HALIFAX HERALD -A packet full of nutrition Young women spearhead project to improve kids’ health in South Africa

media14 By MONIQUE MUISE – Thu. May 29 – 12:28 PM

If you live in the developed world, you’ve probably never heard of Plumpy’Nut or Nutty Butty.

It sounds like something you might find in the candy aisle of the grocery store. But, in fact, it’s a revolutionary concoction that experts say is helping to change the fate of thousands of starving children in some of the world’s poorest nations.

Plumpy’Nut is a food product created in 1999 by French scientist Andre Briend. It is a fortified combination of peanut butter, powdered milk and vitamins that has the consistency of a paste. A single foil-sachet contains 500 calories and requires no preparation or refrigeration, making it ideal for distribution to families in remote villages.

Plumpy’Nut has quickly become a household name in numerous countries, including Niger, Malawi and Ethiopia.

Now, a group of young women from the Halifax area are working to establish a distribution system for the product in South Africa through a local organization called Project COLORS International.

Sunyata Choyce, Rebecca Martin, Sylvie Furlong, Britany Machonagy and Crystal Wedell have been working in a township called Thembalethu establishing an immune boosting nutrition program to feed a group of toddlers who spend their days at makeshift cardboard, scrap wood and tin daycare centers. When they first arrived, the situation was bleak.

“Some kids hardly had any hair in some places, there were skin problems, and they were constantly sick,” Choyce said in a recent phone interview from South Africa.

“Around here, it’s very common for children not to eat for at least two days, and that’s considered completely normal.”

But after two weeks of daily servings of Plumpy’Nut, Choyce said she began to see a remarkable difference in the children.

“They actually did seem healthier,” she said. “We were just like, ‘Oh my gosh, I think it’s working!’ ”

news2Choyce, who hails from Lawrencetown, founded COLORS International in 2004. She is now living in South Africa on a permanent basis. Their Plumpy’Nut project is even more unique because they have enlisted the help of a local group of children who have lost their parents to the AIDS epidemic.

The children, who all live at St. Mary’s Children’s Home for orphans, have been put in charge of making and serving the Plumpy’Nut product in the nearby daycare centre. Choyce said she sees it as an excellent way to teach them about giving back to their community.

“We’re really excited about it because volunteerism doesn’t really exist here the way it does back home,” she said. “We want the kids in the children’s home to be able to help the children in the community who have even less than they do. And they’re excited when they see a difference. These are lessons that will last a lifetime”

With the overwhelming success of the pilot project, Choyce said that she hopes to begin distributing Plumpy’Nut in a variety of locations on an ongoing bases, so funding is needed.

“It’s such a simple thing. It’s wonderful to be able to take action, even if it’s just one small thing.”

( mmuise@herald.ca)

Sunyata Choyce COLORS International founder, now living in South Africa

© 2008 The Halifax Herald Limited