06/19/2012 11:30 am ET Updated Mar 31, 2015

One Small Cry: Hassane's Fight Against Malnutrition

This blog is part of a series organized by The Huffington Post and the NGO alliance InterAction to call attention to the crisis in the Sahel, a region in sub-Saharan Africa where more than 18 million people face starvation and 1.1 million children under the age of 5 are at risk of dying from acute malnutrition. Click here to read more of HuffPost Impact's coverage of the Sahel and here to find out what InterAction members and others are doing in the Sahel.

By Lauren Fisher, World Vision emergency communications manager

It was the best moment of the day. Not the warm smiles and waves of the villagers, not the sound and sight of sparkling, precious water hitting the waiting buckets, not even the laughs of children seeing how my camera worked.

Instead, the moment that brought us all to laughs, clapping, and even near to tears came from one little wail from a tiny two-year-old. The nurse had tried to change the angle of the Plumpy'nut little Hassane was so tightly clutching. Moments before, he was all but motionless in his mother's arms, only reacting with shrieks as the nurse at the child nutrition clinic tried to weigh him.

We didn't need the red marker of the band measuring his arm circumference to tell that he was severely malnourished. With tiny arms and legs, little Hassane looked to me much more like a small infant than a boy who was nearly a toddler. At two, he weighed just 7.5kg.

Later we followed his 17-year-old mother and his grandmother back through the village to their home. Sitting on colorful straw mats, with Hassane's cousins gathered all around us, they told their story. They brought Hassane to the clinic once he became sick. For them, the food crisis is very personal. No rain meant they had no harvest this year, no harvest meant no food in their storage. If they didn't have any extra money to buy the supplies they lacked, they went to bed hungry, without eating anything all day. It's something that's been happening more often lately.

Hassane's dad has gone to nearby Nigeria to find work, but so far the insecurity there has meant even that work is scarce. And so the family waits and hopes and the smallest and most vulnerable like Hassane suffer.

And it's that story that brings us to where we are now at the clinic. The diagnosis of severely malnourished means Hassane will get Plumpy'nut. But first, there is the test: Is he strong enough to take the nourishment he so desperately needs? The aid workers, the other mothers and Hassane's family fall silent as the little one is given the package with the vitamin-rich paste. He begins to chew slowly at first, becoming a bit more forceful with the food at each bite. Then when the health worker tries to change the angle of the packet, we hear his impatient cry. Hassane has got his food and he's not giving it up.

For much of the day, I feel like my camera has been just another annoyance for the busy health worker. But with this cry she suddenly turns, looks me in the eye and shoots be a grin. The other mothers clap. In short, it's a very good sign. In a way, we're all rooting for the survival of Hassane, he just taken his first steps towards a chance at growing up.

Unfortunately, there's many more who have just as far to go. Like a pair of one-year-old twins who look nearly like newborns. Their mother is thin herself and has not been able to produce milk for them, a secret she has hidden in shame until there is no way to hide anymore. The lack of nutrients is clear by one look at the little ones. And the stories go on and on.

On this day, the clinic saw 108 children; some with mothers who walked 10 kilometers or more to get this help. Health workers tell us they know that there are many more woman and children who couldn't make the trip. But as they go from child to child in the heat, surrounded by cries, coughs and sneezes, I know we've gotten a glimpse at what keeps them going: the hope that they can give just one more child a fighting chance to beat the food crisis, one package of Plumpy'nut at a time.