By Angie Boehmer, Frist Global Health Leader
I arrived in Kenya about 2 weeks ago and was warmly welcomed at Lwala Community Alliance (LCA). Thus far I have spent much of my time observing and learning. While my work this summer is to join the public health team to focus on malnutrition interventions within the Thrive Thru 5 project, I have had the opportunity to follow each of the Lwala teams in their work. Although I spent most of my time outside of programs specific to malnutrition, nearly everyday I saw work or projects that are positively impacting child nutrition.
Let me show you how.
1. Evidence shows that children who live without clean water and adequate sanitation facilities are more likely to be malnourished than children who do.
Lack of clean water and sanitation leads to diarrhea. Diarrhea limits a child’s ability to absorb nutrients from food, which leads to malnutrition.
Last week I followed Lwala staff that focus on sanitation and hygiene to a village where they are partnering with the local community health workers (CHW) to achieve the goal of an open-defecation free zone. This means that everyone defecates in a latrine rather than in the bush. We spent the morning visiting homes of households that did not have a latrine where we discussed the benefits of a latrine and assessed that household’s barriers to building one.
At one home, an old woman told us that she wanted to have a latrine, but she was not strong enough to build one on her own. Understanding that barrier, a few days later, the village CHW mobilized local youth to help construct a latrine at this woman’s home. The greater number of households who defecate in a latrine will increase the sanitation of the entire community and improve child nutrition.
2. Farms are abundant around Lwala, but most of the farming land is used for cash crops, like sugar cane, and there is minimal space to grow a variety of nutritious fruits, vegetables and beans for the family.
On a Wednesday, I followed Lwala’s agricultural training program, DIG (Development in Gardening) team, to an after-school gardening club. That day children learned how to plant a sack garden — a strategic method for growing produce with a limited amount of land for gardening.
Empowered with this knowledge, children can be agents of change in their own families by demonstrating this technique to their families and improve the likelihood of growing more nutrient-rich foods for the home.
3. Finally, a factor influencing child malnutrition is the mother’s level of education and the mother’s age at pregnancy.
The less education a mother has, the more likely her children will be malnourished. Adolescent girls require a lot of nutrients for their own growth, so when they become pregnant, their baby is more likely to be born under-nourished, as they weren’t able to get enough nutrients from their mother.
One afternoon I followed the education team to a girl’s mentoring program at the primary school. The program’s goal is to keep girls in school and empower them to become strong young women. Lwala is working to ensure that girls who participate in this program are more likely to stay in school and more likely to have a later age of first pregnancy than girls without mentoring. In those ways, this program positively impacts the nutrition of the next generation.
This is a big deal. These experiences demonstrate both the complexity of challenges related to malnutrition and the need for a holistic solution. Improving child nutrition requires more than just providing more food. In these first 2 weeks of orientation I have already witnessed collaboration between LCA staff and community health workers to holistically address the challenges of malnutrition in a culturally appropriate way. I look forward to learning more and working with the LCA team to improve child health this summer.