Proper nutrition is a crucial factor in the healthy cognitive development of a child. In Haiti, chronic malnutrition affects 24% of children under the age of five and rises as high as 40% for children living in the poorest of areas. With rural households spending more than 70% of their income on food and more than half of Haiti’s population living below the poverty line of $1 a day, it is undeniable that proper nutrition is an imminent concern. By offering basic health services and free meals to children in need, we are directly improving their health and development, and subsequently their ability to learn within the classroom.
The need for healthy nutrition begins before birth. The nutrition of the mother is a strong determining factor in the brain development of her child. Due to poor diets, many women and children suffer from micronutrient deficiencies, and anaemia is a strong concern for children between the ages of six months and five years. When a child is suffering from malnourishment within the first two years of life, the effects can be both permanent and irreversible. A poorly nourished child has an increased difficulty fighting infections and as a result may miss more school and fall behind in their learning. In an environment that struggles to provide strong educational opportunities to children, it is difficult to understand how a child can overcome the inherent struggles that accompany many developing nations struck by disaster.
Any child that suffers from malnourishment is being deprived of basic nutritional needs, but these children also show decreased levels of curiosity, activity and cognitive functioning. Regardless of the quality and availability of the education, a child who is not eating properly and given basic health services is unable to extract any useful knowledge from the classroom. A good education must start with a healthy mind and body. A recent study explained that children who ate breakfast performed better on tests than children who did not, further highlighting the link between the two factors.
So what can we do now? We need to continue supporting programs that provide basic and necessary nutritional and health care options to the students living in Haiti. In a country that has been so deeply affected by unfortunate circumstances, it is critical that the international community continue to reach out and provide opportunities to children who are in need. Education is an important tool that all children should have the chance to benefit from; however, absorbing the benefits that education affords depends on fuelling the body with nutrients. We cannot dismiss the role of a healthy diet and consistent health services. Let us continue to extend a helping hand, but remember that a good education needs to be accompanied by a good diet.