NORTH KINGSTOWN—When Navyn Salem brought along her two children on a humanitarian mission to Haiti, a local woman abruptly handed over her own child to bring back to the U.S. Stories such as these have brought Salem to fight against global malnutrition, particularly among children, as the executive director of Edesia Global, a non-profit organization which develops portable, nutritious products for undersupplied countries, namely in Africa.
“[Her children] asked, ‘why is she giving us her baby?” said Salem of the moment. “She doesn’t see any hope for this child, [and] she thinks this perfect stranger has a better chance of providing for their child. That is not an easy concept to grasp.”
In 2007, Salem set out to make healthy, peanut-based food products which could be then distributed efficiently to local populations suffering from malnutrition, establishing a local factory in her family’s native country of Tanzania. Now, after initially founding a factory in Providence, she is continuing operations at Quonset Business Park, having signed a 25-year lease last Tuesday.
“My family is from Tanzania originally, so I started a factory there with the idea of setting up a solution for malnutrition in a local area where we could also look at job creation and cut down on transportation costs for children,” said Salem. “That was my first step before coming to Providence.”
Salem’s Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food products (RUTFs) do not require refrigeration or hydration, and can also be used to help boost health of new mothers and sick patients at hospitals. According to Edesia, a seven-week supply of their PlumpyNut product, invented in 1996 by Nutriset, a French food research company, costs $50 per child. Edesia’s food products are also used widely by global humanitarian organizations, including the World Health Organization and UNICEF.
“It doesn’t take large amounts of research to know that students need food for nutrition, and is something that any parent can understand,” said Salem. “[Global malnutrition] is far away for most, not something that people come into contact with. That being said, if you picture yourself face to face with one of these kids, and you could literally save a life with $50, would you do it?”
“My experience is that people wouldn’t hesitate,” she continued.
UNCIEF estimates approximately 20 million children aged fiver and under suffer from severe malnutrition throughout the globe, and that 35 million more suffer moderately, leading to a greater susceptibility to future health problems. As a mother of four, Salem felt a greater personal need to help children in countries such as Syria and Sudan get the daily nutrition required to have a chance at facing the even greater challenges often posed by violence and lack of education.
“Most of these kids are refugees, escaping terrible civil wars and tragedies that are out of their hands,” she said. “Having to deal with losing your home and everything you own is such a challenge to overcome. If we can at least contribute to the nutrition component, it is a small piece of the puzzle.”
Edesia will now construct a new facility at the Quonset Business Park, and expects to break ground within 90 days of signing the lease.
“We are thrilled to have Edesia join our growing list of tenants at Quonset Business Park,” said Steven J. King, QDC’s managing director, in a statement. “With the construction of their new facility, Edesia will be poised to reach new milestones and we look forward to showing them what a great place Quonset can be for their organization to succeed.”
Edesia is also engaged in a number of research initiatives throughout the globe, developing strong community-serving programs that drive members to assist each other in alleviating the impacts of acute malnutrition. She hopes to increase production at Quonset, however, and the greatest assistance comes from local residents who care to donate to Edesia’s cause.
“We are trying to provide the building blocks by addressing malnutrition at a young age, helping [childrens’] intellectual capacity for the rest of their lives, to study, get jobs, and survive,” said Salem. “You need that brain power in order to have potential in the future. At a certain point, [the effect of malnutrition] is irreversible if we don’t treat it before the age of five.”
“We need that support to take a big jump like this,” she continued. “We desperately need donations to help us to deal with all these crises.”
For more information about Edesia and its move to Quonset, as well as to donate, visit www.edesiaglobal.org.