By CAROLINE ARIBA
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.
While other babies steadily went through all the normal growth stages – sitting, crawling, walking at the first bithday, Jamila Zzalwango only started walking at six years. Residents of Bamusuta village in Mukono district where Zzalwango hails were puzzled by her slow development.
Her grandparents and guardians; Sheikh Yakub and Jalia Katende, were drained to the marrow by their grandchild’s situation. “Many said she had been bewitched. Others said it was a curse from her father’s side,” Katende says. And as such, they hopped from one traditional healer to another in search of a cure to no avail.
Zzalwango’s mother, had been forced out of her marital home by her in-laws and had gone out to look for a job, leaving the three-month-old Zzalwango under the care of her parents. Whatever money they got went into medical
bills because Zzalwango was frequently down with even the simplest of ailments.
When it got worse, they took her to Mulago Hospital where Zzalwango was diagnosed with severe malnutrition and admitted for six months. “She improved, but we could not sustain the diet the hospital had put her, so she slipped back to her original state,” Jalia recalls.
Healthy Zzalwango can now play with her peers
Zzalwango finally walks
The Uganda Demographic Health Survey of 2011 indicates that 33% of children below five years are stunted, while 14% are too thin or wasted. Like the statistics state, Zzalwango was nearly four years and she could barely walk. Her age-mates called her “Baby Zzalwango”.
She had developed a hunch-back when Send a Cow came to the family’s rescue “We were very lucky that this organisation called Send a Cow picked us as one of the beneficiaries of their projects”. Zzalwango’s grandmother lights up.
“When these people saw Zzalwango, they gave us a hybrid cow that would give us milk for her and some for sell,” Jalia says. Bamusuuta Farmer’s Group was formed, a bull was introduced for mating the cows and these cows, in turn were expected to have calves at least in 10 months.
In the meantime, the group members were taken through commercial vegetable growing, kitchen gardens as well as hygiene and were given improved seedlings. “They also taught us cheaper nutritious foods that could help us achieve a balanced diet,” Jalia boasts.
In the months that followed, she also says that the project officers from Send a Cow kept monitoring young Zzalwango’s condition and ensured that she was fed properly. By the time the cow gave birth, the family had learnt the basics of nutrition and Zzalwango had milk up to three times a day, 10 of the 15 litres milked were sold and raised an income of up to sh300,000 per month and the family joined small savings groups.
“Banange omwana yanyirira, nga’tuchali awo, natambula!” Deborah Jjuko, the family’s neighbour and chairperson of Bamusuuta Farmer’s Group said in Luganda to mean that Zzalwango improved and looked good and shortly started to walk to their shock.
Today, she is 13 years old, plays with the other children and goes to Kasana Primary School where she is in Primary Two.
Jjuko also says Send a Cow could not have come at a better time because she too had been abandoned with her grandchild.
“My son got a girl pregnant and the girl’s family decided to abandon the child at my door step, I was lucky that I got that cow for the baby’s milk and income, otherwise, it would have been a case like Zzalwango’s,” she says.
In many Ugandan villages, the poor are stuck looking after children with minimal or no source of income. And as such, a 2013 report by the World food programme shows that 47% of all child deaths are caused by malnutrition.
Zzalwango and her grandparents, Yakub and Jalia
Send a Cow saves the day
With a vision that states, “a world without poverty and malnutrition,” Send a Cow was started 25 years ago. Esther Ssempebwa, the executive director of the organisation, while quoting their mission, said, the organisation seeks to work with vulnerable people in Uganda to overcome poverty and malnutrition in a sustainable manner.
“Poverty and malnutrition are inter-twined and so at Send a Cow, we knew that to tackle one, the other had to be handled too,” Aggrey Nshekanabo the organisation’s communications manager, says. And as such he emphasises that the organisation also seeks to empower women with not just wealth, but knowledge on nutrition since they are the pivot of a home.
“Seventy percent of small holder farmers are women, and eight out of 10 of the times you visit a home, you find a woman,” he says.
He also says organisation works in the rural areas because 80% of the country’s population is said to be in the rural areas where another 80% of the country’s poor are.
In every community where beneficiaries each receive a hybrid cow, the organisation leaves a veterinary doctor to monitor these cows. “These people are trained, they know the basics of hybrid rearing, but above all, they know that the priority is the family’s nutrition then the market,” Immaculate Akusekera a veterinary doctor with the organisation says.
Gideon Ssempala, a project supervisor with Send a Cow, says instead of the farmer spending money on pesticides, the urine and dung from the cow provides a better alternative. “That way, our farmers who grow a lot of carbohydrate foods have protein from the milk and vitamins from the vegetables to ensure a balanced diet,” he boasts.
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