Last week Alison Marshall, our Public Affairs Director, visited Burundi and saw how UNICEF is helping communities fight malnutrition. Here she tells us about nutrition work she saw during her trip.
Mothers learning how to protect their children from malnutrition at a community-led project in the village of Giheta ©UNICEF UK/Burundi/Alison Marshall/2012
Driving through Burundi, the country looks green and fertile – you wouldn’t know that malnutrition is a big problem. In reality, however, 58 per cent of Burundi’s children suffer from stunting – the irreversible damage to a child’s development when they don’t get proper nutrition in the first 1,000 days of life.
Some families can’t get enough food for their children, but for many others it is more a question of quality. Either the mothers don’t know how to create a balanced diet by including fruit, vegetables and protein, or they can’t afford to buy this food.
I was really cheered when we reached an innovative community project in the village of Giheta. Mothers, who have managed to bring up healthy children, although they may not have any more money than their neighbours, are chosen by their community as ‘light’ or ‘beacon’ mothers. They are then trained and supported by a community health worker and in turn they train mums in their community who are struggling.
I met Claudine, a mother of four, sporting an orange top and head scarf above her traditional wrap-around skirt. She explained how she worked with other mums, teaching them in her own home how to prepare nutritious food. The trainee mums told us Claudine had shown them a way to feed their toddlers more protein, by grinding small dried fish from Lake Tanganyika to a powder and sprinkling this over the children’s food.
They also described how Claudine had helped them learn about home hygiene and family planning. One mum declared that she hadn’t been selected for the training, but was so keen to do the best for her child that she listened in at the window every day, and had learned so much!
The mums said they could see a real difference in their children’s health after only 12 days. At first during our meeting the infants snuggled in their mothers’ laps were shy, not being used to visitors from abroad. But their vivacity and curiosity soon saw them up and about. What a contrast to the malnourished children we had seen earlier in our trip, and what a successful and sustainable way to tackle the child malnutrition crisis.
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