night (in a dark room) with a mosquito.” An affirmation that few can dispute. By few we mean Icelanders, as Iceland is the only country in the world where mosquitoes don’t exist – It’s true.

Fortunately, those of us who share the rest of the habitable world with the infamous mosquito, we can at least rest assured that the culicidae around us don’t suffer from micronutrient deficiencies. That is because blood is full of essential nutrients for mosquitoes, namely iron, proteins, and other amino acids. Mosquitoes can’t get these vital nutrients from any other source, and without a blood-rich diet, the circle of life for mosquitoes would cease entirely.

Therefore, to ensure that we protect the mosquito’s circle of life, it’s only fair that we ensure that all 5 milligrams of blood that the female mosquito appropriates per serving, is of Woolworths quality and standards. On the contrary, male mosquitoes feed only on water and plant nectar – rumour has it that they are vegan.

By the same token, homo sapiens – albeit that they don’t openly consume blood; unless it’s a serving of the legendary rare Japanese Kobe beef, obtain essential micronutrients from their preferred and/or available food sources. These micronutrients are understood to be vital for the healthy development, disease prevention and the general well-being of those of us who have the privilege to consume a variety of nutrient-dense foods. As you may know, nutrient-dense foods are high in nutrients but relatively low in calories and contain essential vitamins, minerals, complex carbohydrates, lean protein, and healthy fats.

Of particular interest to us in this regard, are the little ones – no, not the mosquitoes this time, who during their most critical time periods of development and learning – that is from birth to five years old, do not have access to a variety of nutrient-dense foods. These little one’s diets are often of a substandard quantity and/or quality, which is detrimental to their healthy development, disease prevention and general well-being.

In their research Hurley, Yousafzai, and Lopez-Boo, (2016), highlight that poor nutrition and the lack of early learning opportunities contribute to the loss of developmental potential and life-long health and economic disparities among millions of children aged under 5 years. That vital micronutrient deficiencies are responsible for more than one million of the 3.1 million child deaths that occur as a result of undernourishment. Even more telling, is the financial impact that the resultant stunting has on children that survive under these conditions.

On the perkier side, the clever people – i.e. researchers such as Hurley, et al., also confirm that single-sector interventions representing either early child development (ECD) or nutrition, have been linked to positive child development and/or nutritional status.

For reference purposes – okay maybe a bit of marketing is involved, when you visit HeadStart Kids’ website, you will note that in line with the referenced research recommendations, Headstart Kids provides ECD and nutrition related integrated interventions that are designed to…shall we say, give the precious little ones a “head start” in life. As a humanitarian organisation, Headstart Kids distributes and provides a micronutrient powder, called Nutrilite™ Little Bits™. The micronutrient powder which is gleaned from organic fruit and vegetables and is packaged in 1 -gram sachets of 30 sachets per box, contains 15 essential vitamins and minerals intended to be used as a dietary supplement for children at risk – of micronutrient deficiency. When used correctly and over a stable period, the Nutrilite™ Little Bits™ micronutrient supplement, goes a long way in helping to reduce and prevent micronutrient deficiency, including iron deficiency anaemia. The micronutrient supplements, should be provided to families of malnourished children aged 6 months to 5 years old, in conjunction with established health programs that provide food, education and measurement of children’s health and growth.

As a disclaimer, it is important for us to highlight that, even though the Nutrilite™ Little Bits™ micronutrient supplement, is rich in plant-based essential nutrients, Amway scientists have assured us that, no animal testing takes place during the manufacturing of this micronutrient supplement. So, even though the male mosquito doesn’t or can’t bite humans, unfortunately they don’t get a free meal for their kindness – from the manufacturing sites.

So if there is any lesson to be learnt by and from the male mosquito with respect to these cruelty-free and vegan practices, is that no good deed goes unpunished.

Shame man. A Little Bits™ of kindness from us to the little harmless ones, would really go a long way.

A stitch in time saves nine

A Prophylactic Story – as told by “Uncle” Norman

In their online publication The Changing Faces of Malnutrition UNICEF poses the question: “why are so many children eating too little of what they need, while an increasing number of children are eating too much of what they don’t need?”. This of course should compel us to reflect on how our failure to respond to this question, has led to the triple burden of malnutrition, faced by South African children, of (i) micronutrient deficiencies and the co-existence of (ii) undernutrition and (iii) overnutrition. Sadly, the triple burden of malnutrition can be as a result of, while at the same time also be a contributing factor to the broader socioeconomic triple challenge of (i) poverty, (ii) unemployment and (iii) inequality.

At this point (if you have or form part of a set triples), you are probably thinking that having three of anything, may be a bad omen. Don’t worry, it’s just a coincidence, but surprisingly, there is some correlation between these triple factors.

How is there any correlation and what is it?

While some of us debate with and amongst ourselves, as to whether or not we eat to live, or we live to eat, it is worth acknowledging that there is an alarming number of children – who live in large household sized families, that are multidimensionally and income poor, and within which few adults are gainfully employed, due to the unremitting identity linked social inequalities – whose precarious relationship with food is best articulated in the song Food, Glorious Food, from the 1968 musical Oliver or the 2006 film Ice Age: The Meltdown (it’s a generational thing). These children are more often than not, malnourished, while at the same time suffering from multiple poverty related deprivations (inappropriate waste disposal services and drinking water source in their communities, long distances to the nearest health centres, poor and variable access to early childhood education, and living in shelters with roofs, walls and floors made out of rudimentary and non-permanent materials).

