In a community in Burundi, within two years one new food cut their malnutrition rate in half … soymilk!
See how, and the difference it's making for these children and their entire community.
When the World Vision staff first saw Claudine Nsabumukama earlier this year, they feared that the girl was near death. Claudine’s mother thought her 7-year-old daughter was bewitched and had taken her to a traditional healer, but she didn’t improve.
Elysee Nibitanga, a community health facilitator for World Vision, immediately saw all the signs of severe malnutrition: gray hair, swollen body, difficulty walking. Claudine weighed 27 pounds.
It looked hopeless. “I was about to give up,” says Claudine’s mother, Cesarie Mbazumutima.
“I could realize how Claudine’s mother was distressed and hopeless,” Elysee says. “I tried to comfort her, but deep in myself, I doubted if we would make it.”
The scene is all too common in Burundi, which leads the 2014 Global Hunger Index, based on per capita rates of under-nourished and underweight children under the age of five, as well as mortality rates. An estimated 58 percent of children under five are stunted in their growth due to malnutrition.
One of the poorest countries in the world, more than 80 percent of the 10 million Burundians live on $1.25 per day.
“Poverty,” says Helene Nibigira, a community health nurse who surveys neighborhoods in the northern Muyinga province for children suffering from malnutrition. “Poverty is there. We cannot ignore this. Poverty is something which burdens communities.”
Elysee has been working in the Karira Hill community for the last four years as a health coordinator, a place where acute and severe malnutrition affects at least half of the children living there.
When she first arrived, she would see children suffering from malnutrition, treat them for about two weeks, and send them home. But she was finding that children often relapsed because families simply didn’t have enough to eat and the child would return two months later.
Moms like Esterine Ntirampeba watched helplessly as her 2-year-old son, Onesime, relapsed to the effects of malnutrition after he had been treated more than a year before.
She had already seen five of her children die; only two remained. She was convinced that Onesime would be her sixth child to die.
Elysee and World Vision staff knew that they had to try to find a solution. Collaborating with community members, they searched for a source of nutrition that they could introduce into the community. The answer, they agreed, was the soy plant.
Community members started associations and World Vision supported them with soybean seeds. Now one year later, they have started producing soymilk.
The soy-based supplemental feeding program is proving to be a low-tech but effective tool against malnutrition. It started slowly in the Simbimanga association, Elysee said, but gradually, community members have been able to generate 100 liters per day when they have children to feed. One kilogram of soy can produce up to 8 liters of milk.
According to Elysee, soymilk acts quickly to combat malnutrition. In a situation of food scarcity, soymilk provides more protein, which is much needed by malnourished children.
After starting in on a soymilk regime, Onesime has totally recovered from malnutrition! Esterine rejoices and is now an active participant in the soymilk feeding program.
She joined the Simbimanga association and attends once a week. She wakes up early in the morning, gets ready, ties Onesime on her back, and walks to where the association grinds soy and produces milk.
The production process is simple: they grind soybeans into flour, boil the flour, and filter the liquid to obtain milk, Esterine says. Milk produced is given to malnourished children, and the remaining milk is given to other children in the community.
“The soy plant is not only beating malnutrition but also boosting the economy,” Esterine says.
Every day, her association supplies milk to families with malnourished children in the area. Families who belong to the association pay nothing; other families pay roughly 32 cents per liter.
World Vision is also supplying bicycles to community workers who travel and teach families about child and maternal health. Some bicycles are also used to distribute soy milk.
A year after the supplemental soy feeding program has begun, the Simbimanga association has cranked out more than 5,000 liters of soy milk, according to Elysee. She thinks they will produce even more by the end of this year.
Best of all, 189 children suffering malnutrition in the community have recovered on the soymilk feeding program.
The community has seen the percentage of underweight children due to malnutrition drop from 51 percent in 2013 to 25 percent this year.
“When I saw those statistics, I was very happy to see the decrease in malnutrition rates,” she said.
“Soymilk is an amazing solution to malnutrition,” she added.
After intensive treatment with vitamins and a balanced diet at Simbimanga association nutrition center, Elysee watched Claudine bounce back.
In three months, her weight has doubled, her hair is black, and the swelling of her body has receded. The girl who could barely walk now enjoys playing volleyball or handball.
Claudine’s mother joined the association that saved her daughter’s life. She’s farming soybeans and producing the milk so that other children will live.
*Additional reporting by Achel Bayisenge.
Learn more about how World Vision's programs are making a lasting impact for children and families in Burundi.