Nutritional centres a 'one stop shop' for a better life
Kalemie Katanga – If there is anyone as vulnerable as a 15-month-old baby, it is her widowed mother. Nutritional centres like the one in this town on Lake Tanganyika are helping.
Malnutrition, so often caused by sheer poverty, can be ameliorated with nutritious easy-to-grow vegetables to augment the starchy local diet. So when mothers bring malnourished children to a centre, instead of simply nursing the little ones back to health and sending them home to the same diet, why not teach the mothers how to grow healthy food?
This simple formula is working in hundreds of Congolese nutritional centres.
"They're astonished that the greens grow back in three weeks," notes centre nutritionist Eugenie Mbuyu, referring to mothers who work in the centre vegetable garden under the guidance of an FAO trainer. Support like this combines local dedication with assistance from three UN agencies.
An exhausted 45-year-old widow, Guylane Fatouma, her baby girl on the mend, speaks of the war years in the town. Reduced to eating cassava peelings when militiamen stole all her food and animals, she was forced to send her eldest children scavenging for food in the countryside – at risk of their lives. Now she supports her family the only way she knows how, by growing a patch of cassava.
When her baby stopped eating recently, Ms Fatouma brought her to the centre and using enriched milk provided by UNICEF tried to coax the child back from heaven's door. "She refused it for a day. Finally she took a mouthful."
The centre helps about 50 children a month. Sometimes they are too ill to save and diseases like meningitis or measles carry them off.
As they grow stronger they move on to World Food Programme rations and fresh vegetables grown in the centre gardens from seeds provided by FAO. When a mother takes her child home, usually after a one-month stay, FAO gives her a garden starter kit: hoe, machete, watering can and vegetable seeds.
The colourfully clad mothers who are harvesting greens next to the recovery wards are asked when they'll replant. "Before the sun goes down," they say.
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