As part of its annual series, Ugandan 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.
By Daniel Edyegu
As part of its annual series, Ugandan 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 is affecting a big part of our population.
At 33, Jennifer Angeje, a resident of Kachumbala sub-county, Bukedea district has had seven children in an era where less than four is considered the desirable number.
Angeje has only two acres of land from which she earns a living. The true test of her resilience came when she gave birth to twins, Agiripina Adongo and Mary Apolot, in 2010.
“My happiness knew no boundaries. However, shortly after that the twins kept falling sick. They often had diarrhoea, their skin was pale and their stomachs distended. The other children followed suit one after the other. I visited the health centre frequently when the health workers advised me to give my children milk,” Angeje explains.
“Any loving parent would have wished to heed that advice. But I did not have cattle to milk and I could not afford to buy milk daily,” Angeje adds.
As fate would plan it, Angeje met John Ojacor, 45, an agronomist and nutritionist from Ongino sub-county in Kumi district. Her children, as she later came to learn, suffered from malnutrition.
Together with 10 other mothers in Komuge village, Ojacor was later to open their eyes to affordable remedies to malnutrition.
“He taught us how to make soya milk, flour from ground millet and soya; and dry cassava chips and soya for making porridge. He also taught us to make millet cakes. The cakes are mixed with eggs to make them more nutritious. My children and those of the mothers we trained with, have never suffered from malnutrition since then,” Angeje explains.
Aurien prepares soya porridge for children
Training breastfeeding mothers on nutrition and practical skills on making cakes was never Ojacor’s dreams. In fact, until 2003, he had served as a field officer with Action Aid International based in Kumi after attaining a diploma in business administration from Kumi Institute in 2001. It was while serving with Action Aid International that the civil society sponsored Ojacor to do a one-year post graduate diploma in organic agriculture with KULIKA Uganda at Makerere University in 2004.
Armed with practical knowledge in organic farming, Ojacor set out to put what he had learnt from training into use, starting with his home area. First, he ascertained whether there was community need for his skills.
“I did a participatory rural appraisal study on nutrition in Ongino in 2009. Findings indicated that there were 1,700 malnourished children in the sub-county. Unpredictable rain patterns in Kumi frequently destroy crops. Children were malnourished due to poor feeding habits,” Ojacor says.
“Often, mothers in the rural areas do not realise that malnutrition is a simple condition that they, too, can deal with using readily available foods. To them, ‘eating well’ is taking meat and milk. Because many families in Teso region no longer own large herds of cattle due to rampant cattle rustling in the 1980s, taking milk here is almost a luxury,” he observes.
Ojacor contacted 400 women and split them into 10 groups of 40 each. Ojacor’s training blended practical and theoretical knowledge on nutrition. Themes on family planning, the causes of malnutrition and the appropriate remedies dominated his trainings before he could weave in the practical skills.
“Women are fast learners. They put whatever they learn into practice. Within a short while, some women in the initial groups started making cakes. Mothers with malnourished children started feeding them on soya milk, porridge and the nutritious millet and cassava cakes mixed with eggs. This saw a drop in the number of malnourished children from 1,700 to 1,687,” Ojacor explains.
Soya, Ojacor explains, has high protein content and helps speed up the recovery of a malnourished child, just as eggs do.
The tremendous success of the pilot scheme in Ongino created high demand throughout the district and beyond. He extended the training scheme to Ngora, Soroti and Bukedea districts. With the rising demand for his training among the women groups in the four districts, Ojacor is always on the move.
“To attend to the various groups in the districts, I ascertain the number of groups requiring training in the various districts. I then schedule a timetable to attend to one group after the other before moving to the next district. After a while, I return to the groups to assess whether they put what they learnt into practice,” Ojacor explains.
Lillian Aurien, 32, the Kachumbala LC3 vice-chairperson, who attended Ojacor’s training with six other people, says the knowledge she gained is relevant in nourishing both her family and the electorate in the sub-county. Aurien says she used the knowledge gained through the training to set up a bakery in 2010 before she got stung by the politics bug that slowly ate away the enterprise.
“When I joined politics, I entrusted the management of the bakery to an employee who ran business down. The knowledge I gained on nutrition has stayed relevant though. Often, I meet helpless women with malnourished children coming to seek financial help from me. As a leader, I educate them on proper nutrition and the trick works wonders,” Aurien stresses.
Since he started the initiative over three years ago, Ojacor has trained over 3,000 mothers and youth in proper nutrition, making cakes, grafting and budding fruit trees. The inadequacy of funds and lack of private means of transport notwithstanding, Ojacol envisages a brighter future for the initiative.
Already, he is partnered with 20 other members to form Teso Domestic Needs Uganda Ltd, a civil organisation that he plans to use to drive his nutrition campaign to greater heights.
“We are now formulating the constitution for the civil organisation. Through this organisation, we plan to build a nutrition centre in Kumi that will serve as a learning centre for Teso sub-region and beyond. We also plan to start making foods such as soya flour and baking cakes after will fund the organisation,” Ojacor says.
Filled with the desire to see healthy children thrive in the rural areas, Ojakor is moving one step at a time weaving through the various groups of mothers in an effort to realise his dream.
Ojacor puts smiles on Kumi’s emaciated kids