So, what does this have to do with the price of tea in China? Or more candidly, what is the social impact and cumulative cost of malnutrition on the global economy?

Well, according to UNICEF: “malnutrition (undernutrition, overnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies) can cause permanent, widespread damage to a child’s growth, development and well-being. That stunting in the first 1,000 days is associated with poorer performance in school, both because malnutrition affects brain development, and also because malnourished children are more likely to get sick and miss school. While hidden hunger can cause blindness (vitamin A deficiency), impair learning (iodine deficiency) and increase the risk of a mother dying in childbirth (iron deficiency). Lastly, overweight and obesity can lead to serious illnesses like type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

And this disruption to children’s physical and cognitive development stays with them into adulthood, compromising their economic prospects and putting their futures at risk. Collectively, the loss of potential and productivity has huge implications for the broader socio-economic development of societies and nations. It undermines countries’ ability to develop ‘human capital’, or the overall levels of education, training, skills, and health in a population”.

It is often said that “a stitch in time saves nine” to express that it’s better to spend a little time and effort to deal with a problem right away than to wait until later, when it may get worse and take longer to deal with.

So, here is some food for thought. Either we (in our individual capacity or as a collective) find tangible and sustainable solutions, when answering why so many children are eating too little of what they need, while an increasing number of children are eating too much of what they don’t need, or we as a society, will collectively have to pay the price.

It’s Easier Said Than Done.

A sanitised story – as told by “Uncle” Norman.

Lest we forget, there are a whole host of other diseases besides the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) that we should be concerned about. These diseases could either be communicable or non-communicable, genetic or acquired, and even acute or chronic diseases. Some diseases are more common (such as the common cold, also called viral rhinitis, which is one of the most common infectious diseases in humans) while others are rather rare (just how I like my steak). 

No seriously now. 

According to Rare Diseases South Africa, a rare disease is one that affects less than 1 in 2000 people affected, including that there are approximately 7000 different rare diseases described to date. Furthermore, it is understood that rare diseases are often:

  • Life threatening, life limiting or chronically debilitating;
  • Complex, often affecting multiple body systems and requiring specialised and coordinated care that comes at considerable cost to families and the health system;
  • Genetic (80% of rare diseases) and therefore not readily preventable; and
  • Incurable, many with no effective treatment and symptoms often worsen over time.

The one thing that we can all agree upon (another rare phenomenon), is that due to how easily transmittable and how rapidly SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) has spread around the world (certainly beating Phileas Fogg’s fictional record of globe-trotting “Around the World in Eighty Days”), that it is often hard to remember, consider or speak of the other diseases, ailments, prejudices, infections, discomforts, afflictions, pains, etc…that affect us daily. 

It is easier said than done, to convince yourself that the latest signs or symptoms that you may be experiencing, could be as a result of other diseases, without first wondering whether you exposed yourself to the infamous COVID-19. This is still the case, even when you know that you cleaned and sanitised everything, everywhere, every time. You may even start to wonder whether or not you could have exposed yourself to this dreaded disease while you were:

  • Sitting next to someone who may have or may have not coughed in the taxi, bus, plane, mosque, church, synagogue, club, shebeen, classroom, or at work;
  • Out for a Wimpy breakfast or getting on that stationary bike at the gym;
  • Opening a communal door or collecting your municipal bin from outside after the garbage was collected;
  • Hugging and kissing your kids, husband, wife, partner or dog (don’t judge); 
  • Doing your grocery shopping (don’t forget the toilet paper), buying bread or a 400g tin of Lucky Star pilchards in tomato sauce (for former Minister Tito Mboweni) at the local spaza shop or even while buying those non-essential items at your favourite boutique store;
  • Or whatever else you may have been tempted or compelled to do (due to peer-pressure), in your daily quest to stay sane and sanitised (or safe and sound).

Atishoo! 

Bless you.

“Eat or be eaten”

A Squeamish Story – As told by “Uncle” Norman.

“E e mo mpeng e bolokegile”, a Setswana proverb which loosely translates to: “What has been stomached is safe.”

But how safe is it, if your child has parasitic intestinal worms, such as pinworm, hookworm, large roundworm and whipworm?

Well, the obvious answer to that question is – It’s not safe at all.

This is because parasitic intestinal worms are known to feed on their host’s tissues (no, not the Twinsaver 2-Ply tissues in your child’s pockets), including blood, which unfortunately leads to a loss of iron and protein. The worms also reduce the ability of children’s bodies to properly absorb vitamins, such as vitamin A.

Now, in case you did not know, or have not “Googled” it as yet: Vitamin A is needed for a healthy immune system (the body’s ability to fight off diseases), it helps with vision (by allowing you to see in low light conditions), and keeps the skin healthy.

