Complementary feeding keeps twins smiling in Malawi

Changing lives through nutrition sensitive agriculture

James Chavula
Seka Gundani and her twins
UNICEF Malawi/2021/Chikondi
10 August 2021

When Seka Gundani gave birth to twins in June 2020, she knew it would be a challenge to keep them healthy.

Seka, who is a single mother, lives in Kachere Village in the Chiradzulu District of Malawi, and exclusively breastfed the babies for six months before adding soft porridge to their diet.

“It’s exciting that they love the porridge enriched with other nutritious foods. They eat it at least twice a day and their bodies are responding well. I have not stopped breastfeeding them on demand. Their body weight has almost doubled since I introduced supplementary feeding,” she explains.  Seka calls the twins "a double blessing," though nowadays, they leave her little time to rest.

“The twins need care all day. You feed one while the other is crying, so you need more hands and foodstuffs to take care of them,” she explains.

The mother of three girls and two boys has learnt the importance of all six food groups from her healthcare promoter, Ruth Pangani. The volunteer has been visiting her every two weeks since she fell pregnant.

“For over a year, we have discussed the benefits of eating food from the six food groups and how to make diversified diets from locally available foods. This helped me catch up, since a lot has changed recently in the way we ought to feed our children,” says Seka, who last had a baby 15 years ago.

She now applies the basics skills she has learned, for the benefit of her eight-month-old babies, Rhoda and Ronald.

Maize floor, groundnut floor and pumpkin leaves which are some of the ingredients Seka uses to make porridge for her children
UNICEF Malawi/2021/Chikondi
Maize floor, groundnut floor and pumpkin leaves which are some of the ingredients Seka uses to make porridge for her children

The nutritious soft porridge they started eating, around six months old, is made from whole maize flour, eggs, groundnuts powder and crushed vegetables.  The nutritious diet has become a trusted weapon against malnutrition, which remains a problem for many Malawian children - with about 37 per cent of them being stunted.

“There are few malnourished children in my area because children no longer live by porridge from maize flour alone, but different foods which are rich in nutrients required by children,” she says.

The nutrition lessons from the nutrition promoter in her community are giving the twins a healthy start in life.

A card completed by health workers during nutritional checkups shows Rhoda’s weight has surged from 5.7kg to nine kilogrammes since she started taking the nutritious porridge in February. Ronald’s has risen from 4.2kg to 8.5kg.

The diversified diets mirror the benefits of a five-year nutrition project called Afikepo, which literary means “let the children develop to their full potential”.

The community-led nutrition conversations sparked by the project supported by UNICEF Malawi and FAO with funding from the European Union has proved eye-opening for households that play home to pregnant women, breastfeeding babies and aged children below five.

A healthy child is a happy child! Seka holding one of her twins Rhoda at their home
UNICEF Malawi/2021/Chikondi
A healthy child is a happy child! Seka holding one of her twins Rhoda at their home

Seka commends the dedicated nutritional promoters, who get no pay, for their selfless walks to end malnutrition slowing children’s mental and physical growth. As seasonal vegetables dried at the end of the rainy months in April, Ruth has motivated her to construct a garden in her backyard.

The promoter mentors 16 households. Apart from door-to-door visits, she convenes the women at a nearby church twice a month for mock cooking sessions called masanje to share recommended ways of preparing a diversity of foods for the benefits of their households.

The volunteer is determined to ensure every pregnant woman, baby and child aged below five gets affordable diversified diets as well as safe water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH).

“I am excited to be part of the mindset shift because women are putting what they learn to good use. Just like that, even children from poor families are free from malnutrition,” she says, smiling coyly.

What keeps her beaming?

“I feel happy when I see healthy children going to school or at play instead of being bedridden by preventable conditions, including malnutrition,” she states.

Her selfless walks are creating a generation of children free from wasting and stunting, which remain widespread in Malawi.  She terms Seka a major winner because it is not easy to raise two children at once.

“Previously, it wasn’t uncommon to see twins or one of them wasting or stunting. Raising twins requires twice the work and resources you need to raise a baby. However, Seka’s baby look healthy because she knows what to do,” she narrates.

“Since they started taking the nutritious soft porridge, they don’t cry regularly. They look much happier and healthier than the months they were taking breast milk alone.”

Ruth Pangani

For Seka, there cannot be a better return for her unique workload than seeing the twins grow healthy.

She states: “The twins and their siblings are my future. I want them to grow well and excel in school to become self-sufficient citizens and lift me out of poverty.  I will do everything possible to give them the best of care.”