Hussaina – A child rights advocate inspiring change in Briyel
With support from the British Government’s MINA project in northeast Nigeria, UNICEF-supported community mobilizers like Hussaina are addressing child malnutrition through education and intervention, saving lives, and raising awareness.
When Sa’adatu Abubakar arrived in Briyel in 2021 to live with Hussaina Mohammed Jarada, her newly married aunt, she was just a nine-month-old child whose father had died and whose mother had just remarried. Tucked in the southern belt of Nigeria’s conflict-affected Borno State in the north-east region, Briyel is a town of small-scale farmers, traders, and cap knitters.
From day one, I cared for her like my own child,’’ says Hussaina, who one day hopes to have her own biological child. Every child is important. Sa’adatu was a baby when her mother asked me to raise her. She is three years old now. My husband and I are like her parents,’’ Hussaina adds.
As a young housewife, Hussaina spends most of her days knitting caps. She is inseparable from Sa’adatu who keeps her company whenever her husband, Abubakar, goes to the farm.
While waiting to have a child of her own, Hussaina expresses abundant motherly care for Sa’adatu and other children in Briyel. "Becoming a mother and having a child to call your own is priceless. You have someone to keep you company, laugh with, and play with," says Hussaina.
An illness almost disrupted Hussaina’s happiness. Soon after Sa'adatu's arrival, the little girl began experiencing bouts of fever, which Hussaina initially dismissed as a common ailment. However, as Sa'adatu's weight drastically decreased, Hussaina realized this was a deeper problem. Determined to understand and address the cause, Hussaina embarked on a mission to find out the cause of her foster child’s drastic weight loss. It was while she was on this that she came across a UNICEF-supported community mobilizer, who soon discovered that Sa’adatu was suffering from severe acute malnutrition.
The community mobilizer, supported through the Multisectoral Nutrition Action (MINA) project in Northeast Nigeria, referred Hussaina to a UNICEF-supported nutrition center and guided her on various nutrition practices needed to nurture Sa’adatu back to health.
Soon after Sa’adatu’s ordeal, Hussaina decided to educate other women in her settlement about malnutrition. She took it upon herself to screen children in the community, acknowledging the need for awareness and intervention. Initially, many women were skeptical, perceiving it as yet another ineffective government scheme. Hussaina empathized with their frustrations.
To convince them, Hussaina collected photographs of malnourished children, aiming to illustrate the urgency of the situation.
Recalling her own personal experience, Hussaina’s neighbour, Ladi, who initially attributed her child’s illness to an evil spirit, recalls her skepticism, saying,
"I wasn't sure what the issue was until I saw the pictures of malnourished children Hussaina showed me. That's when I realized the seriousness of the situation."
Hussaina vividly described;
When Ladi came, her child was seriously ill, and I decided we would take him to the hospital so that he would be given ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) and other drugs.
Trusting the advice given, Ladi and Hussaina wasted no time and rushed her child to the hospital. The treatment, including RUTF and medication, proved effective, eventually restoring her child's health.
Understanding the significance of the mid upper arm circumference (MUAC) tape in assessing a child's nutritional status, Hussaina emphasized its potential to reduce the mortality rate among children under five. With her dedicated efforts and determination to educate others, she has not only saved the lives of several children, but she has also sparked awareness within her community regarding the critical issue of malnutrition.
Tom White, the FCDO Humanitarian Team leader and Programme SRO said;
The UK Government is committed to working with UNICEF and our other partners to end the preventable deaths of mothers, babies, and children by 2030. This mission is now more urgent than ever in Nigeria, given the devastating impact of the humanitarian crises in the North-East on people’s access to essential nutrition and healthcare services. We hope to continue supporting with funding, innovation, our experience in similar contexts and working with the government to ensure as many newborns survive childhood and end preventable deaths of mothers.
Through the British Government’s Multisectoral Integrated Nutrition Action for Children, Adolescents, and Women in Northeast Nigeria (MINA) project, community mobilizers in northeast Nigeria have been trained to screen children for malnutrition and build the capacity of other women in child nutrition.