Establishing Local Communities of Practice

By Bertha Munthali

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Ensuring project sustenance has been a major challenge of many a developmental project. In most cases, the practices promoted by a project are abandoned as soon as the project discontinues. The challenge has always been to ensure that beneficiaries institutionalise the promoted practices and behaviours such that they continue long after the project. With this in mind, the ATONU project sought to institutionalise the behavioural changes that it promoted through the package of four components that it was promoting, namely;

  • Nutrition and hygiene behaviour change communication (BCC) to improve consumption of diverse foods, including chickens and eggs at household level.
  • BCC for influencing income expenditure from sale of chickens and eggs to purchase other nutritious foods to improve household diets;
  • BCC for women empowerment and gender equity in chicken value chains to improve women’s participation in joint household production and women’s time use.
  • Household vegetable production to improve consumption of vegetables and dietary diversity.

To ensure sustenance of the impacts of these components, the ATONU project focused on the establishment of vibrant Communities of Practice (CoPs), discussed below;

Village Cooking Clubs

According to the baseline and formative research carried out in the beneficiary project areas, many babies are fed on plain porridge of maize or rice floor during infancy – their most critical phase of growth and development. As a result, babies miss out on the key nutrients required to avoid succumbing to malnutrition, including hidden hunger.

In line with the need to improve consumption of diverse foods, including chickens and eggs at household level, Village Cooking Clubs were established. Whilst initially led by the project’s Field Assistants, Champions were identified amongst the community members, and were equipped with necessary knowledge and training aids to enable them to continue after project discontinues. Apart from promoting consumption from across the different food groups, the project identified a need to train community members on improved methods of transforming their basic foods, are mainly starches, into nutritious foods enriched with the right nutrients from local sources, thus improving nutrient intake. Apart from food preparation, community members are trained on the right quantities of food for children of different ages; the appropriate frequency of feeding; and the need for hygiene during food handling, preparation and feeding.

Cooking sessions are held twice a month, and are attended by up to 40 community members, with some bringing their under-five children. At the end of every cookery session, the children and their parents eat the food, while the Field Assistant, the Champions and the adults evaluate each recipe based on factors like consistency, like ability and nutrient value.

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Children enjoying a chicken & vegetable meal

From these sessions, community members have grown to appreciate that ‘knowledge is power’. They now understand that malnutrition or the absence of balanced diets is not a result of people not having food. Rather, it is a function of the lack of the right knowledge with which to address their feeding regime. The ATONU intervention does not bring anything significantly new, choosing instead to emphasise that communities rely on local food stuffs that they are familiar with to achieve optimal diets for infants and entire families.

 

The impact of the Village Cooking Clubs can be attested to by participating villagers who have seen marked transformations since the advent of the cooking sessions.

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7 months old Erick

“I did not know that my 7 month old baby can eat vegetables and chicken, or meat. I just did not know how to prepare these foods for a baby, until I learnt from the ATONU cookery sessions”, said a local woman from Konga village, going on to explain that she learnt how to make nutritious meals for her son, Erik. Mrs Theresia Francis is one of the farmers who by the time ATONU was introduced, was heavily pregnant with her third child. According to her, her first two children did not benefit as much from the knowledge as Erick has done. With newly acquired knowledge and unlike with the other two, Erick has benefitted from being exclusively breast fed, with complementary foods being introduced only at six months.

 

Initially, baby food was difficult to make, however, with ATONU training, she has learnt how to include chicken, other meat and vegetables in the baby’s food.  She now appreciates that apart from carbohydrate based porridge made from rice (uji) or maize, Mrs Theresia Francis, now has a choice of using potatoes and green bananas to ensure that the child’s plate has input from at least four out of the six recommended food groups.

School Nutrition Clubs

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A girl explaining the food she would choose for her breakfast

School Nutrition Clubs are a response to the need for nutrition knowledge in schools. Knowledge on nutrition should be promoted not only for being graded, but for everyday use. During the theatre performances, all the twenty participating communities indicated the need to have their children learn nutrition in schools.

In addition, preliminary surveys conducted on some of the schools, indicated that 80% of the children go to school on empty stomachs for varied reasons, but lack of food and limited time to prepare and consume breakfast were some of the given reasons. In addition, many children were not able to explain why they needed to have proper nutrition, which could be another reason why food consumption was not prioritised in the morning.

With this, the project is bringing on board after-school nutrition clubs to increase awareness of good nutrition for school-going children. Some of the activities lined up within the clubs include, school vegetable gardens, dance and drama, food card games, sports, comics and others.

 

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