Improving Children’s Nutrition in Gambella

The 2nd training session of the Mothers’ Union Community Education and Development Program was held in December for 35 women representing 21 Mothers’ Union groups from Nuer, Anuak, Mabaan, Dinka and Opo tribes in Gambella. The theme was ‘Good Food makes Strong Bodies.’ Pictures, stories and discussions focused on how good nutrition helps us, and about the importance of eating food from the different food groups.

The pre-project survey showed the majority of children were given a diet consisting primarily of maize (corn). Statistics from the Village Medicine Conference held in Addis Ababa in 2012 showed that on average, in Ethiopia, children eat meat only once or twice a year. Serving food from a variety of food groups (if possible) at most if not all meals, is a good starting point for teaching on nutrition. On day two, the trainees presented the nutrition teaching to one another using story and picture sets.

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This was followed by a practical skills / income generation activity session on how to crochet mats using free materials such as recycled plastic bags from the market and material from torn clothing and rags. Although sets of extra large crochet hooks were given to each Mission Centre for demonstration purposes and to be shared with community members, participants were taught how to make home-made crochet hooks using twigs and a knife.

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Spiritual formation sessions provided opportunities to build upon the deepening friendships developing between participants from different tribal groups.

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After these training sessions at the Gambella Anglican Centre, the Mothers’ Union representatives return to train women in their local villages. Some of these training sessions exceeded expected numbers. For example, the Mothers Union in Pinyadu Refugee Camp held 4 separate training days on clean water with 125, 135, 109 and 123 participants respectively. Participant feedback included “we never realised that when a well person drinks from the same cup as a sick person, the well person could become sick” and “one woman has made a table on which to dry her dishes in the sun and now all her neighbours are using it.

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Training on Clean Water with the Mothers Union in Gambella

In a recent survey conducted by the Anglican Church in Gambella, Ethiopia, it was found that an average of 2 to 4 children survived per an average of 9 to 11 children born into the family. Most of these children die under age 5 from communicable disease and malaria.

With the support of Anglican Aid, a three year training program for the Mothers Union has started to address issues of poverty and health. The Mother’s Union is an integral part of the Anglican Church in Gambella, and is actively engaged in literacy programs, church activities, practical help, prayer and visitations to the sick. The new training program will expand the role of the Mothers Union, providing theological and practical skills to women across 70 villages. This will be done through a ‘train-the-trainer’ program, which will empower women to affect change in their own communities.

Dr. Wendy LeMarquand, the project co-ordinator, reports on the first training session. “On September 4th and 5th, we hosted 34 women representing 20 distinct Mothers’ Union groups functioning out of our 14 Mission Centres spread throughout the Gambella region.

It was wonderful to see how intently the women listened to the introductory story dealing with issues of how we learn and how we can work together to help take care of problems in the community. And it was a delight to see how much they enjoyed using pictures and story-telling as they later practiced teaching this to one another! They had lots of fun looking through magnifying glasses and binoculars in the session on how we are able to see things that contaminate water, and they were amazed (and quite horrified!) at the pictures of microorganisms shown to them on my computer!

Our practice sessions on solar water purification, water filter construction, clean water dispensers and dish drying racks were full of laughter, good questions and good discussion. When each of the representatives left to return to their Mission Centres, they carried the materials to make their own clean water dispensers, carrying these simple, inexpensive and locally available items as if they were carrying costly treasure.

These ‘water dispensers’ that our representatives will make during their own community demonstration/teaching sessions will replace the common open (and never washed) communal pot of water (which is usually kept inside the church office, in the dark), and into which one unwashed cup is passed from one coughing adult to one feverish child, to another with diarrhea, etc.

Some were moved to tears to think that what they are learning may save the lives of their precious children. To think that the occurrence and re-occurrence of diarrhea is something that can be taken care of and prevented was a new concept to many. To communicate these important truths in a way that is fun, non-judgmental and memorable is one of the main goals of the program.

Our Mothers’ Union representatives will return to teach what they have learned by holding a teaching day for all of our 1500 Mothers’ Union members at the Mission Centres, and then by holding a second teaching day at our 60+ local churches where each Mothers’ Union member is encouraged to invite and teach at least one community guest.

The Mothers Union in Gambella requires further support for these training sessions. Please contact Bishop Grant and Dr Wendy LeMarquand for further information