Snapshots of Transformation: The Power of Investing in Nutrition and the Early Years

Tuesday, September 5th, 2017 in Blog

In August 2017, Members of Parliament (MPs) Yasmin Ratansi, Matt Jeneroux, and Iqra Khalid joined RESULTS Canada staff on a parliamentary delegation to Ethiopia. The objective of the delegation was to provide Canadian Parliamentarians with the opportunity to see firsthand the impact of Canadian development investments in reducing rates of malnutrition and advancing early childhood development. Here are some of the stories of the inspiring people we met and the programs we witnessed in action.

“I can see a difference in my children. My baby is happy and energetic, and quickly learning new things every day.  Also, the program has taught my husband about how much work there is in raising our children.  He spends more time with them, playing with them and helps out a lot more, asking me what I need. This gives me more time do other things. It has been good.” – Learning Through Play Mother

This young girl sits with the toys her father made her. Making toys is one of the recommended ways for parents to  interact with their children in the Learning Through Play program, part of the Grand Challenges Canada’s Saving Brains Project implemented by Christian Children’s Fund of Canada. As a way to transfer knowledge from participant to participant, and create a sense of ownership, the program has model households that give future participants a firsthand look at ways to stimulate their children’s minds– through proper nutrition, singing, talking, playing, eye-to-eye contact, smiling and building toys with them.

In addition to nurturing the early childhood development of children 0-3 years, the program has also played a role in shifting perceptions around children and their place in the home and society, as well as gender roles in the household and community.

At a pre-school in Oromia, this young girl recites the alphabet with her classmates. Pre-schools are not common in Ethiopia yet provide essential learning environments for children which combines the stimulation of play, singing and interaction, with language and cognitive skills.

Ethiopia plans to integrate the tenets of early childhood education into the training of future teachers realizing that there are special educational needs of this age group. We know that developing a child’s brain in these crucial early years is transformational, and is integrally linked to an individual’s educational and productive trajectory, and to the economic growth of a country.

Mothers feed their infants a special porridge that combines a pre-mix of essential cereals and locally sourced vegetables, fruits and eggs. They learned these skills through Nutrition International’s Infant and Young Child Nutrition program.

A community based female health worker teaches about portions and the balance of difference nutritional elements while also supporting mothers to continue to breastfeed as much as possible. Breastfeeding needs to be complemented after 6 months by good nutrition. In Ethiopia, only a very small percentage of infants get proper complimentary nutrition. This is contributing to the sustained rate of child stunting (low height for age) affecting one in every three children.

“Yes, definitely, I can see benefit. Before all of us were dizzy and tired. Now, my energy is better, I am attending more school and my school performance has improved. I feel more physically strong and active. I can see this with all of us.” – Adolescent participant of the WIFAS Program

MP Iqra Khalid is sitting next to a motivator girl. Motivator girls are part of Nutrition International’s WIFAS (Weekly Adolescent Iron Folate Supplement) program that provides weekly iron folic acid supplementation to adolescent girls at their school. She was trained to provide support and education to her peers. The leadership skills and knowledge that she has gained in the program are also an asset for her future.

Tackling adolescent malnutrition works to break the cycle of poverty. Through the integration of nutrition services in schools and the health extension program, the number of early pregnancies, early drop outs from school, and rate of low birth weight in neonates is dropping. This gives adolescent girls the best chance to realize their potential.

At a health post supported by UNICEF, a Health Extension Worker weighs baby Bontu. She is monitoring his growth, ensuring he has healthy weight for his age and height. With each family, she provides counselling on breastfeeding and complementary feeding using a family health card, nutritional screening, deworming, and Vitamin A supplementation.

The Health Extension Worker program has transformed Ethiopia’s health care system by bringing health care to the most remote areas of the country. For every 5,000 people, there is a health post with two Health Extension Workers that is no more than 20 kilometers away. Health Extension Workers do outreach and home visits, so the most vulnerable and hardest to reach have access to health care. Mothers, like the one pictured above, have better access to the care they need to ensure their children are healthy and thriving.

“Being a Health Extension worker has benefited my children, having this knowledge has made sure they are healthy and they are going to school. I want other women to be able to benefit from this knowledge. I feel proud and very happy to be a part of reducing maternal mortality in this country.” – Biftu, Health Extension Worker

There are 40,000 Health Extension Workers in Ethiopia and the majority are women. The women are provided specialized training and skills to deliver 16 health packages, including family planning, immunization, antenatal care, disease surveillance and nutrition education. All of them are from the communities in which they serve, and often become role models and leaders in their district. Biftu, pictured here, is the President of the Women’s Group in the local government, and is a voice for women’s issues in the area.

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