While you may feel squeamish at the mere mention or thought of worms, it is however important to teach children how they can do their bit to make a difference towards the health of our planet, by introducing them to the practice of worm harvesting/farming. This life skill could make them more conscious of the environment and may encourage them to recycle their food scraps. Albeit that worm harvesting/farming is a simple and effective way to reduce waste and enable families/schools to make their own inexpensive fertiliser, it is clear that children should not have to harvest worms in their own bodies. Ag siestog!

So, what must happen?

Well, all children (yes even yours), including adults should be dewormed once every six months.

Go on, ask your doctor… (then thank me later)

The Height of Success

A Success Story – As told by “Uncle” Norman.

“The height of your success is determined by the depth of your belief.” A quote attributed to the American author Hilary Hinton “Zig” Ziglar.

But what if your child’s height-for-age could be used as a determinant of their future success?

Well, in the case of STUNTED  children, child growth failure is often an indicator of risk of developmental delay. Stunted growth (also known as chronic malnutrition) refers to low height-for-age: when a child is short for his/her age but not necessarily thin.

Paediatric psychologist  Dr. Maureen Black (along with other researchers), affirms that nutritional deficiencies along with stress and other adversities during early life can create disparities that disrupt children’s growth and developmental trajectories, compromising their future health, educational attainment, psychosocial well-being, and economic productivity. That stunting before the age of two, has been associated with poor school performance, reduced economic income during adulthood, and both low birth weight and poor cognitive performance in the subsequent generation.

 

The long and short of it is that malnutrition, in all its forms: undernutrition (wasting, stunting, underweight), inadequate vitamins or minerals, overweight, obesity, and resulting diet-related non-communicable diseases, can and should be prevented.

What will be your success story in combating malnutrition?

Waste Management

Waste Not, Want Not – As told by “Uncle” Norman.

By the way, this is not about garbage collection, disposal, recycling, or the treatment thereof. In fact, it’s about the importance of meeting the increased nutrient requirements of children at risk for wasting.

So, what is wasting?

According to United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO): wasting or low weight for height, is a reduction or loss of body weight in relation to height.

In essence, wasting is the result of a child’s weight falling significantly below the weight expected of a child of the same length or height. This usually occurs when a child has not had food of adequate quality and quantity, and/or they have had frequent or prolonged illnesses.

Like most malnutrition-related ailments, wasting eats away at children’s optimal growth and development, including that wasted children, are at a greater risk of dying from common diseases such as diarrhea or pneumonia, than children who are adequately nourished.

In supporting those vulnerable children, who due to varying socio-economic conditions, do not have access to diets that cover their nutrient needs, immediate and urgent steps should be taken to provide them with the necessary supplementary foods.

Such cost-effective interventions would go a long way in curbing, alleviating, and/or eradicating child wasting and the undue harmful effects of malnutrition.

The poet Lucila Godoy Alcayaga, known by her pseudonym Gabriela Mistral, poignantly and pertinently wrote: “We are guilty of many errors and many faults, but our worst crime is abandoning the children, neglecting the foundation of life. Many of the things we need can wait. The child cannot. Right now is the time his bones are being formed, his blood is being made and his senses are being developed. To him, we cannot answer “Tomorrow”. His name is “Today”.” This was in1948, nogal.

In the end, it’s good to know that it’s never too late for any and all of us to take heed to Gabriela Mistral’s call to action: to do our best to give all children a headstart in life.

Waste Not, Want not!

“Magie vol, ogies toe.”

Making Hidden Hunger Be Seen – As told by “Uncle” Norman.

Magie vologies toe” – an old Afrikaans adage roughly translating to “tummy full, eyes shut”. A silent prayer recited by nursing mothers, as their babies fall asleep while feeding, owing to their tummies being sufficiently filled. But sometimes, filling a child’s tummy may not be enough for their optimal growth and development, including that it may be more than just their eyes shutting – but their futures too.

While on the topic of silent prayers and the filled tummies, it may be most opportune to delve into the arena of hidden hunger: one of the three known forms of malnutrition – undernutrition, hidden hunger and overweight.  It is worth noting that any one of the three recognised forms of malnutrition, which are universally referred to as the triple burden of malnutrition, can threaten the survival, growth, well-being and development of children, economies, and societies.

According to the World Health Organisation, hidden hunger is a lack of vitamins and minerals and occurs when the quality of food children eat does not meet their nutrient requirements. This means that the food these children eat is deficient in micronutrients, such as the vitamins and minerals that they need for their growth and development. What is known about the detrimental and often permanent effects of hidden hunger, is that even though its onset may not be initially visible or obvious, it can be foreseen, dealt with, and overcome.

More often than not, there is a great likelihood that the meals received by children from socioeconomically vulnerable environments – irrespective of frequency, servings or portions sizes – may fall short of the daily recommended essential micronutrients needed for optimal growth, health and development. These environments where manifestations of hidden hunger can be foreseen, include but are not limited to the scores of diverse creches/day care/early childhood development centres (registered and/or unregistered), orphanages, child reared homes or other formal and informal settings, settlements or establishments.

It is within these environments and many others, that the relentless manifestations of hidden hunger can be dealt with and with a bit of love, care and respect can over time be overcome.