What If…?

HSK_What If Blog

A Home-Grown Solution – As told by “Uncle” Norman

Continue reading

Can’t Someone Else Do It?

Cant someone else do it

A social compact story – as told by “Uncle” Norman

Mzwakhe Mbuli, also known as: “The People’s Poet, Tall Man, Mbulism, The Voice of Reason” – is a popular South African poet and mbaqanga singer. In 2007, The People’s Poet released a song titled: Abanabani. Some of us are of the view that this song title could have been written with a question mark… but I suspect if questioned, Mzwakhe would invoke the poetic license clause. Rightfully so, though – as the art of presenting socially conscious conundrums through poetic song writing is his thing…you know mos.

Abanabani simply states that – they (the children) don’t have anyone/they are alone…. or Abanabani kanjani asks – how can they (the children) be without anyone/be alone? In this canticle Mzwakhe asks – and in fact, so should weAbanabani kanjani isizwe sisekhona? The fundamental question being posed is – How can the children have no-one, when there are still so many of us around? How can the children have no-one to account or care for them, when we are all still present?

This interrogation is equally and poignantly relayed by another poetic musician and Human Rights activist, Tracy Chapman, who in her song titled Why? Asks: “Why do the babies starve, when there’s enough food to feed the world? Why when there’re so many of us, are there people still alone?”

To broadly answer these questions, it would be most prudent for us to acknowledge that the confounding global problems of injustice, economic disparity, human hardship, and suffering – to name just a few – are central to people or children being abandoned and/or neglected. Added to these confounding problems is also the fact that under these extreme social conditions, broken food systems generally manifest themselves. In turn, we have come to learn that broken food systems hamper access to nutritious food. Sadly, even the increases in global food production have not resulted in better quality diets for children. This is because:

  • Agricultural production focuses more on major cereal crops than on more nutritious food such as pulses, fruits, and vegetables.
  • Nutrient-dense foods are in limited supply, inaccessible or unaffordable.

It is also recorded that child hunger is compounded by economic and gender inequalities – considering that globally women and girls are disproportionately affected by hunger, as about 60 percent of people who recorded to go hungry are female. Added to this gender disparity, is the reality that economically, children from poor and rural backgrounds suffer the most from hunger, including that the prevalence of stunting is twice as high among rural children as among urban children.

It is unfathomable that so many children continue to suffer both silently and blatantly in our presence. That these are the daily lived experiences of many children, even as we continue to advocate for children’s rights and wellbeing. Believing that together we can create a kinder and a better world for every child.

Lamentably, at times, we still find ourselves looking to governments, some non-governmental organisations and/or public health/child-care practitioners to “own the space”, as it is understood that it is their duty and/or calling to care for those children who have nothing and/or no one. It is high time we all accept that this awry standpoint – of can’t someone else, do it? – is highly problematic and socially undesirable.

It can therefore be argued that it is never too late for us re-examine our cognitive dissonance basis for system justification, that is so prevalent in our society. In essence this means that, even though there exists a novel, fundamental system justification motive that drives social behaviours, that it is clearly still in our power – and in our interest – to choose to create a kinder and a better world for every child – without having to delegate the responsibility of child well-being to those who are labelled as being duty-bound to care for them. This is only possible if we agree to acknowledge that, we often opt not to “rattle the cage” – because of our need for order and stability, and thus the resistance to change or alternatives, and consequently seeing the status quo as either good, legitimate, and even desirable.

So, if we all admit that it is neither good, legitimate nor desirable, for us to find ourselves saying abanabani, we can surely find a way to Save the Children and by the same token, save ourselves.

So, as part of our social compact, we should always be asking ourselves with absolute disbelief: abanabani kanjani sesikhona?

It is not my problem

It is not my problem

Over 1 million children die every year in South Africa with malnutrition being the underlying cause. These child deaths are happening here and now…

Continue reading

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.

Are you kidding me?

A Therapeutic Story – as told by “Uncle” Norman

François-Marie Arouet, known by his nom de plume Voltaire, a French Enlightenment writer, historian, and philosopher, is credited with the following audacious quote: “The art of medicine consists of amusing the patient while nature cures the disease”. Don’t laugh… out loud.

Look, according to Barbara Crăciun, in her peer reviewed Theoretical Paper titled “Humour as a Defence Mechanism and Working Instrument of the Cognitive Behavioural Therapy” humour is accompanied by laughter, and its ending produces a discharge of endorphins with immune-stimulating, calming, sedative and euphoric effects. Please note that Barbara Crăciun is NOT, by no stretch of the imagination, the first nor the last “professional” to draw attention to the medicinal powers of laughter. We could have easily chosen to draw attention to the enduring work of Tannie (pronounced as ˈtæni) Evita Bezuidenhout, who is still regarded as the most famous white woman in South Africa, but we feared that some of our readers would fail to see the humour in that. 

Now back to the serious stuff. In view of laughter’s general health enhancing properties and its purported relief of minor symptoms, are we wrong in assuming that laughter could be classified as complementary medicine by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAPHRA)

If so, would it be considered an abuse of regulatory authority if SAPHRA were to compel those of who distribute and/or sell laughter, to register this unregulated complementary medicine accordingly. 

Register? How?

