With left hands raised and right hands over their hearts, a group of Nigerian fathers recite a pledge together:
“We promise that every one of us will construct a tippy tap* in our households and that those that have no latrine will construct one for the members of their households. We will not allow diseases related to poor sanitation to affect us and our neighbors nor allow malnutrition to affect our children and our neighbors, so help us God.”
In Northeast Nigeria, taking care of children is primarily seen as “women’s work” – but that’s not the case for the dads making this pledge. They have gathered for the monthly meeting of their fathers’ group, an Action Against Hunger initiative that aims to break the cultural barriers that stand in the way of the fight against malnutrition in Nigeria’s Yobe State.
The fathers’ groups bring thousands of men together in small groups of 15. Members all have children under two years old and their wives are active in women’s care groups. The monthly meetings focus on what men can do to support and improve the nutrition and health of their families. The groups also aim to challenge traditional gender norms by encouraging decision-making partnerships at home between husbands and wives.
The Advocate: Hassan’s Story
At the last meeting of his fathers’ group, Hassan Mamman learned about nutrition and made it his mission to ensure that no child in his community is malnourished. With his mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC) arm band, he can measure children for malnutrition.
“The tape is very easy to use,” he says, digging through his bag to find the color-coded bracelet. He explains how the band’s color codes – green, yellow, and red – help parents clearly identify when their children are malnourished. Hassan began by measuring his own children, then proceeded to his neighbors’ children and other children across his community.
“I went from house to house, and eventually I found a child who was malnourished,” he says. He referred the boy to one of the Action Against Hunger-supported hospitals in the community for treatment. His parents measured his progress at home using the MUAC band, which – after a month of treatment – showed that the boy had recovered and was out of the danger zone.
Hassan spoke with the boy’s parents about the importance of adding complementary foods to their children’s diets when they reach six months old, since breastmilk is no longer enough to meet a child’s nutrition needs. He also taught them how a diverse diet is essential to keeping their family healthy and shared a recipe for a nutritious porridge made with ground millet, soya beans, and groundnut.
The Quick-Learner: Idris’ Story
Idris Yusuf had heard about malnutrition. But before his fathers’ group met to discuss the topic, he did not what it was, the dangers it posed, or that it was lurking at his doorstep.
At their meeting, Idris fulfilled the same commitment Hassan did: he took his MUAC band home to measure his own children. He wrapped the tape around his son Ahmed’s arm and was surprised to see his son was in the red zone, meaning his child was severely malnourished.
Thanks to the lessons from his fathers’ group, Idris knew what to do. He quickly brought his son to the Action Against Hunger Stabilization Center, where the boy was admitted and treated. Little Ahmed has made a full recovery and today, with Idris watching over him carefully, he is once again a healthy child.
* A Tippy Tap is a simple hand-washing station used in many rural areas. People can use their feet to tap a lever that tips clean water into their hands, preventing dirty hands from contaminating the water.