In the past year, climate change has brought less rain to southern Zambia, causing families to struggle to feed their children with their meager crops.
World Vision is training mothers on ways to increase the nutritional value of the foods they feed their children, which has limited the number of children suffering from malnutrition.
Just off the dirt road, in the shade of a tall old tree, a group of women gathers. One woman takes some green leafy vegetables, washes them, and then hands them to another woman who begins pounding the greens.
Over a small open fire, a tin pot bubbles with a Cream of Wheat-looking mixture. It’s “mealie meal,” a porridge made of finely ground corn. When the greens are pounded to a paste, the women add them to the pot. Another batch of mealie meal cools, and the women stir in an egg yolk and sprinkle in a few ground groundnuts, or peanuts.
Traditionally in this region of southern Zambia, parents have often fed children the mealie meal alone, which might fill a child up, but will not provide the essential vitamins and minerals that a child needs for healthy growth.
When World Vision staff began the Moyo community in 2011, the malnutrition rates were fairly low. The rains had been plentiful in recent years, so food was abundant. But last year, the rains decreased and people struggled to provide for their families out of their meager harvests.
World Vision noted that many children in Moyo and other neighboring communities in southern Zambia were experiencing weight loss, also known as wasting, and stunting.
“We had no knowledge at that time about how to prepare nutritious food for children,” says Eunice Mutanga, the chairperson of the Hamabbonka Nutrition Women’s Support Group in Moyo and also the mother of four children who range in age from two to sixteen.
“My first child she had malnutrition,” says Eunice. “I felt so bad because my child, she was weightless.”
Eunice traveled at least once a month to a distant health clinic so her daughter could be treated. During the rainy season, the way to the clinic often became impassable.
To reduce the number of malnourished children in the area, World Vision offered prenatal care to expectant mothers. They encouraged mothers to exclusively breastfeed their infants for the first six months.
Then World Vision invited women to join a nutrition group, where they offered free classes on nutrition and cooking. World Vision encouraged parents to feed a variety of foods to their children to ensure that the food provided more protein, vitamins, and minerals.
World Vision also provided seeds and training so families could grow their own vegetables.
The ultimate goal was to help children reach their fifth birthday in good health. If a child lives past 5, their chances of survival increase dramatically.
Matilda Makombo, World Vision’s Development Facilitator for Health & HIV in neighboring Twachiyanda, says that before World Vision started these programs in Twachiyanda, one out of three children were stunted due to malnutrition, and 22 percent of children were wasting – experiencing severe weight loss.
By introducing these nutritional programs, they’ve been able to reduce the malnutrition rate to two percent!
Today, women from the nutrition group go door to door in their villages. They check children in each household for signs of malnutrition. If they find an underweight child, they teach his or her parents how to cook more nutritious food, just as World Vision once taught them.
They show families how to use foods that are readily available and inexpensive, such as greens like rabe, egg yolks, and groundnuts. The variety makes for a more balanced diet.
Mouchindu Heedia, a nutrition group member, says, “It has really helped the children because these days there are very few children who are malnourished. It has really helped the community.”
Under the trees, 2-year-old Emma’s mother feeds her mealie meal. One-year-old Limpo eats pale gold porridge, fortified with egg yolk. Mwenda, 3, and Leya, 4, share a bowl. All the children now fall within a healthy weight for their age.
Eunice, whose daughter is now healthy, says, “After we learned these techniques of preparing some food, there are fewer children that are dying from malnutrition diseases. Especially this year we didn’t have any death from malnutrition.”
The women hope to expand the reach of their group to other surrounding communities. Mouchindu says, “If those communities are also trained in these activities of nutrition, then we know that we are going to save a lot of lives.”
Photo (above): Leya, 4, attends the women's nutrition group with her mother. (2013 Laura Reinhardt/World Vision)
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