This piece is part of a series of blogs by leading NGOs to call attention to a range of issues that should be raised at the G8 summit at Camp David in rural Maryland from May 18-19.
Tera, NIGER, 13 May 2012 -- Ask 57-year-old Zalika how many children she's delivered in her village and she'll just shake her head and laugh. It's far too many to count. I ask her how many births she's attended in the past few weeks and even that is difficult.
You see, Zalika is what's called a 'femme relais' -- or community worker -- in Niger. For the past 10 years she's traveled from house to house, in and out of the clinic, available 24 hours a day. She helps women give birth, gives them tips once the baby is born, and weighs the children once they are older to check for malnutrition. In a country where one in every 16 women faces the risk of dying during pregnancy or delivery, Zalika is a precious gift to expecting mothers.
Sadly, the situation in Niger reflects a harsh reality for many women and newborns around the world. According to UNICEF, every minute a woman somewhere in the world dies either from childbirth or from the complications that follow. In an effort to lower these sobering statistics, World Vision provides basic community and maternal health training to women like Zalika in far-flung corners of the world, from Niger to Afghanistan. But it takes more than just training to turn this deadly tide; it takes a holistic approach to maternal health, providing access to clean water, nutritious food, medical care and more.
Today, in Zalika's community and throughout the rest of West Africa, nearly 15 million people are in the midst of a hunger crisis that is growing steadily worse by the day. For expectant mothers like those under Zalika's care, hunger is more than an empty belly at night -- it leads to a host of other complications, including early delivery, malnutrition and other hunger-related illnesses.
G8: Where there's a will, there's a way
Next week, leaders from the world's eighth largest economies -- the G8 countries -- will gather together outside Washington, D.C. for the annual G8 Summit, discussing issues of critical global importance. Millions of children die because rich countries lack the will -- not the knowledge or ability -- to stop preventable diseases and improve maternal and child health.
If that task seems impossible because of the numbers, consider how much progress we've already made. 12,000 fewer children die each day in 2012 than in 1990. That's an extraordinary accomplishment, considering the world's growing population. But G8 countries must press on to lower this even more. We know how to do this, and we can afford it. But our leaders must take bolder steps to accomplish these goals.
The G8 leaders are uniquely positioned to address issues of world hunger, malnutrition, and maternal and child health, and World Vision wants to ensure the voices of mothers and children reach the ears of the world's most powerful politicians. That's where you come in.
Last week, World Vision launched HungerFree -- a global campaign to end hunger. In just a few days, people from more than 50 countries around the world have signed up and given their voice to the cause. And over the next few months, we will be providing you with more ways you can join us online.
We can be HungerFree Back in Niger, in the hot and crowded clinic, you can see Zalika's work isn't even close to complete. Several women sit, their arms tucked around their large pregnant bellies. Then Zalika points to a closed door. In there, she tells me, a woman is already feeling her first pangs of labor. In the room next door we can see a mother, exhausted, her tiny baby lying next to her. He was born just hours ago.
She tells me with new mothers, she'll even go home with them for the first week, teaching them all the basics from washing to feeding to protect that tiny new life. Imagine all this happening in a village of 19,000 people and you begin to understand a little bit of Zalika's day-to-day life.
Sounds exhausting I say, and ask Zalika if she likes her work. The answer and her huge smile come immediately, a resounding "yes." She sees what she's doing making a difference -- and you can make a difference too.
Be a part of the movement to end hunger -- and help mothers and children worldwide:
· Add your Facebook profile picture to our Global Facebook Photo Project.
·Tweet global leaders, asking them to take action against world hunger.
· Upload art to our HungerFree Art Challenge. Create art that expresses the importance of a hunger-free world. Visitors will vote on their favorites. The eight winning pieces will be printed as the covers for the HungerFree photo books given to G8 leaders and displayed on the HungerFree art installation in Washington, D.C.
With additional reporting from Lauren Fisher during her deployment to West Africa.
Read more G8 news and blogs on HuffPost's G8 big news page.