Lunch and Learn at CFK’s Nutrition Center July 7, 2015  by      

By: Courtney Schnefke, 2015 Peacock Fellow

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Carolina for Kibera’s Lishe Bora Mtaani (“Good Nutrition for the Community”) Nutrition Center for malnourished children under 5 years old just passed its second birthday, and it’s making such an impact in the community!

It’s estimated that malnutrition leads to almost half of all deaths of children under 5 years old.* This means, globally, we are losing 3 million children each year from preventable causes. Additionally, more than 200 million children don’t reach their full developmental potential due to poverty, poor health, malnutrition, and inadequate early childhood care. Malnutrition often leads to a vicious cycle: the child is at risk for poor health from birth, which leads to lack of school readiness, poor academic achievement and educational attainment, and then lack of economic opportunities and poverty in the future.** Ensuring our world’s youngest and most disadvantaged children have access to proper nutrition, health care and early childhood education demands our immediate attention.

CFK’s Nutrition Center is tackling these issues head on. Children who have been identified as moderately or severely malnourished by Community Health Workers are brought to the center each morning for 8 weeks where they receive rehabilitative therapeutic foods, snacks, a nutritious lunch of locally available foods and lots of play time. The Center’s Nutritionist, Esther, also offers one-on-one counseling for moms and coordinates group educational sessions on topics such as breastfeeding, complementary feeding, and sanitation for not only the families of children attending the Center but also for pregnant and lactating women in the community. As a CFK Peacock Fellow, my main projects related to the Nutrition Center this summer include examining how we can incorporate even more early childhood development (ECD) programming and assessments for children and their families to measure progress, as well as assisting with the Nutrition Center’s annual evaluation.

IMG_1115 [re-size]While it has certainly been enriching to put what I have learned in a North Carolina classroom into practice in the Kibera community, it has been even more enriching to spend mornings and afternoons with the children at the Nutrition Center. Reading about the connection between nutrition, ECD programming, and the lifelong impact they can have on children stirs within me a deep motivation to put this research into practice. How profound it is that what happens in the first five years (and especially the first two years) of a child’s life can affect that child’s trajectory for the rest of his or her life. This feeling of motivation to make a difference is only magnified by the little moments with the kids: when I help a little girl eat her lunch, or watch the children’s faces light up when they play with toys, like water bottles filled with rice, clothespins and rainbow erasers. And I simply just melt when a child stops crying when I rub their back or smile when I play peek-a-boo.

The Nutrition Center team members certainly have their hands full on a daily basis. Taking care of, feeding, changing, and playing with dozens of children for 7-8 hours daily is no small task. But they’re committed because they know the impact they’re having and that the reward of children flourishing is worth the hard work. The hours I spend there usually fly by, and I leave feeling hopeful for these children’s future. It’s hard not to be when follow-up visits to families and last year’s annual evaluation revealed a 100% cure rate from malnutrition, as well as reports of continued developmental progress for those who have graduated from the program.

All over the world, young children are the most vulnerable group in any population, and they truly are the future of our global community in every sense. It has been an honor to work with, contribute to and be internally impacted by a program that strives to make sure these little ones have the best start in life they can.

* Black, RE., et al. (2013). Maternal and child undernutrition and overweight in low-income and middle income countries. The Lancet, 382(9890), 427-451. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(13)60937-X

** Grantham-McGregor, S., et al. (2007). Developmental potential in the first 5 years for children in developing countries. The Lancet, 369, 60-70.

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