The State of the World's Children 1998: Focus on Nutrition

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Panel 15

Kiwanis mobilize to end iodine deficiency's deadly toll

Photo: Checking for signs of iodine deficiency, a nurse examines the thyroid gland of a woman at a UNICEF-assisted health centre in Myanmar.

Hundreds of times during the past several years, the Rev erend Bob Wildman, a retired Protes tant pastor, has ambled into Kiwanis International Club meetings all over Illinois and eastern Iowa in the Mid western United States. Usu ally, he is granted only a few min utes to win over some very tough audiences.

Many of the men and women who make up these Kiwanis clubs are business executives and professionals who have supported the organization's service projects helping children and others in need in their own communities. The 73-year-old Rev. Wildman, a veteran Kiwanis leader, is determined to expand their notion of neighbourhood to include the global village.

He has added his preacher's voice to the Kiwanians' first international service project: the campaign to wipe out one of the world's most devastating nutritional problems - iodine deficiency disorders (IDD). Kiwanis leaders have brought to this global effort the fund-raising muscle of their 600,000 members in 83 countries.

An estimated 28 million babies are born each year at risk of mental impairment due to insufficient iodine in their mothers' diets. Hundreds of thousands of children and adults suffer the most debilitating effect of iodine deficiency: a condition known as cretinism.

Rev. Wildman's challenge has been to make club members in his area care about villagers in remote regions of Africa, Asia and Latin America. In many developing countries, lack of iodine has taken a horrendous toll on children - from physical deformities to mental retardation. Iodization of table salt - a method of fortification now taken for granted in industrialized nations and costing less than 5 cents per person per year - can rid the world of this tragedy.

Before he speaks, Rev. Wildman places on the podium a poster-sized copy of a cherished photo of a tiny boy named Abdul Alim - whom he met in a 1994 visit to a village in Bangladesh. Abdul is an eight-year-old in a four-year-old's deformed and malfunctioning body. He is profoundly mentally retarded and deaf and is held by a young man from the village because he cannot walk.

Rev. Wildman describes Abdul's disabilities and the severe hardships his care places on a village economy. The picture of this small child bridges geographical and cultural divides, and soon his audiences are ready to climb on the IDD campaign bandwagon.

When Kiwanis International join-ed the campaign against IDD in 1994, they pledged to raise $75 million by July 1998. Since then, they have become a key part of the campaign, with over $20 million raised or pledged so far for programmes in over 50 countries through Kiwanians' efforts. UNICEF estimates that this contribution has saved around 3 million children from irreversible mental retardation.

Kiwanis leaders like Rev. Wildman have been shrinking the distance between their home towns and places like Abdul Alim's tiny village in Bang ladesh, and the concept of think ing globally while acting locally is taking hold in creative ways around the world.

The Kiwanis Club of Ried im Innkreis in Austria staged a performance of the Chinese Dance and Acrobats Ensemble, for example, raising $9,000 for the IDD campaign. Kiwanians in Atikokan in Ontario (Canada) brought in the Jolly Ukran ians, a folk group, netting the campaign $2,000. Kiwanis Clubs in the Philippines are supporting the campaign in their own country, where iodine deficiency is still a threat, through community education projects and the distribution of iodized salt.

Kiwanians in the Netherlands have pledged to raise $600,000 through the sale of salt pots and a photo essay book. Hong Kong Kiwanians took in $10,000 for the campaign by obtaining sponsorships for completing a rugged 60-mile hike. The Kiwanis Club of Bergerac (France) donated proceeds from a masked ball, while Kiwanians in Christchurch (New Zealand) raised $1,300 with a bowling tournament. The Kiwanis Club of Spanish Town (Jamaica) convinced a local salt factory to iodize salt, sponsored IDD education events and set up an IDD prevention billboard on a major highway.

The 95-member Kiwanis chap ter in Rockford, Illinois, Rev. Wildman's home town, has managed to more than double its original goal of $30,000 through fund-raising efforts large and small. When Kathleen Sullivan was recently installed as the chapter's new president at a dinner banquet, instead of buying expensive flower arrangements for each table, Ms. Sullivan decided on home-made centrepieces anchored with boxes of salt. "The money saved went to the IDD campaign," says Ms. Sullivan, "and when I was making these centrepieces with my daughters, I explained what IDD was doing to children just like them. I like to believe they have a better view of the world because of the campaign."

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