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Kenya, March 2015: A child’s call to address malnutrition

© UNICEF Kenya/2015/Ayisi
14 year old Danny Kinaro, President of the National Children's Government, at the Nutrition Symposium in Nairobi, Kenya.

 
By Ruth Ayisi

With confidence and passion, mixed occasionally with humour, Danny Kinaro, the President of the National Children’s Government, delivers his speech in front of Kenya’s Director of Medical Services for the Ministry of Health, Dr Nicholas Muraguri, and the First Lady of the Republic of Kenya, Margaret Kenyatta, as well as principal secretaries, county governors, ambassadors, development partners, the UN, and representatives of NGOs, civil society alliances and the business network.

Danny is speaking at a well-attended National Nutrition Symposium held at the Kenya School of Government in Nairobi on 18 February 2015 to launch a four-year Nutrition Resilience Programme. The €19 million programme is aimed at improving maternal and child nutrition in Kenya, and is funded by the European Union and implemented through UNICEF in partnership with the Government of Kenya.

Although he is the first speaker, Danny is not over-awed by the occasion. It seems as if he has been public speaking for decades, though in fact he is only 14, and was elected the president of the children’s government just one year ago. He later concedes he has never spoken to such a high profile audience in Kenya before.

He captures the attention of his audience immediately with the emphatic delivery of his speech. “What an honour it is to be standing here in front of intellectuals and great minds! Did I say ‘great’? Yes, I did. And the brain as we all know is the partial product of food; and not just food, but food full of nutrients.”

Danny continues, “Have no worries, I am not stunted, but many children in Kenya are,” giving the First Lady, Margaret Kenyatta, direct eye contact. She is listening attentively.

In his speech, he advocates for urgent action to address a situation where 2.8 million children in Kenya under the age of 5 are stunted. He highlights that they will be unable to reach their full physical and cognitive potential due to experiencing untreated chronic malnutrition during the first two years of their lives.

© UNICEF Kenya/2015/Serem
President Danny prepares to give his speech before delegates at the National Nutrition Symposium.

Danny also identifies another type of malnutrition creeping up in Kenya – obesity – which he notes is too often overlooked when thinking about malnutrition. “It (obesity) is a ticket to an unenjoyable youth.”

He says, “Parents focus on what their children love and forget what is crucial and essentially vital to their health. The foodstuffs children adore are simply greasy and cholesterol-packed junk.”

He concludes with an appeal to the government to ensure that all children have their nutritional rights met. “Leaders of this land of prosperity, Kenya, we look up to you to help achieve this. And as someone said, ‘You are what you eat so do it right’.” There is a rapturous applause.

There is no doubt that Danny feels strongly about nutrition. In an interview before his speech, Danny remembers how one of his friends in school from a wealthy home was verging on obesity. “He had real problems in participating in some of our activities.”

However, Danny says that some of the children he met in Kibera, one of Africa’s largest urban slums in the suburbs of the capital, Nairobi, still haunt him. Danny was living in Kibera until last year, and every Sunday used to attend the Nairobi Chapel in Kibera.

He recounts how some of the children used to stay behind to be fed, most of whom he could see were extremely poor and looked hungry and sickly. He explained some were orphans and others he suspected were HIV positive.

“They were so skinny. I was surprised I didn’t cry; my tears were so near.” He pauses for a moment and then adds, “Sometimes we take for granted what we have.”

In Kenya, an estimated 190,000 children aged 0-14 are living with HIV and over 1 million children are orphaned by AIDS (UNAIDS, 2013), which is another challenge in the fight against malnutrition along with extreme poverty.

Although Kenya has enjoyed significant economic growth over the past 20 years, this growth has not had an impact on the nation’s high levels of poverty and malnutrition. Kenya ranks sixth among the top 10 nations in sub-Saharan Africa with huge populations living in extreme poverty, according to a study by the Institute of Security Studies launched in Kenya the same week as the nutrition symposium.

However, the symposium delegates pledge to change this. Danny says he is determined to make more people aware about the nutritional challenges in Kenya and to provide the perspective of the country’s children. He explains that he stood for election as the president of the children’s government due to his belief that “children’s voices should not just be heard within schools; they should also be heard nationwide.”

 

 
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