On a sunny morning at a health post in Gitega cell, Nyamagabe District, a number of parents have converged. They are here for a monthly nutrition-test for their children under five years.
A handful of Community Health Workers are here to lend a hand in the process of assessing the growth of the children; comparing their height, weight, and age to find out how they are progressing.
On the other hand, parents are not just sitting around. They are being productive as well; preparing a meal – a balanced diet meal for the little ones.
Out in the compound of the health post, women are supervising a large boiling saucepan of sorghum porridge, near another one for potatoes mixed with beans, silver fish and green vegetables - they are almost ready.
Eggs, bananas, and oranges are also on the menu.
Foodstuff are collected by women from their respective homes and brought here, to not only cook for their children but also learn how best to prepare a balanced diet for their young ones.
This is the “Igikoni cyumudugudu,” (loosely translated as the ‘village kitchen’), an initiative that has been in place for a couple of years, helping the district to extract its citizens out of the jaws of malnutrition that had ravaged Nyamagabe for years.
According to the 2015 Demographic Health Survey, Nyamagabe ranked among the districts with the most alarming rates of malnutrition among children.
At that time, the report said that malnutrition was at 51.8 in the district.
These figures reduced to 42.5 in 2018.
Prisca Mujyawayezu, the district’s Vice Mayor in Charge of Social Welfare, says that such initiatives have a major role to play against malnutrition, and if carried out accordingly, the problem will be significantly reduced,
“The progress made in the past three years gave us confidence that if we continue to work together, sensitising the parents, underlining initiatives like Ibikoni by’umudugudu, and uturima twibikoni (village kitchens and vegetable gardens), the problem will reduce fast,” she says.
She says that the district also has some 621 homes where parents can leave their children to be cared for and fed while they have gone for work. These are ordinary homes of people who are partnering with the community to provide the service.
However, she says there are about eight Early Childhood Development Centres in the district and more may be coming up.
How important is Igikoni cy’umudugudu?
When parents are carrying out the exercise, it is not just about feeding the children for that day, but also for the parents to learn and be reminded about balanced diet, as a Eugenie Mukantwari, one of the mothers explains.
“We learn a lot that is of importance to our children,” she says.
“The foodstuff we use here are cultivated at home. For example potatoes, and beans; we don’t have to go far to get them.” she explains.
Marie Mwitirehe, the head of Cyanika Health Centre, echoes the same sentiments. She says ignorance causes malnutrition more than poverty.
“Some people perceive green vegetables as food for poor people, so they need to be sensitised about it. We continued to teach them,” she says.
Mwitirehe, a nurse, says that in the month of May, Cyanika sector recorded 21 mildly malnourished children, and one who was critically malnourished.
These, she says, were admitted to health facilities to be properly followed up in terms of feeding, and in about a week, eight were well and discharged to be followed monitored under the Igikoni cy’umudugudu.
Claude Manirareba, a community health worker in Kigarama village in the same district, says that in the igikoni cy’umudugudu (village kitchen), they practically teach the parents about a balanced diet, since the food is prepared while they are watching.
He says that there are challenges related to not having adequate equipment like saucepans, and a well-established kitchen.
Modeste Kubwimana, a parent, says that the effort is yielding results. He says that many people now have vegetable gardens in their homes. In addition, habits like selling off foodstuff that would be used to feed children are reducing.