By Daniel Nyanjagha:
All over Bafuta Village in Mulanje South East, signs were there that the village was sick. Women and children looked pale.
The villagers never gave any serious thought to what went in their mouths, let alone where to dispose of what they discharge.
Many villagers had no toilets or pit latrines or knew the importance of washing their hands and bathing. Malnutrition took its toll on the village.
Children in the village would start school late than others from surrounding villages.
“Children in the village looked very small yet were older than their age. They used to start school when they were eight years of age,” Village Head Bafuta explained.
Pregnant and lactating mothers had no idea of how to take care of themselves and their babies. Many of them suffered from malnutrition-related diseases like anaemia, marasmus and kwashiorkor.
Bafuta Village Nutrition Coordinating Committee Secretary, Margaret Zagwa said dietary challenges were a common future for most women in the village.
“Generally, we did not have direction and advice on how to take care of ourselves and the children. We didn’t care what kind of food we ate,” she admitted.
Pregnant women never considered going for medical check-ups. There were no under-five clinics for lactating mothers who had to travel long distance to find one.
The notion that their lives were worth more than their pride started to cross their minds; they realised it was high time they changed their behaviours before sicknesses escalated in their village.
With the help of Malawi Red Cross Society (MRCS) through the Scaling Up Nutrition (Sun) programme, the village has changed both in appearance and community behaviour.
In Mulanje, cases of stunting, wasting and underweight are still on the increase as indicated by the Malawi Demographic and Health Survey (MDHS) of 2016 which rates the district at 36.5, four and 17, respectively.
However, through the Mulanje District Development Plan (DDP- 2018), the district is determined to reduce stunting to 25 percent by 2022.
In response to the worrying trends of stunting in Bafuta Village, the SUN programme was introduced in 2017 to improve the nutritional status of lactating women and under-five children in the area.
Community Nutrition Promoter for Bafuta Village, Laston Manuel said the trainings that were conducted through the project were useful.
“The programme started with conducting trainings which I believe, have contributed to our social development. The good thing is that the community was very eager to learn,” he said.
Manuel added: “We were introduced to counselling modules. The first part tackled on body and household hygiene; the other module dwelt on pregnant women, particularly on how they can take care of themselves. We were taught about the six food groups that can help nourish our bodies.”
Bafuta Village is now a shining example to all other surrounding villages. Cases of cholera or malnutrition are now history.
Meanwhile, nearly all the households in the village have a backyard garden and a decent pit latrine to the community’s delight.
According to Zagwa, the realisation that they did not need to have more money to provide their homes with the major six food groups made all the difference.
“We don’t need to buy expensive foods to be nourished. We can grow vegetables in gardens behind our houses; we can have grasshoppers for our animal protein, we can use groundnuts for oils and we keep chickens; thus, eggs are easy to get,” she boasted.
Through the care group model that MRCS formulated, people in the village have learnt a lot from each other as they always strive to find different ways of making the most of food and dietary diversification to ensure a balanced diet.
One notion that many of them have learnt is a one pot dish, a simple food preparation method that combines all the essential ingredients in one serving.
Zagwa observed, “When I am preparing porridge for my child, I use maize flour and then I add some vegetables in season at the time, groundnuts flour and eggs. That means four groups of food can be taken in one meal. Thereafter, I give my child a fruit to enrich the meal.”
In an attempt to shorten the distance to the nearest clinic for post and antenatal visits for women with young children, women in Bafuta Village took the liberty of opening an under-five clinic.
The clinic was built with poles and plastic sheets. An assigned health worker visits the clinic twice a week.
“The village head gave us a piece of land where we raised a shed but plans are in the pipeline to build a strong and proper structure,”Village Development Committee Vice Chairperson, Mary Charles revealed.
She disclosed that Village Head (VH) Bafuta allocated another pocket of land to the committee for banana cultivation.
Just like many other areas in the district, Bafuta Village used to grow bananas but due to the Banana Bunchy Top Virus (BBTV) it led to a dwindle in production of the crop over the years.
Determined to revive the crop, the village is making sure that every household has a banana plantation.
“We received banana suckers from MRCS but people had no land on which to plant the crop. So, I assigned them a piece of land and we have a nursery now,” VH Bafuta said.
While the Sun programme is expected to come to a close at the end of this year, one thing that poses a challenge is sustainability of the interventions.
The community in Bafuta Village has, nevertheless, vowed to make the most of the knowledge it has acquired through the programme to enhance the quality of their lives.
“There is no way, we can stop doing what we have learned from the programme. Red Cross empowered with the knowledge and no one can take that knowledge away from us,” Manuel challenged.
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