BY CAROLINE ARIBA
New Vision will, until October 3, publish articles on individuals and organisations that have dedicated their efforts to fighting malnutrition in the country a problem that affects up to 54% of children under 18 in Uganda
Geoffrey Engole, 3, runs giggling to his excited mother, Josephine Echaat, in Chegere sub-county, Apac district after an eventful day with his caregivers. Until last year when he was taken on by Chegere Care givers, Engole looked frail. The little boy was severely malnourished. Chegere sub-county’s children had, for long, battled malnutrition as a result of widespread poverty.
Parents too did not have enough time to prepare appropriate meals for the children. “I did not have anybody to leave Geoffrey with so I used to take him along as I went to work in the garden. Sometimes I would start preparing lunch around midday,” Engole’s mother, Josephine Echaat says.
Sometimes she would carry roasted sweet potatoes, which Engole would take with water as they had no sauce. “Little did I know my son was in danger of getting malnourished,” she says. Not long after, Engole’s stomach started to swell and his limbs became thinner. That is when her friend told her about a group of care givers that would nurse her baby back to health without demanding any form of payment.
“Today when I look at my son, I feel grateful to the Chegere Care Giver’s group,” she says. Christine Akullu, another mother, narrates how her children were malnourished because she always opted for quick meals as she had no time to prepare serious meals. “I was taking care of my sister’s children and my own.
I would prepare one meal because I did not have time but the Chegere care givers helped me,” she says A 2006 analysis by Action against Hunger indicates that 95% of children between six to 29 months in Apac district were at risk of malnutrition.
Action against Hunger is an international humanitarian organisation committed to saving the lives of malnourished children. Mathew Emeru, the district health officer, blames this on poverty and mothers not sparing time to prepare balanced meals for their children.
Echaat and her now healthy son, Engole
Views from the caregivers
Taking care of children is a collective responsibility
What they do
A year ago, the Private Sector Foundation brought together a group of women to teach and encourage them to engage in activities that would bring them income.
The group of women was required to teach other women the importance of saving. However, they realised that families, especially mothers, were spending a lot of money and time nursing sick children, making it difficult for them to progress. “Within the group, we decided to form a group of caregivers that would ensure our children were healthy,” Anna Ayubi, a member of the group, says.
The mothers agreed on a home with an extra hut where mothers would drop their children every morning before going to work. “In the morning as the mothers went to their gardens, some of us stayed back to take care of the children in turns,” Ketty Okello, another member of the group says. She adds that as the mothers dropped their children, they were required to leave behind some millet flour for their baby’s porridge.
“We were impressed by this level of organisation and decided to train them on nutrition and cheaper food alternatives,” Alex Ogwal, a Private Sector Foundation representative in Apac, says. He adds that when they visited the group again they noted the women were not only taking care of the children within the group, but also from families outside the group.
Moses Okello, also a member of Chegere Caretakers, says in the trainings they carry out, they also encourage people to keep at least two local chicken for eggs to feed the children. “We encouraged parents to join the income generating training sessions and village savings group set up by the Private Sector Foundation,” he says.
Apac district is one of the districts in the northern region that were badly hit by the Lord’s Resistance rebel insurgency, that displaced many people. As a result, poverty and malnutrition levels are high. “Private Sector Foundation appreciates that we cannot talk of a future if we do not take care of children,” Ruth Musoke, the director of member services at the foundation, says.
Through imparting kitchen garden skills, the Private Sector Foundation has taught the people how to do home gardening and vegetable growing. “We now have fruit and vegetable gardens where we pick free food and keep our children healthy,” Esther Okwir, a member of the group says. The Uganda Demographic Health Survey 2011 report paints grim picture of the level of malnutrition in the country, with 33% of children below five stunted; 14% too thin for their age; while 49% are anaemic
According to the PROFILES 2010 report, Uganda loses $310m annually in lost economic productivity all stemming from poor nutrition. Chegere caretakers, in a way, have seen that the productivity of their members goes down when their children are sickly, a situation they are striving to improve by ensuring the children are well fed and taken care of. They are planning to build a bigger shelter to accommodate more children.
Their biggest challenge is that the space they have, can accommodate only a limited number of children. It gets harder during the rainy season as the shelter is not big enough and not well covered. “We want to make this a nursery where children can play and eat right,” Betty Adoko, a member of the group says. Chegere Care-givers team now boasts of over 30 members.