At first glance eight year-old Samuel looked downright chubby. However, looks can be deceiving. In Samuel’s case, his swollen cheeks were, paradoxically, the result of severe malnutrition. When Samuel came to one of our partner health centers four months ago, his puffy face and lack of hair were the result of serious nutritional deficiencies. When we first met Samuel, like many malnourished children, he was listless and withdrawn.
In Rwanda, Samuel’s story was a tragically typical one. A staggering 44% of children in Rwanda are malnourished, and malnutrition is responsible for 35% of deaths of childhood deaths. Even when children survive, chronic malnutrition can disrupt mental and physical development, often with permanent consequences. Malnourished children are less likely to attend school and when they do go they are less likely to succeed. Studies suggest that, in the long-term, they are likely to earn less than their peers and will die earlier.
Thankfully, there is every reason to believe that unlike many of his peers, Samuel’s story will have a happy ending. Samuel has already gained weight, his hair has grown back, the swelling in his cheeks and belly has subsided, and his smile is infectious. Samuel is now becoming the healthy eight year-old he deserves to be. His father is planning on enrolling him in primary school this year, and thanks to the food his family is now growing in their home garden, there is every reason to believe Samuel will have the nutritious food he needs to learn and grow.
This past week Gardens for Health enrolled more than 100 new families in our program. Every family has struggled with malnutrition. Gardens for Health is proud to work with each of them, to provide caregivers with the skills, knowledge, and resources, to break the cycle of malnutrition and ensure that each of their children, like Samuel, has a chance to grow and thrive.
Dear friends and supporters, The rains signaling the beginning of the planting season have brought us auspicious news; our initial goal of serving 300 families has nearly been reached! We are currently serving 291 families across three health clinics in one district of Rwanda--this sucess is, in part, due to your investment. Through our unique partnership with health clinics, our program has “prescribed” a diverse array of seeds, small livestock like rabbits and chickens, agricultural training and nutrition education—to families with children diagnosed with malnutrition. Our agricultural agents, on the frontlines of malnutrition, have helped families improve their existing farms and establish new home gardens. Demand for our program is growing; we write this update with both a sense of excitement, but also urgency. The increasing weights and decreasing signs of malnutrition among enrolled children are exciting indicators of change. But so, too, are the improving knowledge test scores among the enrolled mothers who complete our training. We know that not only one season will bring positive impact, but that families we serve are gaining the skills to sustain improvements in agriculture and health. A recent graduation ceremony at one of our health clinics highlighted this change. Delphine, a graduate pictured here, noted: ”We consider you as a tree for life (Igiti cy’ubuzima) where we harvest skills to help us to become healthy” Another graduate, Cecile noted, “I know that after this training, I will never need to bring my child in with malnutrition again. I know how to make sure he remains healthy." Your support has been critical for us to reach this goal, but our goals for this year are much, much bigger than 300 families. We need to serve hundreds, and thousands, more. Recent national data released cites that 44% of children under five have chronic malnutrition--the numbers have not improved much since 2005. In turn, the Government of Rwanda has launched a campaign to eliminate malnutrition by the end of 2012 and have cited us a critical partner in this fight. The interest in our model is exciting; not only do we hope to fight malnutrition, but we hope to help permanently ensure that all patients who escape malnutrition can, and will, stay healthy.
Take the case of Francine, pictured here with her three children near their field. We met Francine and her children when her three year old was diagnosed with malnutrition and was brought into one of our health clinic partners for treatment. After enrolling in the Gardens for Health program following a prescription from the health clinic nutritionist, Francine received seeds, seedlings and two chickens, technical assistance from agricultural agents, and an opportunity to participate in education sessions on the medical causes and social determinants to malnutrition.
Now, Francine's chickens have now multiplied into ten and continue to give eggs to her children. She is growing papaya, carrots, peanuts, orange sweet potatoes and spinach. Further, the education sessions and cooking demonstrations have given Francine the skills to feed her children balanced meals. In the last six months, her three year old has gained over six pounds, and no longer carries the tell tale signs of malnutrition--like oedema and an extended belly. Francine is proving to us all that lasting change is indeed home-grown.
Your continued investment will help ensure that we can surpass our goal of partnering with 300 families like that of Francine and Delphine, and then invest in hundreds, and thousands more. Here’s to cultivating better health and working ourselves out of a job!
