Social networking aids agriculture with afghan malnutrition

Social networking aids agriculture with afghan malnutrition

by -

Dr. Emily Levitt Ruppert, senior policy adviser for World Vision International, sees social networking and agriculture as weapons against malnutrition in Afghanistan and shared her thoughts on the subject during a presentation in the Alumni Room of the Memorial Student Union Building,  Feb. 10.
The presentation was sponsored by the International Affairs Group traditional “Bag Lunch” event on campus. Her visit was coordinated by Dr. Richard Hartwig, professor of political science. World Vision International is a Christian relief, development and advocacy organization dedicated to working with children, families and communities to overcome poverty and injustice.
Levitt Ruppert discussed the effects of malnutrition on the population, stunted growth due to improper dietary considerations, possible solutions for the iron deficiency disease anemia, and the importance of nutritional instruction despite cultural differences.
“A lot of what you read or see on CNN, or the stories soldiers bring back with them are so negative,” said Levitt Ruppert, “And though a lot of what they see is difficult, there’s really interesting work going on there.”
Levitt-Ruppert is on a mission to tell the other side of the story. She feels nutrition is very understandable to the general public, and that it is an issue all people deal with. She feels that it has been neglected on some level, in favor of short-term solutions.
“Agriculture is the long-term solution to malnutrition,” Levitt Ruppert said. “The current ones are short-term and very dependent on outside funding.” (See malnutrition Page 3)
Levitt Ruppert was initially reluctant to travel to Afghanistan due to the war, and cultural and religious discrimination against women. Ultimately she changed her mind because she felt it was a place she’d be needed.  “I wanted to go to a place that had a gap, to build capacity and help them solve their local problems,” Levitt Ruppert said, “and Afghanistan was exactly that.”
At the time Afghanistan had no one with any formal nutritional training in the country, and widespread problems with malnutrition and anemia.  “I worked in a laboratory once upon a time, and you hope your whole career you’ll discover the cure for something,” Levitt Ruppert said. “But, I needed something more tangible, more visible, and with nutrition we have most of the solutions we need, but we need more creative problem solving.”
She met with focus groups around the country, some comprised of all men, others only women. During their conversations, men were interested in agriculture, horticulture, availability of veterinary care and trade. Women, once they’d been given permission by their husbands to talk to Levitt Ruppert, were interested in lack of food and diet diversity, not enough animal food, problems of health, problems with reproduction, lack of health services and the feeding practices of children.
“Both men and women look at the situation holistically,” said Levitt Ruppert, “but economics is the biggest thing across all groups for both men and women.”
Cultural perspectives regarding food were of particular interest to Levitt Ruppert, especially what food they would and wouldn’t eat, and feed to their children. Camel meat was not to be eaten during pregnancy, as camels have a twelve month long gestation period, and consumption is believed to cause a human pregnancy to extend to this length.
“I was told the Afghans have a lot of unusual food-based beliefs, but I found it fascinating,” said Levitt Ruppert. “American customs might seem strange to them.”
Levitt Ruppert was in Afghanistan for 13 months. Her first trip lasted three months, the second lasted nine. Finally, when the World Bank decided to do an assessment of the nutrition situation, they asked for her help, and she went back for two more short trips.
“The hardest part was coming back,” said Levitt Ruppert. “I had a hard time looking American men in the eyes for the longest time.”
For Levitt-Ruppert, every day was stressful. Every day her adrenaline was up, and she was wary of something happening. Every day she lived in a heightened state of awareness. When she finally settled back home, she visited a re-acclimation counselor, and discovered she had a form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
PTSD has a certain stigma to it; some view it as a malady from which there can be no recovery. This is patently untrue, and Levitt Ruppert is living proof. The possibility for recovery is high, especially with help from those who understand the disease.
“I want to talk about it more, and be more public about it,” said Levitt Ruppert, “for people who aren’t dealing with it, for those who aren’t talking with anyone, prevent people from committing suicide.”
The only thing Levitt Ruppert regrets is that she didn’t learn more of the language while she was in Afghanistan. “I wish I could have communicated with them directly,” said Levitt Ruppert, “just so I could talk with them more.”

Joseph Frymire
JBN Director