One-year-old Avelino Katende lives with his grandmother Cecília Mariana in the Benguela province of Angola. His mother died when he was only two weeks old and he did not receive the essential nutrition that breast milk provides, especially in the first few months of life.
Cecília was not able to afford alternatives.
Avelino was admitted to the municipal hospital of Bocoio, where he was diagnosed with complicated malaria, severe anaemia, acute diarrhoeal disease, and marasmus — a severe form of protein-energy malnutrition.
Fortunately for Avelino, he was immediately enrolled into ForAfrika’s emergency feeding programme and started to receive therapeutic milk. After a few days of this treatment Cecília could see her grandson recovering. He is now a healthy little boy and Cecília is unable to hide her happiness.
“Thanks to you and the nurses, my grandson has recovered today and I will do everything to protect him from falling back into malnutrition and malaria.
I ask that you continue with this gesture because there are many needy people who miss it [malnutrition], but you have managed to do something. Twapandula [thank you]!” she said.
Malnutrition is a major health concern, especially in developing countries, with the main drivers being poverty, hunger, malaria and inadequate water and sanitation.
But, in Angola, the south-western states are on the brink of a food security and nutrition “catastrophe” mainly because of an ongoing drought, deemed the worst in 40 years.
ForAfrika has responded to this emergency by redirecting funds to purchase therapeutic milk (such as F75 and F100) and food products (such as the peanut-based Plumpy’Nut) to ensure children, like Avelino, receive the urgent nutritional treatment they need to survive. In our experience, severely acute malnourished children who receive these treatments are able to recover in as little as 30 days, although some children take longer.
“It is a safe space for me and the community — it is a place where we all come together and work together. It belongs to us!” says Rebecca Athiep Akeen of the communal well and its adjacent vegetable garden.
Rebecca is part of a 24-strong committee that built and tend to the garden in Apada, a rural suburb on the outskirts of Aweil town in South Sudan.
A few years ago, ForAfrika and the World Food Programme assisted the community to restore and improve their hand-dug shallow well. At the time it was just a hole in the ground, roughly covered in branches as a safety measure.
With a bit of help, the community members were able to reinforce the structure and build a raised wall on which a metal top could be placed to ensure safety and cleanliness.
A simple pulley system was erected and people are now able to pull containers of clean water out of the ground.
A trough was added to prevent wastage of any spills and also to allow the goats and cattle to enjoy a fresh drink.
It didn’t take long for the women in the village to devise a plan for a vegetable garden alongside the functioning water source; it is now worked by 20 women and four men who each take care of a portion.
Rebecca, a 40-year-old single mother, says: “I used to be angry all the time, but the garden has helped me.”
She explains that ForAfrika has assisted the group with nutritional education, skills training, seeds and implements, such as watering cans, spades and rakes.
The garden, beautifully fenced in thatched mats as is particular to the region, boasts healthy sukuma (collard greens), pumpkin and okra plants that can be harvested for consumption or sale at the market.
“It is also good that we have added some nutritious greens to our diets,” Rebecca says, smiling as she watches a tiny goat kid jumping up to the trough for a drink.
At a time when the world seems to be tilting from one disaster to another, it is the small seeds of hope that keep us grounded.
In Mozambique, these small seeds have grown into a thriving communal vegetable garden that gives people a great sense of accomplishment. ForAfrika assisted community groups with seeds, farming equipment and training in Sofala province after Cyclone Eloise destroyed homes, infrastructure, farming land and livelihoods in January.
Father of seven, Belito João Njaze and his fellow farmer, Manuel Verniz, said they did not expect these blooming results when they started building seedbeds earlier and are overjoyed.
“The support came when we didn’t know what to do because we had lost almost everything,” says Manuel, pointing to his bumper crop.
A group of four women – Isabel Alberto Luis, Teresa Jacinto, Joana Ernesto and Rosita João – were also thrilled when their vegetables were harvested – there was enough to feed their families and some extra that they were able to sell.
Alcidio Benjamin, ForAfrika’s manager in Sofala, explains that plant varieties are especially chosen for their nutritional qualities and climate-smart techniques are taught for an environment where conditions are often harsh.
The project also included training on making compost and natural pesticides, how to store and take care of the produce once it is harvested and also how to go about collecting seeds for next season’s planting.
“Thank you for bringing light and hope into our community. Today we have this group vegetable garden which will provide food for many families,” said Belito.
“Empowering people to produce their own food has a real impact,” concludes Vimabanai Chakarisa, ForAfrika’s programme quality and development manager. “This is how we move people from surviving to thriving!”
The South African Child Gauge 2020 revealed that in terms of nutrition and food security, high stunting rates, micronutrient deficiencies, and overnutrition (overweight and obesity) are prevalent in its children. It referred to it as the “slow violence of malnutrition”.
