June 18, 2024

Lesotho is a tiny country completely encircled by South Africa, so it can be easy to miss, but the people who live there mean the world to the students of Wittenberg, who created the Lesotho Nutrition Initiative (LNI) to support the families across the ocean.

The Lesotho Nutrition Initiative is one of Wittenberg’s rising community service programs. The group has only been around for three years and is making a huge impact on both the Wittenberg community and the small nation of Lesotho.

“We are a registered non-profit [organization],” Chelsea Steffes, ’18, the Event Planning Co-Chair of the organization, said.

The group was inspired by the Lesotho spring and summer community service trips, one of the international options offered to fulfill students’ community service requirement.

“One of the things we really noticed,” Steffes explained, “[was that] a lot of the kids there we thought were maybe eight or nine, and they were like 13, 14, so they were very stunted.”

When the students investigated the programs that were aiding Lesotho, they learned that many organizations were focused on eliminating the HIV/AIDS epidemic, but no one was focusing on the severe malnutrition, particularly among the children aged zero to five. The non-profit began going to churches, high schools and other colleges to pack meals and send them to children and their families in Lesotho.

There were a couple of big events recently for the organization, including the 24-hour Pack-A-Thon in Shouvlin, which kicked off at 5 p.m. last Friday night and ended at 5 p.m. Saturday night and an upcoming gala this Friday night in the Student Center to raise money for the meal packs, with food, drinks and an auction to raise money.

“[Last year] we raised around $2000,” Steffes said regarding the gala, “which is like 22,000 meals.”

This year, LNI hopes to equal or exceed that amount.

The Pack-A-Thon was a service event that was part of the inauguration of President Michael Frandsen, in which volunteers could sign up for hour-long slots to participate in packing small meals for the citizens of Lesotho.

“We tried to think of something crazy,” the vice president of LNI, Angela Galbraith, ’19, explained, “And we thought of a 24-hour Pack-A-Thon, and so we started running with it.”

The goal for the Pack-a-Thon was to pack 50,000 meals over the course of 24 hours to send to the children in Lesotho. Students packed 2,000 meals within the first two hours of the event, and they reached their goal by 8 a.m. Saturday morning, with eight hours remaining for the event. The group has only been around for a couple years, but they have made incredibly strides towards providing nutrition for the malnourished in Lesotho.

“We reached 500,000 meals [packed] in two and a half years,” Galbraith said, “Just with 50,000 meals, we would be feeding the 1,700 children [in Lesotho] that we sponsor and their families for forty days.”

The packs themselves are extremely lucrative little bags. They look like little bags of rice and dried vegetables that you could hold in one hand, but each bag is filled with soy protein, rice, vegetables and vitamins that contain nutrition and protein, to equivalent to six meals for a family in Lesotho.

One meal costs only 11 cents, and tastes, according to Galbraith, “kind of like chicken noodle soup.”

Scott Rosenberg, the faculty advisor of the initiative who also leads students to Lesotho for spring and summer trips every year, explained that the group sent over the first 1,000 meals that were packed “to actually make sure that the kids liked them ‘cause we didn’t want to send over something that the kids didn’t like, ‘cause kids are kids, y’know?”

The vitamins and nutrients in the packs come from LNI’s partners, Packaway Hunger in Dayton, Ohio, whose micronutrients, according to lesothonutritioninitiative.com, are “a scientifically-proven blend of 21 vitamins and minerals shown to help alleviate and also reverse the effects of micronutrient malnutrition in young children.”

The event itself was held in Shouvlin and had a conveyor belt-like system where volunteers line up along tables and pass the meal bags along the tables to be filled with ingredients, measured to make sure they were the correct weight, sealed and packed in boxes for delivery.

It was a light and fun atmosphere, with people chatting merrily over bags of rice while energizing pop music played in the background. None of the tasks were strenuous, but volunteers were encouraged by the impact that they were having, as box after box was filled with meals.

The packing event was a huge success, with the volunteers packing up all the ingredients available to them an hour before the event ended. Overall, the organization packed close to 80,000 meals, which was 30,000 more than their goal. Galbraith was one of only a couple students who stayed the entire 24 hours.

When asked if she was exhausted, Galbraith laughed and said “Yes, but it’s the best kind of exhausted.”

It’s refreshing to see the impact that the Lesotho Nutrition Initiative is having across the world.

“It’s amazing because we get to instill in people here that they can really make a difference somewhere the whole way across the world,” Galbraith said. “We have that tangible thing that we can actually tell people, and all we ask is that people come for one hour today.”

It is hoped that LNI will continue to hold events like this on campus, because if a mere 24 hours can produce enough meals to feed 1,700 families for over a month, the sky is the limit for the change that Wittenberg and the Lesotho Nutrition Initiative can create.

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