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Feed a child transform a community

Feed a child, transform a community

By Melody Murton

During a visit with our local Christian partners in Zambia, I had the privilege of meeting Christine, Atines, and Salifyanji. Their inspiring stories show the connection between nourished children and transformed communities, and the life-changing difference it makes when people are empowered to overcome barriers to good food and nutrition.

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Tearfund's Melody Murton (left), with ROCS local nutrition promoter, Christine (right), in in north-east Zambia.

Christine

I hope every mum can have someone like Christine in their life: someone to cheer them on, walk alongside them, make them laugh and offer practical support. That’s what Christine does for the women in her small rural community in north-east Zambia. She’s been trained by Tearfund’s partner Reformed Open Community Schools (ROCS), part of the Reformed Church of Zambia, as a local nutrition promoter. In this voluntary role, Christine promotes good nutrition among local households, through things like cooking demonstrations and home visits with new mums.

Christine told me that previously, women didn’t have the knowledge needed to tackle the health and nutrition challenges their families faced. Today, though, it’s a different story. As we gathered together inside a cool mudbrick building, a dozen or so women stood up one by one to share about a nutritious dish they now cooked for their families – thanks to Christine’s teaching. They described how they make it, often from the vegetables they grow in their own gardens (another ROCS initiative that is driving improvement in health and livelihoods), and what it’s helpful for: growth, iron, energy, building the body…

“ROCS taught us very well how to prepare a variety of foods,” Christine shared. “When a child takes this food, they will change. Even mothers who are anaemic. A child who eats this has eaten all the food groups – just maize is not enough. Everything we have shown today has helped. Children who had malnutrition, after eating this food, got well. This food we grow on our own, it is medicine. We didn’t know it was medicine for us.

Christine is clearly passionate about her community. She shares her knowledge and ideas generously and enthusiastically, looking out for those who are struggling and working collectively with the community to ensure everyone has the opportunity to thrive.

“As a group of women, we are committed to helping others and preparing for the children,” Christine said. “My hope for the community is to see women learning new things, and have more of these lessons.”

Feed a child transform a community
Christine (far right) leads a welcome song with a group of local mothers, who she supports as a volunteer nutrition promoter.
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“Children who had malnutrition, after eating this food, got well.” Christine and women from her community share the transformation they’ve experienced through access to good food and nutrition education.

Atines

After the women finished their food demonstration, Christine introduced me to one of the women whose story she was especially excited to share: Atines. A young first-time mum, Atines was softly spoken but definitively clear about the transforming power of good food and nutrition education. Holding tightly to her side was her two-year-old daughter, Salifyanji.

Sitting in the shade of some trees outside the mudbrick building, Atines told me how, just six months ago, Salifyanji’s health was deteriorating. At a routine visit to the local health practitioner, Atines was told that Salifyanji needed help – quickly. Her skin and hair were pale, and she had developed oedema – all signs that she was malnourished.

Until that time, Atines only had her own limited knowledge to draw upon in supporting her child’s development. “I didn’t have the information to keep her healthy,” she reflects.

This was hard to hear, and even now I’m heavy-hearted with the injustice of it. As a mum myself, with my own little girl not much older than Salifyanji, I’ve had a flood of information and support at my fingertips through the early years of parenting. Books, blogs, maternal health nurses, breastfeeding hotlines, products, apps and a host of family and friends with ready advice. I worried over the health of my kids at times, but I always had something or someone to help at hand.

Thankfully, Christine connected with Atines at just the right time. Atines shared how she was only too happy to have Christine visit her home, cook with her, and be taught how to boost the nutrition in her family’s diet with locally available foods, including provisions she could grow, preserve and store herself.

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In just one week, Atines noticed a difference in Salifyanji. “[Now] I am making these foods every day and eating them myself too,” Atines shared, and laughed as she added: “I’ve gained weight also!”

Empowered with supplies, knowledge and a new network of support, Atines’ hope and confidence was restored. She was overjoyed to have what she needed to nurture her daughter towards a childhood of growth and discovery, and a healthy and productive future.

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Two-year-old Salifyanji’s health is thriving now, 6 months after battling malnutrition.

Salifyanji

When I first sat down to listen to these inspiring women, I wrote their names down and asked if they were happy for their photos and stories to be shared with people in Australia who would want to learn about, pray for and give to further the work that’s been happening in their community. I checked the spelling as I jotted down their names: Christine was easy, I’d met another Atines earlier in our Zambia visit, but I hadn’t encountered the name Salifyanji before, and asked what it meant. “It means ‘being thankful’,” Atines told me.

What a beautifully fitting name for this child who has overcome significant challenges so early on in life. She’s a living example of the transformation that good food and nutrition education can bring, particularly when it comes at such a vital stage of development. But the nourishment Salifyanji can now enjoy is about more than just a healthier diet: she’s growing up in a community that is equipped to enjoy nourishment for all areas of life.

Education around health and nutrition ensures that people are well-informed to build on the foundation of a good diet for long-term change. Alongside this, in a region where livelihoods are dependent on agriculture, sustainable farming practices are needed to cope with difficult growing conditions and soaring costs of supplies like seeds and fertiliser.

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ROCS also supports a group of community members in developing sustainable and resilient ways to grow food. This plot is cared for collectively, with members adopting tested plant varieties and techniques in their home gardens.

In Salifyanji’s neighbourhood, there are other young children who are now thriving, and mums (and dads!) who have what they need to nurture their families. This transformation is being experienced by other communities throughout Zambia too, thanks to the faithful work of ROCS. In fact, beyond Zambia, in places around the world hardest hit by the global hunger crisis, Tearfund’s partners are helping to implement sustainable and transformative solutions to food insecurity and malnutrition.

Nourished children and transformed communities: now that’s something to be thankful for.

Nourished for Life – End of Financial Year Appeal

Hunger and malnutrition are robbing children of the fullness of life they were made for. Help nurture healthy children and supportive communities.

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Melody Murton is Tearfund’s Head of Communication and Education

Related projects have received support from the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP).