By Hope Mafaranga
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 in Uganda
“I used to despise local food such as green vegetables, eggplants, silver fish (mukene) and others because of the common belief that they are inferior. In fact, whenever my husband returned home from work without chicken, meat, chips and sausages, I would throw a tantrum.” This was the testimony of Jessica Kabahweza, a resident of Funti-Butagwa in Fort Portal Municipality, Kabarole district. However, all this changed after Kabahweza watched a series of nutrition dramas staged by Akasindikaine Drama Actors.
The group began a campaign on food security and nutrition in 2011, which they named Kyagwa Mwoha. The actors, led by Zebidayo Mwesige, also known as Kaserebe Mukwikwi, with the support of Kabarole Research and Resource Centre (KRC), a local non-government organisation, preach and encourage every homestead to have a granary to enhance food security, proper nutrition and a balanced diet.
Kabahweza says she had no idea about the right kind of foods for her family and she always pushed her husband to buy meat and chicken because, locally, these foods are considered for the wealthy. Kabahweza was one of the many people with such beliefs that have left 20% of the children in Kabarole malnourished, according to the district health officer, Dr Richard Mugahi.
According to the Cost of Hunger in Africa Study done by African Union Commission and NEPAD, one out of every three young children in Uganda are stunted. It is also estimated that 250,000 children under five years suffer from severe malnutrition, while half a million pregnant and nursing mothers suffer from anaemia as a result of poor feeding. About 13 pregnant mothers die every day and half of these are related to nutrition deaths.
Dr Mugahi says although many people have food, preparing a balanced diet for their families remains a nightmare. Many believe it is enough to eat and feel satisfied.
They have no information about the essential food nutrients, their importance to the child’s growth and how to balance a diet. Foods like meat, chicken and sausages, which many adore are unaffordable, not readily available. Those who can afford them do not know how to prepare them to get the best out of them.
This leaves families financially strained and the people, especially children and women, malnourished. “People do not know how rich our local foods are. When you talk to them about a balanced diet and try to advise them on how to feed well and have the right food intake, they think it is an expensive thing to do, yet they have the food,” Dr Mugahi says.
Kyagwa Mwoha drama group in a nutrition discussion with Kabarole residents
Mukwikwi, who is behind the drama series says Uganda has the potential to eliminate hunger, if she focuses her effort and resources towards addressing the nutrition challenges. Mukwikwi says contrary to what many think, addressing the nutrition challenge requires more of change of attitude than financial muscle.
“For example, how much money does one require to set up a kitchen garden in one’s compound where one can grow all types of vegetables for the family? It takes the will to do it and it is achievable for all Ugandans,” he stresses. Because he believes in the positive impact of attitude change, Mukwikwi talks about food and nutrition everyday on Voice of Toro radio. He also walks around villages and in markets sensitising people about nutrition.
Mukwikwi rubbishes the excuse of land shortage saying that people just plant flowers instead of food. “I find it disturbing when people say they do not have enough land to grow nakati(greens), or entula (bitter berries) because they do not have land,” he says. In the Post 2015 Development Agenda, he says, the Government should ensure that nutrition issues are given priority.
Charles Apuuli, a fan of Kyagwa Mwoha, says he has learnt a lot ever since he started listening to the drama. He now knows the types of food to give to his family and ensures he balances the meals. “I learnt from Kyagwa Mwoha drama about particular nutrients, their sources and importance to the body. I now know what to give to my children to grow well,” Apuuli said.
Julius Mwanga, the director of KRC, said he supported the group after realising many people were selling food and not leaving enough for the family. He is also happy that the drama has had an impact, which resulted into the creation of 10 food security and nutrition clubs in the districts of Kamwenge, Kyenjojo, Bundibugyo, Kabarole, Ntoroko and Kasese. “Through the drama, the communities are now keen on nutritional needs and have stopped taking all the food to the market,” Mwanga said.
Father Macrious Kabyamu, the rector of St Mary’s Minor Seminary, said, the things he used to take for granted in regard to nutrition have been pointed out in the drama and he is committed to feeding his students on a balanced diet every day. Father Kabyamu has now planted on every small land including the edge of the fences with cabbage, fresh beans, and greens.
“The drama reminded me that in order for a child to fully develop the brains and become intelligent they must be fed on proper food. That is why I have all the food in the school compound and I supervise what the cooks prepare for the children to ensure that they get a balanced diet,” he said
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