Dong-Uuro, Philemon Puordeme – Nutrition Schools for Healthy Children

Food insecurity and the associated child malnutrition is of serious concern in the Wa West District of Northern Ghana. The issue of under-five malnutrition in these rural communities is more complex than just the availability or otherwise of nutritious food. The right knowledge and skills for preparing child feed and proper post-cooking handling of food are more important. Even belief systems of the people has negative implications for under-five nutrition. Even though the Health System has a Child Nutrition component, rural health facilities are usually handicapped in delivering the basic health care services, talk less of nutrition education. The rural health thus needs support to be able to deliver nutrition education services for mothers of under-five children, who are often more vulnerable to nutrition related health problems. The Nutrition Schools initiative is working to contribute towards the eradication of under-five malnutrition in the targeted communities and the District at large. Mother support groups are trained on a range of topics on Infant and Young Child Feeding (IYCF), Exclusive Breastfeeding, Under-Five Nutritional Requirements and Food Hygiene. The project also promotes the cultivation of Orange-Fleshed Sweet Potatoes for incorporation in child feed, as well as an economic crop. The women are also trained on the practical skills in cooking various kinds of food to maintain their nutrients during Food Demonstrations. The project is making efforts to bring mothers closer to existing health facilities and ignite the regularization of Nutrition Schools in Rural Health Facilities in the District. As such, I work in close collaboration with Health Facilities and Mother Support Groups, with the help of volunteers to create a system awakening in providing nutrition education using both traditional methods and IT innovations.

The first five years of a child’s life and the health issues that might confront a child during that period can, to a large extend, influence how much he/she would realize his/her full physical and intellectual potentials in adulthood! This is because, children are more vulnerable to nutrition related health problems due to their underdeveloped physiological and psychological systems. So, for children growing up in rural communities, who are already disadvantaged by lack of social amenities, the threat of malnutrition will only worsen their already undesirable situation. All these children deserve a brighter future, and that brighter future becomes gloom in the face of malnutrition and related sicknesses. Having personally grown up under such conditions, I see myself lucky to have developed full intellectual capabilities. Too many children have not been that lucky and too many may not be that lucky without some action. I decided to be part of that action to give a brighter future to these rural children, by ensuring that they grow up healthier!

One very important issue about child malnutrition is that it is not always the result of a lack of adequate nutritious food but mostly, the lack of appropriate knowledge and skills on the part of mothers and caregivers on how to make use of the available food to meet the nutrition requirements of under-five children. Also important is the fact that belief systems and health seeking behaviors have negative implications on child nutrition. This project addresses the root causes of child malnutrition by seeking to impact knowledge and skills, as well as cause a change in perception about child health and nutrition. It also works with the existing systems instead of trying to create any ew systems that could be less sustainable.

The initial TPP grant was the magic wand that ignited the passion that I had inside me, but which saw very less expression, in terms of action. The TPP initial grant actually helped to kick start the process of strengthening my relationship with the health facilities, mother support groups and the communities. It also helped me to verify that my approach towards addressing the problem of child malnutrition works. It was just what I needed to start my little change story. Having it as a small seed grant was immensely useful because it ignited a deeper thinking and careful planning as to the best way to go about addressing the big issues identified with such a small amount. It was challenging, however today I am grateful that I started that small.

Certainly it would be difficult to accept that I would not be able to expand the work that has now become a part of my daily living or at worst continue to support some of the mothers who still need a little more help to take better care of their children. The follow up grant is therefore a very important further push that will allow me to sustain the impacts of the work I started, while reaching out to even more people. More importantly, with the follow up grant, I will be able to tackle the aspect of igniting a system’s reawakening towards child nutrition education, at least, at the sub-district level. Furthermore, I now have the opportunity to continue growing the work in scope while seeking collaborations with other development partners who would more likely want to work with me because of what am already doing.

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