A feeding pot enriched with vitamins
By Misbah Sheikh with inputs from Cyriaque Ngoboka
June 2010, Nyamata, Rwanda - Twice a year, in this dusty plain in eastern Rwanda, the Ministry of Health with support from UNICEF organises a Mother and Child Health Week to provide key life saving interventions like immunisations and vitamin A to mothers and children across Rwanda. But services are not the only benefit of the weeks – according to most mothers; it is what they learn from health animators and community health workers.
“Before, we only went to the health centre if someone was really sick in our family”, says Marguerite Bajeneza, a 26 year old mother. “But ever since these weeks, the community health workers organise these great sessions where they teach us about family planning, breastfeeding and even better nutrition. I have a two year old son named Bryan”, she continues, “and honestly if I had not learned how to enrich his feeding pot, he would not be as healthy today as he is.”
The feeding pot or “Agakono k’umwana,” Marguerite refers to is a traditional Rwandan pot that was used to prepare food for young children. In Marguerite’s day, this pot often had green beans or bananas, but today because the women in her village understand the importance of vitamins, particularly vitamin A, they make sure that they prepare carrots, squash and other vegetables rich in vitamin A as well as fortified porridge for young ones (that is a blend of sorghum, soya and maize).“I never knew that lack of vitamin A could cause night blindness”, says Marguerite. “But you can be sure that all the women in my village know how to prepare rich food for our children.”
“Vitamin A is not only important in preventing night blindness, but plays an integral role in boosting immunity, mental capacities and promoting healthy development”, explains Dr. Abiud Omwega, Nutrition Specialist at UNICEF Rwanda. “It also contributes to reducing childhood illness and death rates”, he adds.
Thanks to a very generous donation by the Micronutrient Initiative, through the Canadian Agency for International Development (CIDA) to UNICEF, Rwanda has been able to provide close to three million children with regular bi-annual supplementation of vitamin A every year.