Teacher, leader, entrepreneur: One extraordinary woman takes on malnutrition

Hapsatou Kah is taking on malnutrition in her village. Morgana Wingard for USAID.

Editor’s note: Bread’s 2016 Offering of Letters: Survive and Thrive focuses on the nutrition of mothers and children in developing countries. Sometimes, however, it’s challenging for Americans to understand the connection between the letters they write to Congress and what happens on the ground in far-away places in the work of ending hunger. 

To better understand the connection, Bread is partnering with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to post USAID stories on Bread Blog. This story first appeared on the organization’s website.

By Kelly Ramundo 

A healthy start in life begins with healthy food. But not every child gets the nutrients they need for their brains and bodies to fully develop. And when they don’t, the damage can be irreversible.

For decades, children in the village of Sylla Diongto in northeastern Senegal have been smaller than they should be. Many struggle in school. Some will never realize their full potential. This vicious cycle of poverty and malnutrition is repeated across sub-Saharan Africa and throughout Senegal. Even though it boasts an abundance of fertile soil, Senegal still imports over two-thirds of its rice, the country’s primary food.

If rural Senegalese were empowered to grow and eat better crops, would the cycle stop? Would children have a chance for a healthy future?

Hapsatou Kah thinks so.

She is a housewife and a mother. She lives with her husband and four children on a compound in Sylla Diongto that they share with more than 50 relatives.

In their rural village, poverty abounds and malnutrition is too common. In these respects, there isn’t anything uncommon about Hapsatou. And yet, she is extraordinary. She’s an expert in agriculture, runs a livestock program and is improving the health and economic prospects of her community in myriad ways.

When a USAID program came to Sylla Diongto in 2012, they asked the community to nominate a leader—someone who could show them how to plant healthier and more diverse vegetables, share recipes for new nutritious meals and teach good hygiene skills, all with the goal of keeping children healthy.

The villagers put their faith in Hapsatou, who saw children around her suffering. “Despite the fact that we did a lot of farming, it didn’t have much impact on the children’s health. They were always weaker than they should be,” she says.

Now all that is changing. Empowered with training and support from USAID, Hapsatou plays many roles—teacher, adviser, role model and entrepreneur—to put her community on the path to better health.

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