The mother of five children, Aida Abril knows a few things about raising happy and healthy children. She is now using that knowledge to teach other mothers in the Chicomphende village of Mozambique how to keep their children healthy and strong.
“My village chose me as a lead mother to help reduce and prevent cases of malnutrition through good practices in nutrition and hygiene,” she says.
So she joined a community nutrition group to learn from maternal and child health nurses about optimal nutrition practices for infants and young children. Her job is to report back what she learns to the ten mothers she is tasked to support.
Aida understands what she’s likely to encounter as she teaches mothers. “Our local custom was always to give children xima (maize or sorghum meal) at every meal,” she says.
But the area is home to high rates of chronic malnutrition, and the behavior change strategies she will introduce to her peers are part of Helen Keller International’s efforts to improve the nutrition and health of vulnerable populations there. For families with children under five or women who are pregnant and breastfeeding, vitamin A-rich orange sweet potatoes are a key solution, since vitamin A deficiency weakens young immune systems at a critical time.
To ensure she is prepared to support her mothers, Aida also attended a special training hosted by Helen Keller Intl to learn counseling skills that would help her persuade others to adopt the recommended feeding and nutrition practices. Before sharing her learnings with others, Aida even decided to test them on her youngest daughter, Milagre (Miracle), who is almost two years old.
“Now I prepare porridge enriched with peanut, baobab fruit juice that I learned how to make in the training and I give her mangoes,” she says. “They told me mangoes are rich in vitamin A just like orange-flesh sweet potatoes.”
In addition to feeding her more frequently, Aida also began to vary Milagre’s diet to ensure she received a variety of vitamins and minerals. She knows breastmilk is full of nutrients needed for a young child’s healthy growth and development and is committed to continued breastfeeding until age two.
“I see a change in my daughter,” Aida says. “She’s happier, she plays more, and she looks stronger and healthier.”
This firsthand experience will serve Aida well as she teaches her neighbors about essential nutrition and hygiene actions like exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, hand-washing and recognizing signs of severe illness in children. As more lead mothers across the district take up the quest to share their new knowledge, it is hoped that nutritional practices will slowly create change—one mother and one sweet potato at a time.