Democratic Republic of the Congo: Women learn to eat better, not more (Syfia Grands Lacs)

| November 7, 2011

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In DRC’s North Kivu province, educating women about food is beginning to bear fruit. Women are learning how to prevent malnutrition by preparing balanced meals with locally available products. At a local health centre, a pregnant woman says, “We used to eat cassava fufu from the first to the thirty-first of the month. But now I know how to vary our meals.”

In recent months, workers from the National Nutrition Program feeding centres have been going door-to-door in Goma and Rutshuru to identify families and children affected by malnutrition. Eray Barungu works with the nutrition program. According to the organization’s surveys, Mr. Barungu notes, “Six per cent of people in North Kivu are malnourished, mostly children and pregnant and lactating women.”

The household visits are an opportunity to teach women how to feed their family well with available foods. Many women still believe quantity of food is more important than quality. Nutritionists working on the program identify this lack of knowledge, rather than lack of food, as the main cause of malnutrition.

Aimedo Placide is a nutritionist with Caritas, an NGO working with the program. He says, “That is why we train the women about the value of a balanced diet. When food consumption in households is diverse … the family is insured against malnutrition.” According to Mr. Placide, a balanced diet includes cereals, tubers, animal protein, vegetables, beans, sugar and oil.

The town of Rutshuru is located 50 kilometres from the provincial capital of Goma. Food education sessions are held regularly at a local health centre. Ms. Nzabonimpa is the mother of malnourished twins. They are more than one year old, but are not yet crawling. The mother comes to the centre every Monday for a medical appointment, and learns how to feed her young children a good diet. She says, “I know how to make milk from soybeans. With little money, I can now make sure they get all the nutrients they need.”

Thanks to the food education sessions, hundreds of families are now able to feed themselves better. Over two hundred families received a pair of guinea pigs, then passed on the female offspring to other families. Nearly fifty families received goats under a similar arrangement. One hundred and twenty women have formed a group to grow soy beans, maize and vegetables.

Mrs. Baudoine is head of nutrition at one health centre. Previously, malnourished children required at least a 30-day treatment in health centres. Their mothers stayed with them, leaving other children at home. But, as Mrs. Baudoine explains, “When the [mothers] went home, they found their other children were in turn malnourished.” According to Mrs. Baudoine, this is why the health centre began home visits. Involving the community in the fight against malnutrition has helped break this vicious cycle, which was observed in several feeding centres in Rutshuru.

Since 2010, community networks have been created to monitor malnutrition in each village. Today, only the most severe cases are sent to the hospital.