Food that brings us together around the world

November 26, 2014

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  • All over the world, people like Meseret in Ethiopia want to feed their families healthy and nutritious meals. How do we help them thrive? Photo: Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps

All over the world, families want the same things — a safe place to live, an education for their children and nutritious meals to keep them strong and healthy.

But the family meals we all share look different in every community. And the ways that Mercy Corps helps people thrive vary as much as the ingredients. Below, meet just a few of the people that you’ve helped us reach and see how they’re feeding their families.


Photos: Chip Carter/Mercy Corps (top) Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps (bottom)

Typical diet: Sourdough flatbread, spicy vegetable stew, lentils, potatoes, carrots, chickpeas, peanuts and sweet potatoes

Meseret is a mother to three young children and has learned new recipes through Mercy Corps’ work in her village. The program encourages families to eat a diverse diet that includes a fresh eggs and a variety of healthy vegetables like carrots, leafy greens, beets and tomatoes, in addition to traditional beans and flatbread.

Now everyone in Meseret’s family enjoys preparing meals together, and she says her children don't get sick as often and are growing stronger everyday.


Photos: Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps

Typical diet: rice, corn, tamarind, basil, fish, beans and cabbage

Zeferinha buys fish, usually tilapia, from fish ponds that her father and other local farmers started through a Mercy Corps program. The lean fish adds a much-needed source of protein to the diet in Timor-Leste — especially in remote inland villages that primarily grow rice and lack refrigeration to store fish and meat transported from other areas.

Zeferinha grills the fish and sells it by the side of the road for a good profit. She has three children in school, and sometimes the kids come by her stand for fish at lunch time.

Learn more about how sustainable fish ponds are changing lives ▸


Photos: Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps

Typical diet: Millet porridge, rice, cassava, vegetable stew, maize, squash and yams

Zouberou's usual lunch is porridge that his mother Santou makes from Niger’s staple grain, millet. It's the center of most meals here, but when drought hits — as frequently as every other year now — the millet harvests suffer.

Mercy Corps is helping families adapt to the changing environment by providing stronger seeds and teaching new farming practices that help crops withstand drier conditions. We’re also giving women goats as a new source of milk and income, and helping communities start small gardens that produce additional food during the dry season and diversify diets with new ingredients like sweet potatoes.

See how goats have helped Santou and her children ▸

Syrian refugees

Photos: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps

Typical diet: flat bread, chicken, rice, bulgur wheat, yogurt, raisins, eggplant, cheese, chickpeas

Nour, 13, and her family live in Zaatari, the largest camp for Syrian refugees in Jordan. The settlement houses as many people as a city in its own right, complete with schools and grocery stores where families use vouchers to buy food. While they stick to basics most of the time, Nour and her mother sometimes make her favorite Syrian dish as a special Friday treat — chicken with raisins, rice, bulgur wheat and yogurt.

To help Syrian refugees who have few ways to earn an income, Mercy Corps provides cash assistance so they can choose what food and supplies they need most. We're also working to ensure refugees have enough clean water to drink, cook and stay healthy.

See what a typical day is like for Nour in Zaatari camp ▸


Photo: Thatcher Cook for Mercy Corps

Typical diet: Rice, spinach, chicken, taro, sweet bread, jackfruit, eggplant, chilies and cucumber

Sauda demonstrates how to make a special crunchy and sweet Indonesian cake that is made from rice flour. This cake is a sweet treat that is popular at family gatherings and celebrations. Sauda’s daughter Ita got a small loan from Mercy Corps with some of her friends to start a business making and selling the rice cakes for local weddings.

Selling the rice cakes earns Ita enough money every month to pay her family’s bills, send her children to school and save enough so she can reinvest in expanding the business.


Photo: Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps

Typical diet: Corn, chilies, tortillas, beans, tamales, chicken, beef, zucchini and bell peppers

Tortillas are a key component of the daily diet in Guatemala and women often make them by hand. As part of Mercy Corps’ health and wellness work in rural Guatemala — a country with the fourth highest rate of chronic child malnutrition in the world — families receive fortified food rations and learn new recipes that add vegetables and other sources of key nutrients that will give their young children a healthy start.

See the recipes and try some at home ▸


Photos: Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps

Typical diet: rice, spiced lentils, vegetable curry, potatoes, green beans and daikon radish

When Sarmila is done with school for the day, she helps her family by preparing spices and vegetables for the evening meal. The family lives in rural Nepal and rents a small piece of land from their landlord so they can grow their own food.

Gardening and food preparation take a significant part of every day — including gathering rice from the paddy and watering the cows — but Sarmila is determined to finish her education, thanks to support from Mercy Corps. Her mother has even been inspired by her daughter's love of learning and is taking literacy classes.

Hear more about Sarmila's dreams for the future ▸


Photos: Julie Denesha for Mercy Corps

Typical diet: Wheat flatbread, beef, goat, vegetable curry, okra, cabbage, potatoes and peppers

Raima prepares and kneads dough to make roti — a flatbread made from stoneground wholemeal flour. Roti can be eaten with any meal and is popular across Pakistan. The bread is cooked in a clay oven called a tandoor. Many families have their own tandoor or share one communally with their neighbors.

To help women earn more income and families eat more protein, we teach women how to raise poultry that will provide valuable and nutritious eggs.

Democratic Republic of Congo

Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps

Typical diet: Cassava, yams, maize, plantain, pumpkin, peanut sauce, peas and okra

Many meals in the Democratic Republic of Congo consist of either mashed cassava or corn flour and a sauce with vegetables, creating a kind of stew. Sometimes the starch is mixed with water to form a dough and the dough is then dipped in a spicy sauce. Zabayo received an fuel-efficient cookstove from Mercy Corps and can now cook her meals using much less firewood.

The benefits of the cookstove are exponential: Zabayo has more time to earn an income because she doesn't have to spend her days collecting firewood — an excursion where women are often attacked. She and her children are safer at home, too, because the stove produces much less smoke than the traditional fires.


Photos: Jason Sangster for Mercy Corps

Typical diet: Beef, horse meat sausage, meat dumplings, noodles, soup, onions, carrots, garlic and fried bread

Meat is very popular in Kyrgyzstan, and a favorite preparation is doughy dumplings filled with a mixture of meat, onions and other vegetables. Akylay, 5, attends a rural school where Mercy Corps provides nutritious meals, part of a 20-year program that has helped 80 percent of the schools in the country.

We are also helping people in rural areas grow more food with home gardens. Fruits and vegetables have been especially rare because of the country's mountainous terrain and cold winters. With support and training from Mercy Corps staff, rural small farmers are now growing organic produce and raising healthier livestock.

Learn more about our long-term work in Kyrgyzstan ▸