Regina and three other women walk between fields planted with sorghum. They are visiting families—Regina’s neighbors—to conduct screenings to identify acutely malnourished children in need of treatment.
"Sometimes we do the screenings in the community from house to house, like now," says Regina. “Other times, we organize meetings and invite mothers to learn about breastfeeding their babies and how to do it correctly. We teach them about the importance of a balanced diet and about how good hygiene can avoid diseases.”
Regina lives in a village in Malualkon, in Northern Bahr el Ghazal, where in July 2017, an estimated 435,000 people were on the brink of famine, facing acute food insecurity and emergency levels of malnutrition among children.
Regina was selected by Action Against Hunger’s nutrition team to be a leader in our mother-to-mother support groups, which are part of our program to prevent malnutrition among children by educating mothers and caregivers about healthy care and feeding practices and referring acutely malnourished children to our centers for lifesaving treatment.
Regina is a “lead mother” in her community’s support group. Her case is a bit unique, since she has no living biological children. Many years ago, Regina’s only child died 14 days after she was born. However, Regina took on the responsibility of caring for six of her relative’s children; she cares for them as if they were her own. When the youngest child became sick, Regina took him to the Action Against Hunger nutrition site, where he was diagnosed with acute malnutrition.
After the child was admitted to Action Against Hunger’s outpatient treatment program, Regina brought him back to the nutrition site every week for medical checkups and to receive rations of “ready-to-use therapeutic food,” high in micronutrients and protein, and packaged in sachets that do not require refrigeration or mixing with water. In the waiting room, Action Against Hunger’s health and nutrition team saw the way Regina put the other mothers at ease and recognized her gift for communicating and connecting with people. They asked her to join their team of community nutrition volunteers, and she agreed.
Knowledge is power
"I wanted to be useful to the community," Regina says. She started Action Against Hunger’s community nutrition volunteer training sessions with a few other mothers, and the work began. "It is essential for me to pass the message along to the new generations. They are the future of the country,” she says.
Regina’s participation as a lead mother is part of an Action Against Hunger initiative that encourages positive changes in community health and behavior. "Encouraging healthy care and feeding practices, as well as proper hygiene practices, are part of an approach called ‘social and behavior change.’ It helps change unhealthy habits or behavior, such as feeding infants solid food or water, which they cannot digest. Poor care and feeding practices, and poor hygiene practices, contribute to malnutrition among children. Educating mothers and caregivers about health and nutrition helps prevent and reduce child malnutrition. We use this approach in conjunction with our efforts to treat malnourished children: this gives families an active role in safeguarding their children's health,” says the Head of Action Against Hunger’s nutrition program in Malualkon. “Empowering mothers means we believe in them and their power to help end a public health threat that kills too many children in this community.”
Regina has already received two trainings from the Action Against Hunger nutrition team in Malualkon, and she believes these efforts can help turn the tide on the hunger emergency.
"Here, some women have to walk many miles to bring their very malnourished children to the health centers for care,” she says. “But things are starting to change thanks to this program. We are coming together to learn about nutrition, and to control our own fate and that of our children.”