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A Notebook, a Long Walk, and Nutrition for All

On the ground in Malawi, Zambia, and Tanzania

By Rev. Gary Cook
December 2011

In the southern Malawi village of Jombo, Kennedy Mbereko carries a notebook in his back pocket. Ask him about it, and he’ll show you the pages where he records his visits to households with undernourished children.

He comments on the children’s condition, makes notes about latrines and hand-washing facilities, and records which families have received training on healthy diets in this remote village. People like him are at the center of the global effort to “scale up nutrition” for women and children around the world.

For 10 days in October, a group of Bread staff members and U.S. church leaders visited Zambia, Tanzania, and Malawi to explore efforts to improve maternal and child nutrition. Our goal was to understand how U.S. foreign assistance helps countries improve the nutrition of their citizens, especially women and young children.Our exploration was framed by the 1,000 Days movement, which focuses attention on the nutritional needs of children from pregnancy through age 2.

We started with the basics, first learning the terminology of undernutrition, such as “stunting” and “wasting,” and looked at government strategies and U.S. programs. We met with nongovernmental organizations and church agencies that plan and implement programs. Along the way, we visited a Zambian hospital ward for severely malnourished children and witnessed the fragile little bodies that define “wasting” in a way statistics can’t capture.

Talking with Mbereko, I was again reminded that 90 percent of the effort to overcome debilitating hunger and poverty comes from poor and hungry people themselves.

Global campaigns are important, foreign assistance is vital, strong agencies and good planning are essential, but it is the thousands of people like him, armed with notebooks, simple educational materials, and a knowledge of ways to improve nutrition using a community’s own resources that make up the heart and soul of this effort.

Study Mbereko’s face and you discover a slight tinge of pride. He understands the importance of the role entrusted to him. He knows that what he’s doing will make a difference in the lives of children around him. And while the overall situation for this village looks bleak—another “hunger season” is approaching—it is impossible not to share a little of his hope, and just a tiny bit of his pride.

The notebook he carries, the training material he uses, the skills he has learned are all made possible by USAID funding of this Catholic Relief Services-administered project. Although far from the center of this battle, as Christian advocates for a strong U.S. government commitment to maternal and child nutrition, we are standing with Mbereko and thousands of women and men like him.

Rev. Gary Cook is interim vice president of policy and program at Bread for the World. For more articles about this trip, see www.bread.org/blog.

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