By GEORGE BITA
As part of its annual series, Ugandans Making a Difference, New Vision will, until October 3, publish articles on individuals and organisations that have dedicated their efforts to fighting malnutrition in the country. The articles will highlight the causes, discuss solutions and recognise the efforts of those working to avert the problem that affects up to 54% of children under the age of 18 years in Uganda.
Sometime in mid-2008, a dying man on his hospital bed in Tampa, Florida state in USA made a wish that would turn around the lives of thousands in a little-known village in Uganda.
The man, who was about to leave this world, seemed worried about the kind of legacy he was leaving behind. Robert H. Cooley instructed his aides to wire a fraction of this money to Africa to ensure he would be remembered forever.
During earlier visits to Uganda, Cooley made friends with Emmanuel Ofumbi, a businessman in Tororo town. He would reportedly express concern over the plight of especially rural children whose misery he often encountered during his tours.
“Many toddlers had visible signs of malnourishment like brown hair, emaciated bodies, swollen tummies and indicators of stunted growth,” Ofumbi reveals.
Little wonder, Cooley left instructions for $200,000 (about sh500m) to be wired to Ofumbi’s account for the sake of helping the malnourished children in the rural neighbourhood of Magola sub-county in Tororo district.
Ofumbi says the funds were used to set up Robert H. Cooley children’s clinic the following year after consultations with the community in Papoli village.
“The meeting with locals hatched the plan to set up Papoli Community Development Foundation (PACODEF). Its membership comprises the entire village community of over 22,000,” Ofumbi explains.
He adds that meetings with local community representatives are until today carried out every weekend to review progress and challenges.
Some of the children that receive treatment at Robert H.Cooley Pediatric Clinic
“The paediatric (children) clinic is a community initiative aimed at reducing malnutrition that was wrecking the lives of young children in the area. In 2009, two children lost their lives due to poor feeding. One child died in 2010, but since the foundation was set up, none has passed on,” he says.
Dr. Rosette Kyohikira, a nutritionist at the facility, says that each day over 120 children are attended to.
Kyohikira attributes this to mothers giving birth almost every year with six out of every 10 mothers in the area giving birth annually.
“The mothers focus all their attention on the youngest baby who gets the milk, while the other child is given leftover food in the morning and a diet of only starch throughout the day,” she says.
Kyohikira also says the recent drought in the sub-region greatly affected the children’s diet with dire consequences for the vulnerable children.
“When they are brought for treatment, we first bathe the toddlers; go through the weighing, height measurements and de-worming sessions. The serious cases who are grossly emaciated are given special attention and bed rest,” Kyohikira says.
She identifies moringa leaf powder, silver fish, soya, beans and fruits as the food supplements used to ensure the children get a balanced diet.
Fish and fruits are recommended for a balanced diet
“We always encourage parents to bring in the children by 7:00am so that they can have breakfast here. We give them moringa tea, which is very nutritious,” she adds.
She explains that the nutrition boost has been made to involve basic foods readily available from rural settings so that locals realise it is simply a matter of knowing how to provide kids with the right foodstuffs.
“Moringa has, among several benefits, been known to boost the body’s immune system, energise the body, nourish the brain, improve digestion, boost blood circulation and promote normal sugar levels,” she explains.
She adds that moringa plant, also known as the miracle tree, is associated with the effective cure for respiratory tract infections, ulcers and acceleration of healing of wounds.
On Mondays and Wednesdays they are fed on posho, beans plus groundnut/simsim paste (odi). They are given rice, meat or fish accompanied with greens on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.
“On weekends we only provide lunch to the out-patients and they return home. This is the time our community development facilitators go out to ensure that the recommended diets are adhered to as well as identifying new cases,” she says.
She says that the clinic faces the challenge of ailing mothers who come with their children and must also be catered for somehow.
“There are times mothers end up on intravenous fluids treatment and they rest here with their ailing children,” she says.
Another challenge is the children being brought in from beyond the Papoli village, which stretches resources to the limit.
Ofumbi praises the community for their assistance, especially Difasi Yoga, a villager who donated five-and-a-half acres of land on which the children clinic was built.
“Whenever we meet on weekends, villagers generously contribute food like sweet potatoes, groundnuts or posho to feed the children. It is quite amazing how the people have embraced the project,” he says.
Joshua Owori, a local, says, “The community is very appreciative as our children’s health has been improved in such a short period. After the treatment, community workers at the facility visit the concerned parents regularly to ensure the child’s feeding schedule or diet is maintained.”
Owori says the villagers have been sensitised on how to prepare a balanced diet for their children using local foods.
Samalie Nyabeli, a villager, explains that PAPODEF has enabled villagers to understand the benefits of feeding in terms of quality and not quantity.
As PAPODEF helps the children back to a more healthy status, the Papoli parents seem to be learning lessons in nutrition that may cause a fundamental change for years to come.
Do you know any individual or organisation focusing efforts on improving nutrition in communities? Write to the Features Editor, P.O. Box 9815 Kampala or e-mail email@example.com giving name, telephone contact of nominee and reasons for nomination. Type food, the nominee’s name and SMS to 8338
In life, Robert Cooley fought malnutrition as much as he did in death