Photo story: Women and girls in action for improved nutrition

Women and girls are often those most affected by the negative consequences of undernutrition. At the same time, women are leaders in the fight against malnutrition and focusing on women’s empowerment is considered to be one of the best ways to improve nutrition.

Ahead of International Women’s Day on 8 March, we would like to share the stories of five women and young girls who are involved in some of our programs in Africa and Asia. Here is how they are helping improve the nutrition and health of the families and communities.

Kenya – Resilience Programme (REGAL -IR) 

In Kenya, GAIN is part of the USAID funded joint project Resilience Programme (REGAL-IR) that helps communities to build their capacity to cope with the frequent droughts common in the north the country. REGAL-IR facilitates a community-driven development approach to strengthen social, economic, and environmental resilience in Garissa, Wajir, Marsabit, Isiolo and Turkana counties through 7 inter-related thematic areas.

As the project partners with nutrition expertise, GAIN works with the Ministry of Health and local Community Health Volunteers to empower the community groups with the nutrition knowledge they need to diversify the diets of young children and women of childbearing age to increase their consumption of micronutrients rich foods, including legumes, fruits and vegetables. The nutrition classes cover diet diversity, micronutrient consumption, sanitation practices and other topics focused on increasing the health within the first 1,000 days of life from conception to two years of age, a critical time for growth and development. Families learn, among other things, how to plant and grow their vegetable gardens and how to raise chickens. The project targets mothers and caregivers, as well as fathers and grandparents.

Habiba

Habiba and her child in Marsabit County, Kenya. Photo credit: GAIN

“As part of the REGAL-IR project I have been given many opportunities. This sewing machine was provided to increase my increase my livelihood. I have also been working with GAIN and have established two small sack gardens to grow kale, spinach and other greens. The gardens are a lot of work, but now that my husband sees the benefits they bring he has created a timetable for us, and he shares half the work. We are fearful about the coming drought, soon the community well will run dry and we will have to purchase water from town. It is very expensive, but the sack gardens have made us more resilient because even a small amount of water will be enough for them, and then we will have food to eat.” Habiba in Marsabit County, Kenya

Ruth

Ruth cooking a nutritious meal in in Turkana County, Kenya. Photo credit: GAIN

As mother, grandmother and leader of her community group, Ruth has many responsibilities. Ruth and her family live in Turkana County in northern Kenya where the rains are limited and unreliable leaving the community reliant upon pastoralism as the main source of income. Traditional diets are made up of mostly starchy foods with minimal milk and meat leaving many of the children malnourished and lacking micronutrients only available through vegetables and fruits. Since attending the nutrition classes Ruth has worked hard to diversify her children and grandchildren’s diets and has noticed a difference in the number of times they fall sick and must be taken to the local clinic. With seven children and two grandchildren, the money she is saving from clinic fees and medication is going toward school fees. “My husband supports my taking part in the GAIN program, because he can see once again, he can clearly see the difference the nutrition classes are making”, she says. Ruth knows the droughts will soon come again, but this time when they do her family will be slightly better prepared, healthier and more resilient.

Mozambique – The Home Fortification Project

The Home Fortification project in Mozambique, designed by the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and the Mozambique Minister of Health (MISAU in Portuguese) and implemented jointly with PSI and Save The Children Mozambique. The objective of this project is to improve the nutrition of young children aged between 6 months and 23 months old through the distribution of sachets of multi-nutrient powders. Each sachet of multi-nutrient powders, called VitaMais, contains a colorless and tasteless powder of 15 essential vitamins and minerals that can be added to the food that young children regularly eat. The use of micronutrient powders is a proven intervention which prevents micronutrient deficiencies among children, while still promoting the use of local available foods. One of the key components of this project are the health facility workers and community activists who have been trained to make sure that every eligible child is enrolled in program and who provide essential nutrition education to families. They also provide mothers and caregivers with appropriate counselling to exclusively breastfeed until children turn six months and initiate complementary feeding, at which time they also eligible for their first voucher for the multi-nutrient powders.

Zadia

Zadia with a mother whose twins were born underweight. Photo credit: GAIN

“Mothers that are not receiving vouchers because their children are not yet 6 months old want to make sure that when the time is right their children get the sachets. They hear about the benefits from other mothers and they know that these micronutrients will help their children grow and develop fully. One of the things I enjoy the most about my work is talking to families about the importance of good nutrition. Traditionally, people in these communities would eat mostly porridge made from maize flour with water, salt, sugar and occasionally cassava leaves. Now they are adding peanuts, mango, coconut and other vegetable leaves to their porridge making it more nutritious for them and their children. As a community activist, I want to continue to provide counseling to families so that they get the health and nutrition they need to live healthy lives.” Zadia, Community Health Activist in Dondo, Mozambique

India – The Poshan Project

In India, GAIN is working on the Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM) project, known locally as Poshan, in partnership with the Government of Rajasthan’s National Health Mission, UNICEF and Action Against Hunger (ACF). The project is funded by the Bestseller Foundation and Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF) is the single largest community-based intervention implemented by a state government in India. More than 2,500 government frontline workers and community volunteers were involved in the intervention. At the completion of phase 1 of the project in June 2016, more than 95% of the 9,640 children enrolled for this treatment have recovered and have been discharged. These 9,128 children have been treated successfully and are now on road to good health. Based on the success of this first phase, the Government of Rajasthan is allocating budget to scale up the intervention to more districts with the aim to reach 25,000 children.

Tara and Lakshman

Tara carrying her little brother, Lakshman. Photo credit: GAIN

Tara lives in a small tribal village called ‘Jogiyon ka Guda’ nestled between the hills of Gogunda block in Udaipur district of western Rajasthan. She belongs to an extremely poor family with father an alcoholic and mother suffering from depression. She is the sole caregiver to her little brother Lakshman. She used to carry him around the village, seeking food from people or on-going government programmes. At the age of 18 months, Lakshman was first enrolled into the Poshan project. He was a lethargic, feeble child with a meek voice. His weight was 3.8kg, height of 62cm and mid-upper arm circumference of 9.5cm, which are below the measurements of a healthy child.  He was one of the seven children in the village who were identified as severely malnourished. Tara carried him on her shoulders to the health centre every week and helped him during the treatment.

In less than three months, Lakshman started to get better and gain more weight. “Lakshman has started taking a few steps and I hope he quickly starts walking. He is becoming heavy for me to carry around now”, she happily pointed out.

Baski and Pyari

Baski and her younger sister Pyari. Photo credit: GAIN

Baski is just 13 years old and is like a mother to her younger sister, Pyari. Their parents work in a cement factory almost every day. On Poshan days, she used to bring Pyari to the medical centres for the initial two months of treatment. Now she feeds Pyari three times a day to ensure she remains healthy. Like Pyari, there are many other kids especially in the tribal belts of Rajasthan who are raised by their siblings or grandparents. It is therefore a big challenge and extremely important to identify and connect with the caretakers, as well as parents of malnourished children.

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Published 7 March 2017