One mother’s fight to save her children

Kimani with her twin girls Toma & Fatouma
Kumani, 35, at home with her 10-month old twin daughters Toma and Fatouma in Guera province, Chad. PHOTO: UNICEF/CHAD/2012/ASSELIN

It’s a parent’s worst nightmare – one day you simply run out of food and can no longer feed your children. This was the reality faced by Kumani, a mother who owns a small plot of land in Chad where her family have always grown peanuts, sorghum and beans to feed themselves. Droughts in 2005 and 2010 weakened the resilience of families like Kumani’s, who live along the arid Sahel belt. This culminated in a massive humanitarian crisis in the Sahel last year when drought struck the region once again and 1 million children under 5 were in immediate danger of dying from hunger.

Tragically, Kumani had already suffered the loss of a child when she visited a UNICEF clinic during the height of the crisis. Her two year old son died a year previously from a combination of malnutrition and malaria. “He got headaches, his temperature got very high, then he got diarrhoea and he died. It is difficult, you find your child like this. He was so small. He is dead…he is not there,” she explained to us.

One year later Kumani gave birth to twin girls, Toma and Faltouma. “I was happy, but it was the middle of the drought and I was worried. But I was happy to have my twins. This household is blessed. It’s very lucky to have twins.”

Kumani struggled to feed her children during the drought. “We went hungry, ” Kumani told UNICEF staff in the newly opened clinic when she visited in October 2012. She had walked for three hours on foot with Toma and Faltouma on her back, barely visible under her shawl, to reach the clinic. The 10-month old girls were severely malnourished and at high risk from malaria and diarrhoea. “They would just sleep all the time,” Kumani told us. “They were very thin.”

Luckily Kumani arrived just in time to save her daughters’ lives. The babies gradually gained weight over a number of weeks – Faltouma from 4.6kg to 5.1kg and Toma from 5.2kg to 5.5kg – thanks to their special nutritional food. Soon after starting on the nutrition programme, they even started to crawl.

Fatouma & Toma
Fatouma (right) and her twin sister Toma, 10 months old, are fed at the UNICEF-sponsored clinic. PHOTO: UNICEF/CHAD/2021/ASSELIN

The clinic which saved their lives is one of many funded by voluntary donations to UNICEF and the staff there not only provide emergency nutrition and health care but also promote long-term preventive care. Each week women line the corridors with their babies for weekly check-ups. Mothers like Kimani are informed by UNICEF-trained staff about hygiene, breastfeeding and providing their children with the right nutrients to develop their minds as well as their bodies.

UNICEF also vaccinates children against polio and other lethal diseases and gives them mosquito nets to protect them from malaria, building their resilience to survive an emergency.

“Because we are learning from this drought I have to prepare,” Kumani explains.

UNICEF is working in countries across the Sahel and throughout the world to ensure that families are better prepared for food crises by providing them with the life-saving supplies they need now. Please donate today to help save children’s lives.