If this were to EVER happen, as stranger things have befallen us before (i.e. remember the travel regulation stemming from an “allegedly” (as we have no tangible proof) estranged and possibly peeved hypothetical representative member of the general public, which: required that all travellers travelling with minors, under the age of 18, to produce an unabridged birth certificate, and a letter of parental consent if the child is not travelling with both parents, when departing from and arriving in South Africa), then the following conditions would apply for this ludic yet therapeutic complementary medicine:

By virtue of powers vested in SAPHRA by section 14(2) of the Medicines and Related Substance Act, 1965 (Act 101 of 1965), by resolution approved by the Minister of Health, determined that complementary medicines falling in Category D and in the different pharmacological classifications are subjected to registration as per the provisions of the Act. All complementary medicines, as defined, will be permitted continued rights of sale (someone please alert Trevor Noah), provided that:

  • An application is submitted for their registration by the prescribed deadlines of the applicable Call-up notice;
  • They are manufactured, imported, exported, wholesaled or distributed by a holder of a relevant licence contemplated in section 22C(1)(b) of the Medicines Act at the end of the timeframe specified herein;
  • They are specifically compliant with the requirements of section 20 and regulations 10, 11, 12 and 42 as prescribed, and are compliant with any other relevant provisions of the Medicines Act and its regulations; and
  • They are indicated based on LOW RISK (as is the case for laughter), which includes:
  • General health enhancement without any reference to specific diseases;
  • Health maintenance; or
  • Relief of minor symptoms (not related to a disease or disorder).

While we anxiously await that fateful day, laugh as much and as passionately as you can. For, just as Voltaire pointed out, laughter is the best (free) medicine.

It’s That Time of the Year

A Timely Tale – as told by “Uncle” Norman

“Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes. How do you measure, measure a year? In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee, in inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife?”. By all accounts a befitting snippet from Tuks Senganga’s song 525 600 Minutes.

Don’t worry if you are not familiar with the song or even the artist. Fact is, it is admittedly a better selection for the proudly multilingual South African audience, from what would have been the alternative choice: “Otro año ya se ha ido. Cuantas cosas han pasado. Algo hemos aprendido. Y algo hemos olvidado” an equally suitable verse from Marco Antonio Solis’ Navidad sin ti.

It would seem, as they say, that the year 2020 Too is upon us. For many, this is a time to step back and reflect on the year gone by – for those who are not afraid of their past, and a time to march on or lay out a new path into the future – for those who still believe in a better tomorrow. Either way, we have all come to accept that time waits for Norman. (Yes, we already did the spellcheck)

In the event that you find yourself struggling and could do with a little more time to live up to at least one of your new year’s resolutions or a personal life goal, here is a little reprieve for you or an alternative way to go about pursuing your future plans. Remember, “Life is what happens while you are planning other things”. Try something amazing (no not Debonair’s pizza… well, not yet anyway). Try choose a different path or foreign lane to run on. Your own “Get Out of Jail Free” card (obviously it won’t get you out of Estcourt prison).

Here it is: Change when you celebrate your new year.

If that’s confusing, worry not, there are many other people around the world who for legitimate and alternative reasons celebrate the new year on different dates, other than 31st December/1st January.

(Urgent disclaimer: it is not our intention to persuade or ask you to abandon your current way of life or belief system. You are just being invited to be kinder to and more patient with yourself).

If while reading this, you somehow feel the sudden urge and the temptation to object or reject this alternative way of realigning your habits/goals/targets (so as to distress and disconnect yourself from the regular year end/new year social pressures), solely based on divergent identity, cultural or any other differentiators; please note that as a consequence of living in a globalised world, you are probably already guilty of many cultural assimilations.

In fact, rumour has it that some amongst us already partake in more than one new year’s celebrations, look forward to Black Friday sales, celebrate Halloween, take or teach salsa classes, have a black belt in some martial art form. What is more telling, is that some of the superior and celebrated human beings/talented athletes amongst us have and will continue to participate in the summer Olympic Games, (slap bang!) in the middle of the South African winter. How ludicrous. Right?

In the event that you find all this overwhelming, then relax, take a minute (you still have 525 599 to spare) and appreciate the fact that you are blessed with the incredible privilege of choice and have limitless options.

Tackle life one breath at a time – with or without your mask, one step at a time and one day at a time. Just take your time.

Remember you have your (whole) lifetime to live and make choices.

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).


Bless you.

“Move and Play Your Part”

A moving tale – as told by “Uncle” Norman

It goes without saying that the Roman poet, Decimus Junius Juvenalis, meant well and obviously had other preoccupations when he coined the famous phrase “Orandum est ut sit mens sana in corpore sano” – meaning that “you should pray for a healthy mind in a healthy body”. Nonetheless, it would serve our narrative well if you were to interpret this motto in keeping with John Hulley’s distortion thereof: that physical activity/exercise is an important and essential part of mental and psychological well-being.

Young or old, Olympian or not, we should all be enjoying the benefits of physical activity/exercise. Whether you are involved in exercise programmes as a means to an end or an end in itself, is neither here nor there. What matters is that we should all be engaging in some form of structured or intentional physical activity. The chosen/prescribed activities can be performed at a variety of intensity levels, ranging between light, moderate and high/vigorous levels. How hard you push yourself really depends on your goals, experience, motivation or fitness level. (Or just listen to your body. It will tell you…immediately or the morning after).

What is known, is that physical activity/exercise creates a self-reinforcing cycle of extraordinary benefits for the wellbeing of those who dare to try it – and even more so for children. Active children’s brains work better, making it easier for them to learn. At the same time, they develop better attitudes about school and the improvements in their psychosocial health creates a better mind-set for learning.

By the way, the research has already been done. When children are given the opportunity to be regularly active in school, behaviour, attention, attendance and academic performance often improve. What’s more is that in the future, these children are more likely to have better income prospects, improved physical and mental health and higher productivity.

So MOVE, and play your part.