In West Africa, health & hygiene training … and a chubby baby!

In West Africa, health & hygiene training … and a chubby baby!

I was completely amazed by the chubby baby in the arms of his mother, who sat across from me at the meeting. I don't think I've ever seen such a healthy looking baby in a village in this region before. What was this woman’s secret to having such a healthy baby, while so many are malnourished?

The baby’s mother, Esther, a participant in FRB’s West Africa 1 program, explained. "In the training I received on health I learned the importance of only giving breast milk for the first six months of a baby's life." The elders in Esther’s village had told young women that their first milk wasn't good, that they needed to throw it out and instead give their newborns water, or pass them to another woman to nurse. "Now we learned that the first milk is so important to give to our babies – that is what helps them grow strong!"

In a nearby village, Fatima further revealed why children’s health is improving in the communities we are working in. "We used to lay our babies on mats, and we would see them getting weaker and weaker. We thought it was the mats that were sucking the life out of our babies. Now we know that it was because we were giving them water instead of milk.

We used to think that the women wouldn't be able to survive if they gave their children only breast milk for six months, but now we see that women can do this and our babies are much healthier for it!"

I sat down with Ladi, a women’s group member who had received some training in health and hygiene, and went on to lead two sessions each in nine different locations so that she could teach the largest number of people good practices on breastfeeding, home hygiene, and more. "I myself have six children. I had four of them before learning about the importance of giving only breast milk for the first six months. They were oftenEsther, proud of her healthy babysick, and didn't respond well to treatments. Then I received the training, which I later shared with many women’s groups. Since then I have had two children, and put into practice what I learned.

My youngest two children are far healthier than my first four ever were, and even when they do get sick, they respond quickly to treatments." Ladi is touched by the large number of people whose babies’ health has improved through her teaching. "I've had so many women come up to me to thank me. Some of these women were pregnant when they received the training, so they were eager to put it into practice."

Breastfeeding was just one aspect of Ladi’s training, and women were eager to tell me what else she had taught them. "We learned how to care for our children when they are sick with diarrhea" by giving them an oral rehydration solution. "We learned about the importance of being clean, and living in a clean environment. It makes us feel proud now." "We learned how flies spread disease, so we've begun covering our food and drinks to keep them out. We've seen that this chases sicknesses away while keeping food hot."

Women’s group members also spoke about the importance of washing hands with soap, but fewer people have been able to put this into practice because soap is relatively expensive. To remedy this issue, a session on soap-making is planned to help make soap affordable. During a recent evaluation of the local partner’s work in these communities, the health and hygiene training that Ladi had led was one of the ones most talked about by participants.

As an evaluation team we discussed some possible reasons for that: the training was highly applicable to all, and was easily implemented by participants without extra cost. To implement training on subjects like gardening, on the other hand, requires adequate water, and is therefore less applicable in villages with a limited water supply. The health and hygiene trainings were also held in nine locations rather than at a central one, so that people in the surrounding area – including non-group members – could easily attend. The program will continue experimenting with various formats for upcoming trainings to ensure that this community-level outreach will continue to have such an impressive impact on people’s – and babies’ – lives.

West Africa 1 encompasses 47 communities, 1460 households and 10,220 individuals

06/28/2013 | Comments: 0 | Add Comment