By Donata Kizza
More than a quarter of the world’s children under the age of 5 years suffer from undernutrition. This includes 155 million children who are stunted as a result of chronic undernutrition and other limiting factors during the most vulnerable years of a child’s life. Undernutrition leaves children vulnerable to disease, impoverishes families, diminishes community resilience, and reduces critical human capital and capacity, thereby causing long-term detriment to national economies and social development.
International Potato Center (CIP) with support from Feed the Future (FTF) through USAID, is addressing nutrition challenges in Rwanda. CIP carries out training of trainers (ToT) sessions with community health workers (CHWs) from different districts in which CIP operates to help in sensitizing women and men in their communities on how to improve their household nutrition levels through cooking and eating a balanced diet.
Here, children of under five years, expectant and breastfeeding mothers are the focus during the training. For instance, Community Health Workers (CHWs) are trained on what foods expectant mothers should be eating after giving birth to produce enough breastmilk. The training covers why exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months of an infants life is very important and that its important for mothers to eat a balanced diet so that their babies receive vital nutrients during breastfeeding.
They are also taught about weaning their babies after six months, that is introducing solid foods (two) spoons of food twice a day plus breastfeeding.
“Although breastmilk is said to contain all the necessary nutrients a child may need, the food introduced at this stage is said to provide some nutrients like proteins and vitamins,” says Marie Grace Nkundabombi, CIP nutritionist.
At seven to eight months, the amount of food a child eats increases and they can start to eat three times a day whereas from nine months to two years, a child may be fed more than three times a day as well as fruits in between these times of feeding. She adds.
Marie Grace advises that the food should be soft and edible enough for the child and not so soft that it can slide off the feeding spoon. She explains that usually, foods that can easily slide off the spoon do not have all nutrients compared to the solid ones.
Speaking to Mukasitacye Liberatha from Nyamagabe District, understanding that the first two years of a child’s life are so crucial was a big lesson to her. She learned that poor feeding of a child within this period might affect the rest of his/her entire life.
Therefore, Liberatha vowed to put more efforts in her duties as a community health worker by educating the women in her area, the importance of eating a balanced diet, saying that parents need to know that it is their responsibility to raise healthy children who will be of use to their communities as well as the nation.
“I have learned a lot especially how to feed a toddler and expectant mothers as well as how to ensure that a child receives enough breastmilk,” Liberatha added.
“As a father figure, I will also remind and encourage fathers of their responsibility in the upbringing of their children and not leaving this to only the mothers as we were taught during the training,” another CHW says.
During nutrition training, community health workers (CHWs) are also taught about planting and harvesting of orange-fleshed sweetpotato which is rich in vitamin A and nutritious for children under five years, breastfeeding, and expectant mothers.