How women in northern Kenya are improving nutrition in their villages

As a joint project which provides communities in northern Kenya with access to nutritious foods approaches completion, we unveil the stories and faces of the people in this often drought-stricken region. Here’s Nalois’ story.

When Nalois smiles, she looks too youthful to be a mother of three, and too young to be influencing people in her village to improve their nutrition. Nalois is from the small village of Naribi in Marsabit County northern Kenya where drought leaves the soil sandy and dry, and leaves the people thirsty for opportunity and constantly waiting for rain.

Nalois’ community is pastoralist with the men leaving home for up to a year at a time to herd the family goats across the barren land in search of greener grass. Pastoralism is especially vulnerable to drought as the animals begin to die as the rains dry up. Women and children suffer because, as the goats are herded further from home, they take with them the family’s source of nutritious foods such as milk and meat. Many children in Naribi, including Nalois’ two oldest sons, are enrolled in emergency feeding programs provided by donor organizations to prevent extreme malnutrition.  While pregnant with her youngest daughter, Nalois began taking GAIN’s nutrition classes, an opportunity she credits with changing her life completely.

Nalois has the special role in her village of Community Health Volunteer supported by the Ministry of Health. After being intensively trained in nutrition by GAIN, Nalois passes the knowledge on to local community groups.  With the support of GAIN and the Ministry of Agriculture, Nalois has a vegetable garden near her home that produces enough vegetables to provide her family with necessary micronutrients. The garden is also used to demonstrate to community groups the best way to grow and cook vegetables. After the community group members attend nutrition classes provided by GAIN, they begin planting their own garden at home in order to sustainably diversify the diets of their children and increase their resilience to drought.

This project is a part of the USAID-funded Resilience and Economic Growth in Arid Lands – Increasing Resilience (REGAL – IR) project in Garissa, Isiolo, Turkana and Wajir in northern Kenya. It helps communities to build their capacity to cope with the frequent droughts common in northern Kenya. 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. 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.

Gardening may seem a simple solution, but in a land plagued by drought few had faith that the sandy soil could produce the vegetables and fruits necessary to lessen the regions high levels of malnutrition. The traditional diet did not include any vegetables, as digging in the soil was seen as unlucky, an activity that could bring a curse upon your family. Despite initial resistance, Nalois’ dedication quickly demonstrated the possibilities present in the dusty land. Today, Nalois’ husband has returned home from the desert where he previously herded goats for much of every year. He now spends each morning tending to the garden, taking the extra produce to market and supporting Nalois in her work.

The support of Nalois’ husband is key as men are often the most resistant to change. He is now engaged in an activity previously seen inappropriate for a man and his efforts are directly affecting the nutrition of his children. Nalois’ youngest child, a daughter, was born shortly after she began taking nutrition classes with GAIN. Nalois credits the classes with teaching the proper way to breastfeed, clean, feed and care for the baby, lessons that immediately increased the child’s resilience and strength. Nalois’ previous two children had been enrolled in emergency feeding programs directly after birth, because of her new nutrition knowledge and practices the new baby has never needed supplementary feeding and is as big, strong and smiley as a child of her age should be. The home grown vegetables and nutrition knowledge have brought Nalois’ husband home and prevented her daughter suffering the malnutrition that inflicted her sons – greatly increasing the resilience of her family, despite the rains remaining months away.

The Resilience and Economic Growth in Arid Lands – Increasing Resilience (REGAL – IR) project will end in 2017.

USAID logo - portal

Return to homepage news

Published 20 September 2016