The sound of rain on iron roofing sheets drowned out the voice of care group leader Nyinyireko Leocaide, forcing the women in front of her to crane their necks to catch her words. Leocaide now delivered her message in an even higher pitch.
“If you notice your baby is not too well, take them to the hospital, don’t take them to the traditional healers,” she told the group of 10 mothers, many breastfeeding babies.
Leocade’s job is to train young mothers on good nutrition and hygiene for their infants and toddlers under age 2.
Why Care Groups?
In rural Burundi, the women often take their babies to the farms with them. They strap babies to their backs or lay them on a blanket in the shade as they get on with their work of planting, weeding or harvesting. With no running water nearby, the mothers are typically handle their babies with soiled hands when the little ones demand a feed. The most common illnesses, many connected to bad hygiene, are: diarrhea, vomiting, worms, malaria and other communicable diseases.
Feeding babies with unclean hands is one of the behaviors that Leocade wants to put a stop to.
An additional behavior is feeding children nutritious foods. To support children from getting sick, Leocade taught mothers about nutrition. Many times mothers weaned their babies with what food was easiest available – which is often not a balanced diet. Mothers were taught about what foods to combine in meals so children get important nutrients.
Another is visiting a traditional healer, or witchdoctors, when illness strikes. With dilapidated health care systems, avoidable deaths do happen. Those unable to access health care due to the distance to the facility or simply lack of money turn to witchdoctors and traditional healers.
Care Groups Make a Difference
This is changing according to John Rusatire, FH Care Group Supervisor, “They (mothers) have learned what to do when a baby is ill. And that is to do all they can to quickly take the baby to hospital.”
Kaburu Concilie, a 25-year-old with three young children says she’s grateful for FH care groups in her community. “The benefit of this program is good health. My children have good health today. We also learned about hygiene and are practicing more hygiene than before. We have good toilets and compost. So I am benefiting a lot.”
Her children have good health and a better chance at life. During the government’s deworming week, she also takes her children for treatment and vaccinations.
Alex Mwaura is the program director for FH Kenya. He has previously served in positions based throughout eastern and southern Africa, allowing him many opportunities to help others and share stories he experienced.