We just held a community Thanksgiving in Rwanda where we cooked for and served over 900 members of our community. Despite working in situations of food deficit, we also believe in the celebration of food and the bringing together of communities around shared harvests. The entire Gardens for Health staff peeled, chopped, washed, boiled, and laughed side by side and stayed up all night preparing our Thanksgiving meal. The celebration included original songs, dances, and testimonies from mothers and health center staff about the impact of our program.
We hope that next year, you are perhaps able to join us?
In the meanwhile, please read this recent story of change from the community:
We met Dancilla at one of our partner health clinics, where three of her children were being treated for malnutrition. Severely stunted and chronically malnourished, Dancilla's children were given supplementary food aid for eight weeks. The health clinic also connected Dancilla to our team of agricultural agents and community educators.
For four months, Dancilla participated in weekly health and nutrition education sessions and cooking demonstrations with a group of other mothers. Moses, one of Gardens for Health's agricultural agents, made regular visits to her home, and provided her with seeds and seedlings for her garden and chickens for egg production. She is now growing cabbages, beets, carrots, amaranth, zucchini, beans, and potatoes.
The path to good health is long, but Dancilla is already noting positive changes. Before, she had not known how hygiene contributes to malnutrition, and now she is consciously washing her children's hands. Before, she had prepared maize porridge for her children, and now she strives to provide balanced meals. Moreover, Dancilla says that before, she didn't think she had any value. Now she realizes that she brings value to her family, and community. After graduating from the Gardens for Health training program, the mothers in her group formed a cooperative, and elected Dancilla President.
This is change we believe in.
And your support makes this kind of change happen. We are so grateful.
Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Holidays from the Gardens for Health team,
We are writing as we approach the growing season in Rwanda, as we begin to enroll new families into our program at 3 health centers. We will partner with at least 105 families this season, providing them with a package of seeds and tree seedlings, small animals, and know-how to improve the health of their families. Our package aims to reduce household hunger, increase household yield and dietary diversity, and give families to knowledge to take action and prevent malnutrition in the future.
Over the past summer, we graduated two new groups of mothers from our training program. Now these groups are forming their own cooperatives and obtaining land to start their own community gardens. While our program invests in individual families, we provide regular training to groups. It's so inspiring for us to see these actions of solidarity and self-sufficiency after our training ends.
This season we have a great new team of Global Health Corps Fellows (www.ghcorps.org/) who will help us evaluate and grow this program within Rwanda. They will join our staff of agricultural extension workers and mother educators to assist the families we serve on their path to nutritional independence.
This season we will also introduce a new mobile data collection tool, that will allow us to measure and communicate the hunger, dietary diversity and yield data for the families that we serve in real time.
The tragic famine in Somalia is on all of our radars these days, and while severe drought, prohibitive policies and violence have undoubtedly led to the huge scale of this disaster, one preventable solution to famine of this magnitude is investing in families to grow more of their own food. If we can help families grow more food now, they will have more food for their children, more food to sell, and more food to save in the future. Addressing these food injustices at the onset is critical to prevent future calamnity.
By the end of the year we still hope to reach 460 families--a total of 2300 individuals--to give each of them the opportunities to take home vegetables and participate in education sessions weekly,to grow their own nutritious foods, and to join an inspiring community of families taking tangible initiative towards improving their health.
Thank you for continuing to help us cultivate good food and good health,
The Gardens for Health team
We are writing to this update to you from one of our health centers, which just graduated 35 mothers from the malnutrition education program. While we work with each enrolled family in our program for one year, a group of about 35 mothers participates in the education portion every three months. In addition to receiving a household food security assessment, seeds for a home garden and technical assistance from a skilled agronomist, each week mothers bring their children in for an education session, which consists of a cooking demonstration and lunch, weighing, work and harvesting vegetables in the health center garden, participation in a savings group, and conversation with our women trainers. The demand for these education sessions is overflowing. This particular group of mothers participated in thirteen training sessions covering topics related to malnutrition, ranging from planting nutritious home gardens, to practicing family planning measures, to treating diarrhea, to taking action against gender-based violence. More importantly, these trainings have inspired actions: over 80% of the women in the program have sought family planning and had HIV tests. All of the groups at our 3 health center partners have initiated savings groups, community gardens and cooperatives. This group of families has harvested a diversity of vegetables from their home gardens after the last season: beets, carrots, cabbage, spinach, maize, beans, orange sweet potatoes. They will continue to plant and harvest for the next season. By the end of the year we still hope to reach 460 families, to give each of them the opportunities that this small group of mothers has had: to take home vegetables and participate in education sessions weekly, to grow more of their own nutritious foods, and to join an inspiring community of families taking tangible initiative towards improving their health.
Julie and Team
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