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Education is one of the very few opportunities for poor people living in impoverished, underdeveloped countries. Basic education programs provide children with the skills necessary to acquire employment, as well as basic knowledge pertaining to health, hygiene and disease prevention. And yet, according to the U.N., 250 million children — even those who have spent at least four years in school — are not able to adequately read, write or count.

While many factors play into this staggering statistic, hunger is a key culprit when it comes to the millions of uneducated children worldwide. Here’s how hunger hurts learning:

1. Children who are malnourished suffer up to 160 days of illness each year, which means 160 missed school days.

2. Vitamin A deficiency, which is directly linked to malnutrition, is the leading cause of preventable childhood blindness in developing countries; The World Health Organization estimates that each year, 500,000 children go blind as a result of vitamin A deficiency. Blindness makes it increasingly difficult for children to learn alongside their peers.

3. Malnutrition intensifies the symptoms and effects of diseases, such as malaria and measles. Children who are unable to combat these diseases lack the physical capacity to attend school and learn.

4. Malnutrition stunts not only physical, but also mental development, in young children, preventing them from reaching their full human and socio-economic potential as well as their potential to learn.

5. One out of five children born from an under-nourished mother is born with low birth weight. Low birth weight in children is linked to mental retardation, learning disabilities and blindness, all of which may prevent a child from receiving an education.

Hungry children suffer not only from malnourishment—and the litany of other harms it causes—but also from the incredible disadvantage of not being physically well enough to learn. Global education and global hunger are not mutually exclusive issues. A brand-new school with ample resources in Tanzania, for example, is useless without a classroom full of healthy children who are ready to learn.

Expecting Malaria-infected children to attend school and absorb information from excellent basic education programs is also impractical. We have a global responsibility not only to support education programs in third-world countries, but also to ensure that children are able to take advantage of the incredible opportunities education holds for them.

Due to the difficulty of learning while hungry and ill, in order to provide effective education, it is crucial that aid programs also address the global health and hunger crises in impoverished countries.

Elizabeth Nutt

Sources: World Hunger, UN.org, UN.org, Hellen Keller International
Photo: Your Mind Your Body

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In developing countries, childhood blindness ruins the lives of millions. In fact, three-fourths of all blind children live in developing countries. A major cause of childhood blindness in developing countries is vitamin A deficiencies.

Vitamin A deficiency happens when children do not receive enough of the foods rich in the nutrient. Orange foods such as carrots, oranges, eggs, liver and sweet potatoes contain this powerful nutrient. Due to poverty, many children have a hard time attaining foods such as these. Lack of foods, along with lack in breastfeeding, which provides vitamin A, results in childhood blindness that cannot be reversed.

Blindness affects 1.4 million children every year; over 50 percent of these children end up dying within 12 months of losing their sight.

The half that do end up surviving end up leading a lifelong struggle with the disability. According to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID,) impoverished families who have blind children have a harder time getting out of poverty then those who do not.

Time that is otherwise used to rise out of poverty is spent caring for the child. It is unnecessarily harder to care for a child who has suffered blindness due to the fact that resources are not attainable. Approximately 90 percent of blind people in developing countries do not have resources available to them. This includes visual aids, services and eye wear. In addition, health care workers are spread thin throughout lower income countries.

Approximately 85 percent of blind children do not attend school. This is usually because parents become fearful of children getting hurt or embarrassed. All of this adds up to a lower quality in life. According to the USAID, children receive a poorer education, suffer isolation, and increased poverty.

All of these attributes follow children into adulthood, where they continue to struggle with lack of employment opportunities and social skills. This eventually creating extra  burdens for the family of blind adults who are unable to function properly and provide for the family. Usually this leaves younger children to care for their blind parents and quit school to do so, adding to the cycle of poverty.

The cost of vitamin A supplementation is a small price for life. Astonishing this cost is the amount someone would pay for a piece of candy (5 cents.) According to the World Health Organization, supplementation would reduce child mortality by 34 percent. Other preventions to childhood blindness are linked to measles.

When programs are promoted in vaccinating against this disease, blindness is lowered. From efforts through these measures, an estimated 1.4 million death have been prevented since 1998.Wonderful news for the poverty stricken areas suffering from lack of vitamin A; however, over 250 million children under the age of 5 still lack access to the vital nutrient and become vitamin A deficient each year.

Even with the continued effort toward combating childhood blindness, more needs to be addressed. There seems to be a cycle of poverty and blindness repeating over and over. More resources and aid should be put toward programs helping the blind instead of trapping them in a constant cycle of poverty.

– Amy Robinson

Sources: Relief Web, WHO, WHO
Photo: Hollows