Two-year-old Delphine lives with her mother in Kirundo, the province with the highest rate of childhood malnutrition in Burundi. Delphine was found to be malnourished at just six-months old because she wasn’t able to get the nutritious food she needed. Her mother, Espérence, attended a series of nutrition sessions run by Concern where she learned good nutrition, food preparation and hygiene practices.
She said, “I attended two sessions with about 24 other mothers. Each session lasted for twelve days. During that time we were paired with a Maman Lumière (light mother). She showed us how to cook and I was able to share her cooking utensils. Delphine hasn’t suffered from malnutrition since then. Delphine might have died because she wasn’t getting the right food to keep her healthy. Now I know what’s best for her and I’m happy because of the advice and knowledge we have been given.”
Concern also encouraged Espérence and her husband to build a kitchen garden and grow their own food such as aubergines, sweet potatoes and amaranth. She explains how vital this is:
The crisis disproportionately affects children, who make up around half of the population. The situation in Kirundo province is particularly alarming with rates of acute malnutrition among children rapidly on the increase. Severe acute malnutrition is the most extreme and visible form of undernutrition. Its face is a child – frail and very thin – who requires urgent treatment to survive.
The government is currently unable to support the needs of its poor population. Insecurity and a failing economy have placed additional strains on already weak government services and the instability restricts trade both inside the country and across its borders, limiting the availability of food.
Concern works with communities to manage acute malnutrition and supports almost 550 Community Health Workers and more than 5,400 volunteers who carry out regular childhood screening programmes. The health workers are trained to spot the early signs of malnutrition and treat coughs, malaria and diarrhoea. Mamans Lumieres, light mothers, are female volunteers and mothers themselves. They explain the benefits of breastfeeding, train mothers to ensure their family get a nutritious diet and show them how to prepare food hygienically and for optimal nutrition.
Mothers whose children are moderately acutely malnourished are enrolled in nutrition sessions where they receive advice on how to ensure their child is getting the diet it needs. They are also given support to build a kitchen garden and an opportunity to be part of a savings and loans scheme.
The approach is especially effective because it focuses on behaviour change and peer-to-peer communication aimed at stopping malnutrition and easily preventable diseases before they take hold. When cases of severe acute malnutrition are diagnosed, the mother and child are referred to a local health centre where they receive treatment. However, the limited number of clinics offering these services, and the lack of facilities for complicated cases (there are only two in the whole of Kirundo) mean that there are insufficient structures for severe acute malnutrition treatment.
The aim of Concern’s work is to ensure that these communities have a bright and hopeful future. Providing nutrition advice and assistance in times of dire need is just part of the answer.
Our kitchen garden project is a sustainable way for families to feed themselves and provides a community-based solution that makes a real difference in countries like Burundi. The gardens themselves are very simple: Concern provides seeds and training for families to grow a vegetable patch designed to maximise the production of food throughout the year. Families can grow carrots, avocado, sweet potatoes and plants like the protein-rich amaranth.