A Mother’s Perspective on How COVID-19 Aftershocks are Impacting Children
guest post by By Erica Van Deren
As a first-time mom to a one-year-old son, I’ve found real joy in watching my sweet little boy grow. Right now he weighs 30 lbs. We’ve got our very own baby giant!
Even with coronavirus restrictions, I look forward to those regular pediatrician appointments — seeing the growth charts soar upward, ticking off each milestone, and hearing about the ones to come. But today, in this COVID-19 world, those milestones take on a very different meaning.
You see, I’m a mom, but I’m also an aid worker with World Vision. At work, I focus on bringing life-saving aid when disasters, epidemics, or conflicts strike. And these days, that means my job is consumed with helping the world’s poorest people survive the COVID-19 pandemic.
When most people think about the pandemic, they may think of health. Death tolls, infection rates, and masks. But I see aftershocks that impact children.
Many of us have seen the economic aftershocks of coronavirus lockdowns and restrictions in our own backyards — to our friends and neighbors, maybe even to our own family income or business. But for people in conflict zones, living in refugee camps, or surviving on $1.90 or less a day, lockdowns mean loss of income that quickly turns into starvation. Parents who were already living hand-to-mouth, day-to-day are facing the reality of being unable to feed their children. And restrictions can mean not being able to bring your starving child to a free clinic to get help.
Our team in South Sudan tells me that lockdowns are preventing parents from taking their acutely malnourished babies to nutrition clinics. Some of those facilities are operating only half days, and volunteers can’t hold community malnutrition screenings due to coronavirus restrictions. These are screenings and medicines that save children’s lives.
I couldn’t imagine being a new mom under such dire circumstances. Watching your child lose weight instead of gain. Not being able to afford food or getting reliable information about the virus. Yes, a baby’s first year is hard, but how much harder would it be if I was fighting for his very survival?
And it is truly survival. New estimates from the U.N. project that 10,000 more children will die of hunger every month in the first year of the pandemic while more than 550,000 additional children each month will be struck by “wasting” — an acute form of malnutrition often marked by distended bellies.
That wasting for those children who do survive is no small impact. Children who are chronically malnourished often have life-long problems in their cognitive and physical development. It translates into millions of parents seeing their child miss their developmental milestones. Watching their child’s future dim, unable to do anything, even as they skip meals themselves to stretch the food further. It’s an image that keeps me up at night.
I understand as parents we are juggling so much right now in this pandemic. In between meetings on how to get food aid to remote areas of the world, I’m trying to figure out what’s safe for childcare and hoping that our son will happily play in the crib behind my desk so I can crank out a few emails. I worry that he may be missing out by not being able to play with other kids his age. It can easily feel like the heartbreak of a mother thousands of miles away is a step too far. How much misery can we seriously handle?
But I also feel that I owe it to other moms to stand in solidarity with them. And not just moms in my zip code or Facebook group, but all moms. They deserve the chance to give their kids the best shot, just like we would want for our kids.
And I think about what I really hope for as a mom. Yes, I want to raise a healthy, happy child and stay sane while doing it. But I also hope to raise a terrific human being. Someone who is kind and cares deeply about others. Maybe even someone who could change the world. What am I teaching him if I turn away?
I believe I owe it to my son to model what it looks like to be compassionate and caring, even when I’m stressed. Even when it hurts.
Erica Van Deren is a senior program manager with World Vision’s humanitarian and emergencies team.
When you donate through World Vision, about $20 can feed a family of five for a week. $7 can help a child continue learning at home for two months with educational materials and supplies. $157 can help a struggling family survive for a month during the pandemic by meeting their most basic needs like food, water, hygiene supplies, and rent.