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How Fatuma’s 20-month-old daughter Halima survived deadly hunger.
Fatuma* lives in Somalia, a country in crisis. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, years of conflict, severe drought, deadly floods, and swarms of locusts left many Somalis without homes or land, and unable to feed their families.
Orphaned at a young age, Fatuma’s life has become increasingly precarious. She lives in a camp for internally displaced people outside of Somalia’s capital city of Mogadishu. Growing up, she moved from one relative’s home to another, until she met her husband Hassan when she was 16 years old.
“He was a good man when I met him, or so I thought,” she says.
Fatuma got married in December 2017 and quickly became pregnant. But it soon became clear that Hassan was not going to provide properly for the family, and he began to abuse his young wife verbally and physically.
“When he came home, he would beat me up,” says Fatuma. “Our troubles escalated. We fought over issues like who covers the medical and household bills. I tried pleading with him to take good care of us, but he chose violence instead.”
Not long after the birth of her daughter, Halima, Fatuma became pregnant again and the abuse escalated.
“After a while, I’d had enough. I wanted to leave the chaos behind, and I had to get away,” Fatuma says. “He told me to leave without the children. I was breastfeeding the young one [Mohamed], who is now five months old.” Forced to leave her own children, Fatuma fled. Soon after, she reached out to relatives to negotiate with Hassan and his mother. At that point, she says, “Mohamed was brought back to me.”
Powerless and full of fear for her daughter, who remained with her husband, Fatuma continued to beg for Halima’s return: “I was afraid as now that [Hassan] had full custody, Halima would be neglected and left to die of hunger.”
Poor hygiene in displacement camps causes high rates of disease that can lead to malnutrition. Fatuma learned that Halima was suffering from diarrhea, but it was several weeks before Hassan finally brought her back. When he did, Fatuma saw that neglect and malnutrition had left her little girl’s hands and feet swollen, and inflamed patches on her skin had darkened and peeled. Her hair lost its color, became brittle, and started falling out.
“Halima was in a bad state,” says Fatuma. “Her skin had turned black. You could tell she was in pain, she was not crying and she was moving her eyes silently. As a mother, I never thought I would see my daughter this sick.”
When Fatuma went to the pharmacy to buy medicine, she learned of a Health and Nutrition Center supported by Action Against Hunger that could help her daughter. She went there the next day and Halima was immediately diagnosed with the deadliest form of hunger – severe acute malnutrition – and admitted for treatment.
Under our team’s expert care over several weeks, Halima began to recover her health. She was treated with therapeutic milk and our staff advised Fatuma on the best ways to feed Halima and maintain good hygiene practices.
Once she was healthy enough to return home, Fatuma continued to treat her daughter using ready-to-use therapeutic food. This peanut paste contains all of the calories, vitamins, and minerals Halima will need to fully recover.
Fatuma visited the health center each week to collect treatment packets, and an Action Against Hunger community health worker visited the family regularly to check in on Halima’s health. As Halima recovered, Fatuma began to receive monthly cash transfers from Action Against Hunger to help her provide nutritious food for her children.
After weeks of treatment at home, Halima was healthy once more. Fatuma is happy to see her child healthy again, and determined to create a brighter future for herself and her family:
I knew my daughter would get better. I was determined to take care of her and bring back her lovely smile. She’s been through a lot and I feel that as her mother, I am making the necessary steps to teach her how to do everything. How to love, trust and be the playful and happy child that she was before [she became so malnourished].
When she grows up, I want her to go to school. I want her to have a better life than the one we live in now. I want her to have a good life. For me, I hope I can open a shop and start a business, so that I can raise my children and earn something for myself as well.
That’s my hope for the future. [For now,] I am just so happy to see my daughter in her best state again.
But still, challenges remained for Fatuma and her children. Three months after her daughter recovered her health, her ex-husband Hassan came back to demand custody of their children. Fatuma went to court. She presented “before and after” photos of her children taken by Action Against Hunger’s Somalia Communications Manager, Fardosa Hussein, as evidence that Halima and Mohamed are healthy and safe in her care.
“It’s hard for me that I have to occasionally fight for my rights as a mother to be with my children, but my determination to keep them healthy and happy is what drives me to look out for them every day,” Fatuma says. To her great relief, she was granted full custody of her children with support from the community elders and her uncle.
Today, months later, it is hard to tell that Halima was ever malnourished. She walks, plays, and laughs like any other two-year-old child. Fatuma is thankful for her daughter’s recovery and committed to helping both of her children stay healthy.
“I want to thank all the health care workers who have treated and taken care of my child. Thank you,” says Fatuma. “I want also to thank the staff of the organization [Action Against Hunger]. They’ve been in contact with me and they’ve followed up on my daughter’s health throughout. I feel very happy. I remember how sick she was then, and how healthy she is now, and I am so grateful.”
*Names have been changed.
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