Malnutrition is on the rise in South Africa, a middle-income country, as it is in other parts of Africa.
Malnutrition can have devastating effects on a child, including death, but it is preventable. Spotting the signs early enough is also key. In Angolan and South Sudanese malnutrition clinics, we see children with severe acute malnutrition. If they can get to a clinic on time, we are able to save them with therapeutic milk and food.
In South Africa, where malnutrition looks different, our specially formulated porridge has had miraculous results too. The porridge is named CSS+ after its ingredients: Corn, Soya and Sugar while the plus sign indicates the added essential vitamins and minerals necessary for children’s optimal growth and development.
Vincent Mhirisawo started attending Bright Light Early Childhood Development Centre in Somerset West from the age of three.
When ForAfrika visited soon after to conduct routine assessments, where children are weighed, measured and checked for signs of malnutrition, our field workers immediately spotted a sign on Vincent’s little head and arms — they were covered in open sores.
Three months later, however, after a daily dose of CSS+, Vincent’s skin condition had cleared completely. He is now a healthy seven-year old who has done well at primary school.
This is a testament to the super powers of adequate nutrition. The turnaround is relatively simple — just a sprinkling of the right vitamins and minerals over breakfast can turn a life around. It is tragic to think, however, that millions of others don’t get the “magic” ingredients in their diets and could end up being wasted, stunted, obese or worse.
Clarissa Nakulenga, who has been the principal of Nicuapa School in Mozambique for the past 10 years, chuckles cheerfully between questions in an interview.
“I am happy with the mission I was given,” she tells the ForAfrika crew who visited her school earlier this year.
The crew was there to assess its impact in the internally displaced people’s (IDPs) camps it is currently serving in the province of Cabo Delgado, northern Mozambique. Clarissa’s school, in the district of Montepuez, has taken in a lot of children who had to flee their homes because of the ongoing conflict in the region.
The province has rich gas reserves, but the people who live there are very poor and do not benefit from such wealth. This has caused tension and led to some insurgent groups wreaking violence on innocent families.
According to the World Food Programme, with whom JAM has partnered, more than 700,000 people have been displaced in what is becoming one of the “world’s fastest-growing displacement crises” and a “hunger emergency”.
Innocent people have lost their homes, their livelihoods, their crops and animals. Many have lost members of their families too.
Part of ForAfrika’s response has been to launch a school-feeding programme in host schools whereby children are given a red bowl of highly nutritious food each morning. In just over a month, Clarissa has noticed the changes. Not only for the IDPs but for the host community as well.
“Before the school feeding programme, we struggled to retain children in school,” she says. “We had about 25 in each stream, now we have 50-60!
“We even had a child who quit her school and came here when she found out about the food,” she says, breaking out into her hearty laugh once again. Besides children wanting to attend and stay at school, she has also seen an improvement in grades.
“At school, if children have food, they learn better,” she says, adding that a good foundation lays the path to better options in the future.
“If this project [school feeding programme] continues, the school will gain, the community will gain. Numbers will increase and dropouts decrease. Pupils will have the motivation to come back.”
Women in the Lobule refugee settlement in Uganda are so happy with their communal farming success that they have named their group Nyolenita Ku JAM, which means: “We are happy with *JAM.”
The group comprises 33 members who escaped war in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2013.
“You made 2021 one of our best years since we came to Uganda,” said the group’s spokesperson to Fred Mutenyo, our country programme manager.
“The number of visits that most of our group members would initially make to the clinics /hospitals to treat themselves and their children have drastically dropped due to the nutritious vegetables produced at every household by our members.”
The group has also benefited greatly from learning how to preserve vegetables for the lean season — they were able to store about 50kgs of eggplants (aubergines) and 30kgs of cowpeas by drying them. Any excess is sold at the local markets and the income can be used to buy other groceries, including meat and fish.
The spokesperson said that this year, any profits made would go towards hiring more land and increasing their yield.
“We are yet to harvest our groundnuts, simsim and soybeans and more money will flow into our pockets!” she said.
Another refugee, Aluma Moses, says he was struggling to provide for his children and decided to explore farming as a way to bring in an income. He started attending the gardening training and received some seeds and other resources to set him on his way.
“My family and I now have a constant food supply in the house and do not rely on the food assistance from WFP,” he explains.
Better still he has been able to sell his surplus produce of groundnuts, onions, eggplant, maize, cabbages and tomatoes to make money for essentials not provided by the aid programmes. He even managed to buy a goat doe, who has since given him four kids!
Aluma now has the beginnings of a small business.
*For Afrika is previously known as JAM