Starting a Child Strong

Published on
November 8, 2023 at 4:45:00 PM PST November 8, 2023 at 4:45:00 PM PSTth, November 8, 2023 at 4:45:00 PM PST

On World Children’s Day, we’re highlighting the need to start strong!

Even before a child is born, the journey of lifelong health begins with her mother’s nutrition. Then comes those first six months when an infant thrives on exclusive breast milk—she doesn’t even drink water, yet! The following year and a half are an exciting journey of culinary discovery as she explores all kinds of new foods, but in a careful order and under the sharp eye of her watchful mother lest she choke or have an allergic reaction. 

These first two-plus years are critical to a child’s lifelong health. Her brain, bones, nervous system, everything is developing so fast—she needs the right vitamins and minerals, as well as protection from harmful bacteria and parasites. Getting the nutrients necessary for sturdy bones and teeth, strong mental health, stable energy, and more is key to ensuring her voice will be heard, loud and strong, as she grows into her full potential.

And young mothers like Chaltu in Dangla Gongo, Ethiopia can see the difference good nutrition makes for an infant and toddler. She’s been on the journey with her own little girl, Martiket.

When Chaltu was pregnant with Martiket, she struggled to access iodine, vitamins, and a diversity of foods for herself and her growing child. She and the other mothers in her community didn’t have anyone to train them on how to prepare a diet that supported pregnancy, lactation, and their children’s first meals. “I didn’t know the benefits of breastfeeding for both my daughter and myself,” Chaltu shares. 

The pros of exclusive breastfeeding until six months (including providing the perfect blend of essential nutrients and protective antibodies for the baby and reducing the risk of breast cancer for the mother) were not common knowledge in her community. Nor was the often complex regimen of which foods to introduce first and how best to prepare them.

That’s where Food for the Hungry (FH) Ethiopia saw an opportunity to partner with and serve the women in Dangali Gongo. FH staff offered women “nutrition action training”, combining teaching on nutritional best practices with practical demonstrations and new recipes. 

But even after being trained on these practices to strengthen a child’s health foundation, there remained the barrier of access to the recommended foods. 

It was common practice in Dangali Gongo for families to eat one type of staple food every day that was readily available and affordable—usually a grain—with few to no vegetables or fruit to balance out their diet. Mothers—those primarily responsible for feeding their families—didn’t have access to other types of fresh food. 

Access to healthy options is something we tend to take for granted in North America. A cursory internet search will quickly tell you that your child needs five or more servings a day of fresh produce to provide the vitamins, nutrients, fibers, and minerals they need to succeed in life. “Most of your child’s plate should be covered with colourful fruits and veggies,” one pediatrician exhorts.

Chaltu and her neighbour, Lalise, feed Martiket vegetables.

This advice poses a problem for moms like Chaltu. Without a supermarket around the corner importing fresh produce from around the world all year round, where are Chaltu and the other mothers going to get those vegetables and fruit? 

Even when fresh produce is available in the larger town markets, rural women often don’t have the money to buy them. The only option left is to grow their own, but without seeds, fertilizer, or training, growing food for your baby is a serious challenge. This is a lot of pressure to put on a pregnant or nursing mother.

To help women overcome these barriers, FH staff worked with families in Dangali Gongo to raise their income through improved coffee growing and tree nursery development. Some women also learned to grow vegetables, while others generated an income and bought vegetables. 

By empowering families like Chaltu’s to care for their young children by boosting their nutrition, FH staff helped parents strengthen little bodies and sharpen young minds for the future of their community. Together, they’re laying a foundation for lifelong health and success by starting their children strong.

FH Ethiopia also taught families abouthousehold sanitation and hygiene and supported the teaching with latrine slabs and improved access to potable water. Having a safe, clean place to go to the bathroom and training on effective handwashing cut down on the spread of harmful germs in the community. 

As little toddlers like Martiket began eating highly nutritious food and drinking clean, parasite-free water they got sick less and had more energy.

“I'm grateful for the training and cooking demonstration because they helped me address important nutrition concerns, my child’s health issues, and living in general. All of these things are now much better than they were before,” Chaltu says. “I have started to prepare a variety of foods for my daughter and continue to breastfeed her. Even my neighbours got my advice and shared the benefits of what I learned!” 

To help more children like Martiket start strong, you can give moms nutritional training.

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