Starvation Affects Millions in Kenya

February 24, 2009

A UMNS Report

By Mary Beth Coudal*

Feb. 24, 2009

Felix had been admitted to the Maua Methodist Hospital, in Maua, Kenya, with severe tuberculosis. He was nine years old, but only weighed 20 pounds and was three feet tall.

Jerri Savuto sat by Felix's bedside, watching him gasp for breath. "How hungry, alone and desperate he must have always been," said Savuto, a nurse and one of six missionaries serving in Kenya through the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries. "I reached out and touched him and smiled at him. His eyes looked up and met mine and then his little face broke into a smile. He gained weight and seemed to be doing much better but died four days ago."

As many as 10 million Kenyans, a majority of them children like Felix, are dying due to pervasive drought and famine. The Kenyan newspaper, The Daily Nation, projected that next October will be the first opportunity for a substantial rainfall. Savuto worries that many in Kenya will not live to see that next big rain.

As malnourished children are admitted to Maua Hospital, with their families unable to pay, the staff goes without pay and the facility lacks money for necessities. So, too, families flock to Kenyan churches for food, prayer, and comfort, yet parishioners are no longer able to support their pastors. They subsist on donations. The Methodist Church in Kenya is seeking funding to continue the mission of the hospitals and churches.

Bishop Stephen Kanyaru M'Impwii, head of the Methodist Church in Kenya, visited the New York headquarters of the Board of Global Ministries on Feb.19-20 to highlight the need for increased relief efforts. He met, among others, with the Rev. Edward Paup, the board's top executive, to convey the urgency of the famine.

"I'm not telling you what I've heard," M'Impwii said. "I'm telling you what I've seen. Starving people have died. It's very serious. Even in the capital, there are very many, many orphans."

"We are currently supporting churches in Kenya to respond to the famine in Nairobi, Coastal Province, and the Rift Valley (Nakuru)," said Melissa Crutchfield, an international disaster response executive with the United Methodist Committee on Relief.

"These activities include provision of food aid for some of the most vulnerable populations, including nursing mothers, vulnerable children, orphans, school children, people living with HIV and AIDS, and internally-displaced people from the election violence last year," she added. "The grants are also providing some medicines for a clinic in Nakuru, and agricultural inputs like seeds and tools, so that farmers in that region can begin to grow for themselves again."

One in five malnourished

A report from the United Nations indicates childhood malnourishment is at the level of one in five in Kenya, a number that exceeds emergency requirements. "The number of people who are starving in Kenya seems to increase daily. Our pediatric ward continues to have so many starving, emaciated children admitted," Savuto reported.

One of those emaciated children is four-year-old Martin. Tall for his age, he must have received proper nutrition earlier in his life, according to Savuto, "but now the family has nothing. He was admitted with malaria, pneumonia, severe anemia, and starvation.

"We can help these children recover from their illnesses and even gain weight, but then we have to send them home to the same situation. The hospital has started a program to send food home with families of children like this," she said.

Donations to assist UMCOR's response in Kenya can be dropped in local church collection plates or mailed to UMCOR, P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087. The check should be made to "UMCOR Advance #982450, International Disaster Response," with "Kenya Famine" on the memo line.

For credit card donations, visit UMCOR's web site at for online giving information or call (800) 554-8583.

*Coudal is a staff writer for the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.