The Boy Who Lived

Meet Shaka Tangara, the Boy Who Lived.  He doesn’t have a lightning scar, or a magic wand, but he has a remarkable story.  The village of Dona in Mali tells Shaka’s story in the same tone of awe that many people use when they describe the practically miraculous.  It is almost a legend the way they speak, but here is Shaka: 5 years old, healthy, happy, and big.

Shaka’s mother died when he was born.  It’s a tragically common story in Mali, where maternal mortality is 460. And as far as the village was concerned, Shaka was going to die, too.  With infant mortality at 8o out of 1,000 live births, and no mother to nurse or care for him, people assumed that Shaka wasn’t going to make it.

pic3 The Boy Who Lived

But Salimata was not taking no for an answer.  She wanted Shaka to live.  The village had just worked with CARE and AMAPROS—our local partner—to plant moringa trees as part of a conservation agriculture project.  Salimata had heard a lot about moringa trees: their leaves are very nutritious, the seeds can help people with blood sugar problems, the flowers are good for your eyes, and the trees help protect fields and prevent drought.  Surely, it was worth a try.

So Salimata made porridge with moringa leaves to feed Shaka.  She knew that exclusive breastfeeding was best for babies, but without Shaka’s mother, that wasn’t a choice.  So she used what she had learned about nutrition, and complimentary feeding—a practice many women were starting to adopt with the project.  She gave him tomato sauce and porridge and moringa, and Shaka lived.

For the village, this was all the proof they needed that the nutrition lessons they were getting were worth the effort.  They didn’t really believe it before, since traditionally that is not how you feed babies in Mali. Now, lots of women will tell you that the babies they used exclusive breastfeeding and complimentary feeding with are bigger, smarter, and healthier than the ones who didn’t get it.  It’s a big change for a community, and Shaka’s success will help many babies for years to come.


Contributed by Emily Janoch

Statistics according to the UNICEF 2013 Mali Report