Mother Support Group helps improve the nutritional status of children and mothers
Improving the nutritional status of children and mothers in the Special Administrative Region Oe-cusse (RAEOA)
As villagers around Bobometo Village, Special Administrative Region of Oe-Cusse Ambeno go about their early morning activities, Domingas Sani Colo is busy at one of the community member’s house, laying out a table with a variety of fresh vegetables, fruits and whole grains. All the produces have been sourced from the fields in Bobometo, and today, Domingas is giving caregivers an opportunity to understand the extensive value of these natural foods to get the best nutrition value to protect their children’s bodies from malnutrition.
As a Mother Support Group (MSG) co-ordinator, Domingas works with three other MSG volunteers to organise these monthly food demonstrations, projecting the Nutrition value of food they consume and how to modify locally available foods for best nutrition, which are an important way to provide caregivers with information on how to provide nutritious meals for their children’s growing bodies.
“I attended a four-day Mother Support Group training, during which I learnt on how to use nutritious food items for quality of food to be given to children and on how frequently they need to be to ensure the minimum quantity of food.” says Domingas as caregivers begin to trickle in, eager to receive the invaluable information that the MSG members will deliver. “I now use this information to hold monthly practical nutrition sessions with caregivers to improve feeding and care practices at home.”
Like many other communities in Timor-Leste, poor infant feeding practices contribute grossly to high malnutrition rates. From making the wrong food choices to not providing children with right food quantities to meet their growing bodies, caregivers often inadvertently deny their children the right nutrients to support their optimal growth.
Across Timor-Leste cases of malnutrition persist, with 47 per cent of children being chronically and 8.6 per cent acutely malnourished. While household poverty contributes immensely to malnutrition, poor feeding and hygiene practices also have a direct impact on children’s nutrition status.
“In practice, usually in this village, mothers feed their children when the child asks to eat. And mothers usually just cook rice or porridge alone for their child. But, after the training that I received, I teach mothers to cook porridge for their child and mix it with green vegetables, pulse, eggs or sometimes with meat. And I also teach them to provide snacks such as fruits like banana or papaya for their child after the child eats porridge or rice.” says Domingas Sani Colo.
The cooking and feeding demonstrations, which the MSG holds in Bobometo, provide an important avenue for mothers to understand the varieties of food available in their communities, the quality and the frequency with which children need to be fed to promote their optimal growth.
Across Timor-Leste, Mother Support Groups have become an important channel for mothers to access up to date and correct information on maternal and child health, including information on nutrition. Apart from providing referral services and follow-ups on malnourished children, the cooking and feeding demonstrations provide an important, cost-effective way of reducing the incidence of malnutrition.
During each session she interacts with more than 30 mothers and caregivers, giving practical sessions on cooking, feeding the child and how to enhance the baby’s appetite and interest in eating.
Recently, by January 2023, UNICEF supported the Ministry of Health to train 300 MSG members in Oecusse region. The participants learnt about counselling on breastfeeding and complementary feeding as well as key care practices on maternal, newborn care, childhood immunization, sanitation and hygiene practices, with expectation that after the training the MSG members would be able to promote timely introduction and appropriate infant and young child feeding in their respective communities as well as support mothers who have problem with breastfeeding.
The support from the Government of Japan has made it possible for 300 MSG members to be deployed throughout 18 villages and 62 sub-villages, providing ongoing support to improve the nutritional status of children.
“I joined this Mother Support Group initiative because I wanted to help mothers and children. I am not paid to do this work, I do it from my heart because I like to help people.” adds Domingas, who is well loved and respected by the 143 households in her community.