The day that Darmi Kegna realized her baby girl could die, she vowed to save her.
It was late in the evening in a remote village in southern Ethiopia when the sound of an ambulance broke the silence. Neighbors gathered around as Darmi, the 23-year-old mother, and her baby, Nadi, hopped in the back of the vehicle and left in the middle of the night.
A month earlier, her baby had started showing signs of malnutrition. "Her body was getting thinner and thinner," recalls Darmi, "After some time I suspected that something was wrong with my child."
Darmi's village is a couple miles from the nearest small town, Moyale. Darmi and her husband struggle to find enough food for their two daughters. They tried to grow crops on their small plot of land, but increasingly long and frequent periods of drought made it too difficult.
"There was no rain, so we couldn't get anything from that land,” explains Darmi. “When there is rain, there is more grass and cattle can produce more milk, but currently there is no rain and that means that there is not enough grass...We didn't get enough milk from the cattle, [so] we were in a situation of hunger."
As the family struggled to get through a season with very little food, Nadi started to lose weight quickly. Her mother didn’t understand what exactly was happening, but feared for her child.
"As a mother, I felt I could do nothing. I worried a lot, I was very distressed, but I didn't know what to do…All my relatives and my neighbors were very worried. They even tried to give me the little food they had to feed my child," recalls Darmi.
Nadi’s condition reached a dangerous level, and thankfully, the ambulance arrived in time. "They even put my baby on oxygen while they took her inside the ambulance in the village and she still had it when we reached the health facility,” remembers Darmi. “I cried a lot and I had a headache that was bursting my head. I was running here and there, feeling a lot of distress. It was very difficult."
At the hospital, health workers saved Nadi's life, but Darmi learned that serious malnutrition could happen again. After the baby was discharged, Dami took her to Action Against Hunger's Stabilization Center near Moyale for further care and guidance.
"When I moved to the Stabilization Center and they admitted my child, Action Against Hunger’s staff gave me soap for washing and cleaning my baby, they also gave me nutritious food to eat while my child was being treated."
Nadi stayed at the Stabilization Center for more than two weeks, and Darmi stayed with her. Her husband and other daughter, four-year-old Lelo, remained at home. During those days Darmi was sad and worried for her child, but she made unexpected friendships with the other mothers at the Stabilization Center that brought her comfort and hope.
"We only had each other in the Stabilization Center, nobody else, so we used to chat about how our children are doing and feeling, and how we felt about our children. When we shared our experiences, we made each other feel strong."
Darmi watched how the doctors and nurses took good care of her baby by preparing the special therapeutic milk developed many years ago by Action Against Hunger to treat severely malnourished children. Soon, Darmi saw positive changes.
"They started by giving my child milk at different intervals and I saw the progress,” she recalls.
“From the bottom of my heart, I was so happy to see my child recovering. With my own eyes, I saw that from the day she was admitted, my child was getting better, and I was so happy."
Back at home, Darmi's husband saw how few opportunities there were in their village and decided to move their family permanently to the small town near Moyale where Nadi was being treated.
"[We] moved from the village to this town to see if there are any jobs or opportunities here... Life out there in the village is very hard, so we tried to move from that area in order to have something to give to our children."
As Nadi got stronger and her discharge day approached, both mother and daughter were eager to go back to their family. Darmi noticed a new mother and her baby were admitted to the Stabilization Center, and she saw how sad and discouraged she looked.
"She saw that my child was nearly recovered when she was admitted to the Stabilization Center,” says Darmi. “I told her, 'Don't worry, your child is also going to recover.' I told her that at home we should pay close attention to our children so that they should never have the same problem. I told her what I have learned from this experience."
Darmi was happy to try to give support and hope to a fellow mother, as the other women in the Stabilization Center had done the same for her. After Nadi fully recovered from malnutrition, the rest of the family joyfully welcomed them to their new home.
"When [Nadi] was sick, she was crying a lot and that made me cry, but after she recovered she started to play, she laughed and made me laugh and now I'm happy,” recalls Darmi. “When my family saw my child recovered, they even paid for my rent that month and we were so happy. Everyone wanted to support me with what they had.”
"If Action Against Hunger wouldn't have been there to support my child, she may have died. I just say, from the bottom of my heart: thank you for the support."
Action Against Hunger in Ethiopia
Our teams have been operating in Ethiopia since 1985, meeting urgent humanitarian and development needs across the country. In 2020 alone, we reached more than one million people across the country, including refugees, internally displaced people, and returnees, with lifesaving nutrition, water, health, food security, and protection programs. Currently, we work in the regions of Amhara, Benshangul Gumuz, Gambella, Oromia, Somali, Tigray, and the city administration of Addis Ababa.