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No more malnutrition

How parents in Burundi are working together to overcome child malnutrition

Written by Diane Igirimbabazi 2023

A mother in Burundi smiles at her daughter who is smiling at the camera

Chanelle and her mother, Diane, at home in Burundi. Photo: Diane Igirimbabazi/Tearfund

Three smiling Guatemalan women, one heavily pregnant, hold bowls of food in a kitchen with wooden walls.

From: Food and nutrition – Footsteps 119

How to eat well, address malnutrition and reduce food waste

At 12 years old, Chanelle is already a young lady. A little shy, she is very bright and knows what she wants to do when she grows up. ‘I want to be a doctor,’ she declares with a big smile. 

‘Yes she can!’ affirms her mother, Diane. ‘She is a survivor and I believe that God has great plans for her.’ 

Diane, her husband and their six children live in Matana, Burundi. They are farmers, but with the pressures of climate change and limited land they often struggle to grow enough food for their family. As a result, ten years ago Chanelle almost died.

‘She was very weak and we did not know what was wrong,’ explains Diane. ‘At the hospital she was diagnosed with severe malnutrition.’

‘We decided to put our efforts together, work with the diocese and make sure our children will never be sick with malnutrition again.’

At the time, around 200 children in the area were sick with malnutrition, so the Anglican Diocese of Matana put in place a support and feeding programme. Chanelle was treated for two months and she recovered completely. 

‘It was a scary time for us and for the whole community,’ says Diane. ‘We decided to put our efforts together, work with the diocese and make sure our children will never be sick with malnutrition again.’

Porridge

The Diocese started a training programme where parents learnt how to prepare a special porridge to treat and prevent malnutrition. The porridge is made with local ingredients such as maize, soybean and peanuts, to make it easily accessible for everyone. 

A Burundian man, watched by a group of women and children, holds up a plate of grain above bags and plates of different types of flour, beans and grains on a wooden table

Jean Bosco from the Diocese of Matana demonstrates how to prepare a nutritious porridge to help prevent malnutrition. Photo: Tom Price/Tearfund

Parents were taught how to improve their farming methods, grow vegetables and make nutritionally balanced meals. At the same time they learnt that safe drinking water, improved sanitation, good hygiene practices and childhood vaccinations are also very important for preventing and treating malnutrition. 

Self-help groups

Parents who had sick children decided to form self-help groups so they could continue to support each other. Today, group members check for signs of malnutrition among their children, and they exchange tips, advice and cooking ideas. They also save money and work together to start small businesses. 

‘We are 17 in our group,’ says Diane. ‘So far we have bought four cows, and our aim is to buy a cow for every member – cows produce milk for the family and manure for the crops. 

‘We grow vegetables in the swamps during the dry season, something we never used to do. We are also rearing chickens and rabbits.

‘Who would have thought that the people who did not have enough food for their children a few years ago could be doing so well today? In the last few years we have not had any cases of malnutrition in our community.’

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Written by

Written by  Diane Igirimbabazi

Diane Igirimbabazi is Tearfund’s Regional Communication Officer for East and Central Africa.

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