“I am a working mother and would probably have stopped breastfeeding my first child at three months had I not learnt the importance of breast milk in a child’s growth from a Mama Tendo nutrition workshop.
By Hope Sande
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
“I am a working mother and would probably have stopped breastfeeding my first child at three months had I not learnt the importance of breast milk in a child’s growth from a Mama Tendo nutrition workshop. After attending the workshop and getting this information, I exclusively breastfed my daughter for six months.
The girl, now aged two years, is healthy and happy; she rarely falls sick as her immunity is strong, which I attribute to breastfeeding,” says Judy Namanda, the Post Bank head of human resource. “I realised there was a lot of nutrition information we often take for granted, which affects our children’s health as they grow up.
I learnt how to mix mukene (silver fish) in my baby’s food as soon as she started eating, which has improved her appetite,” she adds. Wycliffe Nkamushaba, a businessman in Kampala, commends the Mama Tendo Foundation for the good work on nutrition. “I have two children and there are many things concerning nutrition my house help was not keen on until I sent her to a Mama Tendo workshop. Now she knows how to prepare a balanced meal for the children, how to feed them and at what time.” One of the biggest challenges facing society today is malnutrition, not only among children, but adults as well.
According to the Cost of Hunger Survey in Uganda, one out of every three children in the country is stunted. The survey was led by the National Planning Authority with support from the Uganda Bureau of Statistics and the World Food Programme, among others, to assess the economic and social impact of under-nutrition in the country.
Another report by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics and ICF International (2012) indicate that about 2.3 million children under five years are stunted, 360 children in the same age bracket die daily from nutrition-related causes, and nutrition interventions could save at least 120 children’s lives every day. In Uganda, 13 mothers die daily due to pregnancy-related causes and half of these are related to nutrition.
At least half of all children aged six to 59 months are anaemic and about half a million pregnant and breastfeeding mothers suffer from anaemia. This is attributed to widespread poverty and ignorance among the population. In partnership with the health ministry, Mama Tendo has helped over 500 children, together with their parents, improve nutrition and fight malnutrition.
“Nutrition is a building block of a child’s health and development. I believe with improved nutrition, a lot can be done to give both children and adults good health,” says Catherine Ruhweza, the founder and executive director of Mama Tendo Foundation, an organisation that focuses on family, child upbringing and maternal health.
Commonly known as Mama Tendo, Ruhweza, a mother of three, says: “Having worked with pregnant mothers, I got a lot of feedback on nutrition challenges and I felt there was a need to address the problem. “Many people, especially the children are not feeding well; they lack a balanced diet, some not because they do not have access to food, but because their parents do not know the right time and food to feed them.”
Statistics show that levels of malnutrition are highest among children aged 0 to 5 years and women, especially pregnant and nursing mothers. “There is a lot people do not know about nutrition.
There is still limited knowledge and many do not know that good nutrition does not require expensive foods, but ample knowledge on what to eat, when to eat it and how to prepare it,” Ruhweza says. Mama Tendo Foundation, she says, teaches people how to use what they have to get the best out of it. “Parents need to ensure children are fed well to combat problems of anaemia and underweight.”
What the foundation does
Mama Tendo Foundation runs a nutrition programme that teaches people, both children and adults, about nutrition, different foods and the importance of proper feeding. They give mothers information about different food nutrients and their importance to the body. It all starts with breastfeeding where they encourage mothers to exclusively breastfeed for at least the first six months.
“Children that are not breastfed are more prone to anaemia. The weaning process is important and needs commitment from both parents, because the way the child is fed determines his life in the next five years,” Ruhweza says. She encourages pregnant mothers to feed well to give their babies a healthy beginning. “A mother ought to eat the right foods and supplements for her own good and for the good of the baby,” she emphasises.
Weaning mothers are taught the importance of various food nutrients in the baby’s diet, schedules and quantities; and foods that should be minimised or avoided in the child’s diet and why. Ruhweza says they do not only reach out to parents and children, but also their house helps. “They stay at home with the children and feed them most of the time,” she says. The organisation has been holding nutrition workshops since 2005.
“In our approach to good nutrition for children under five, we focus on the 1,000 days between pregnancy and the child’s second birthday This is a crucial period in early development. Better nutrition for both mother and child during this time can have a lifetime impact on the child, and help break the cycle of poverty and under-nutrition,” Ruhweza says. Nutrition has a lot to do with hygiene.
Care takers are taught how to prepare and preserve food under a clean environment to avoid contamination and how to encourage children to eat. Parents are taught good feeding habits like encouraging children to eat vegetables at an early stage. “A child who eats vegetables at early age will not refuse to eat them when he grows up,” Ruhweza explains.
People have learnt good tenets of feeding children like frequency (how often a child feeds), the amount they eat, thickness (some foods are watery and no nutrient gains) and variety, (the kinds of food nutrients they eat), which has improved their health. People in the slums have been taught good feeding.
Ruhweza recently visited Katanga slums in Kampala, where she took food samples and demonstrated to parents what they should do and how to enrich food. She also encouraged them to have vegetable gardens.
Although Uganda is blessed with plenty of food, many people lack knowledge on nutrition. “I would have loved to have workshops for free so that many people can get access to nutrition information, but I am not able because of the high costs of organising them. “My organisation is not funded and yet I handle different regions, which becomes expensive. Sometimes I have to pay experts like nutritionists, who need to be facilitated,” Ruhweza says.
“I am working on a nutrition guide. I want to expand teaching on nutrition by introducing visual classes, where people will learn by seeing,” Ruhweza says. She plans to have more education resources on nutrition on DVDs.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org giving name, telephone contact of nominee and reasons for nomination. Type food, the nominee’s name and SMS to 8338
Expensive foods do not mean good nutrition — Mama Tendo