Malnutrition Diary: My Son Kissed Death, Samuel Narrates
Samuel Ntawigira, 41, now a father of four children is married with Claudine Mukagahire. The family lives at Ruhenzi Cell, Burunga Village, Bwisyhura Sector in Karongi District—Western Province. They got married in 2007 a few months after the husband was released from prison. Samuel committed Genocide related crimes against the Tutsis and that’s why he was jailed for 13 years. “I was homeless. I found when my land was sold by relatives. I decided to marry so that as a family we can work hard to forge a better life”.
Unfortunately, one of Samuel’s children, now aged 4 years (seated in the Middle) almost died because of malnutrition. Little did the family know that it was because of poor feeding. “We rushed him to Karongi health centre in a very critical condition. He was treated but the doctor told us we were not feeding him well”, narrates the mother. As they both narrate on, you clearly observe they had no knowledge about how to feed their children.
The Ministry of Health runs an aggressive campaign aimed at eradicating Malnutrition in Rwanda. Karongi is one of the districts in with high cases of malnutrition according to the Ministry reports. Through its Nutrition Program, the Society for Family Health (SFH) Rwanda supplements Government initiatives to eradicate malnutrition. Jean Pierre Nsenga, the Nutrition, Malaria, Safe Water and Family Planning Manager explained: “Our interventions in Karongi Districts are more to do with creating more awareness about proper Nutrition habits among families through radio talk shows held by nutrition specialist from MOH in collaboration with SFH western regional office and Inter Personal Contacts (IPCs)”. SFH runs a Nutrition Program called “Ongera Umubiri” on Insangano Radio—a community-based radio in Karongi. Through this program families in Karongi district have improved their knowledge about how to feed their families. In addition, SFH disseminates reader-friendly published materials to families in the district through community based health workers. Poor as Samuel’s family is, he has no electricity and no radio. His wife listens to “Ongera Umubiri” program at a neighbour’s.
Still, she confesses, she did not know exactly how to feed her malnourished son. David Rukinishya, volunteers as a community based health worker in Bwisyhura Sector. He visits homes, door-to-door sensitizing families about Nutrition, HIV/AIDS, family Planning, drinking safe water among other societal health related programs. In a week, he visits at least 3 families in the evening after attending to his main source of income–farming.
He gives a brief testimony about Samuel’s Family: “This family is one of those that were identified by Karongi District (authorities) as most vulnerable. As such, they were given a free cow. I also visit them regularly to sensitize them on proper nutrition. In the whole of Bwisyhura sector, six children were identified as malnourished including Samuel’s. I am glad to report that all have now healed except one and he’s also making good improvement”.
The fight against malnutrition program targets children between 6—23 months. David explains the prescription of the treatment: “We give families free special food supplement packed in sachets. It is in form of flour; with a variety of ingredients. You use one sachet per day for 30 days on a malnourished child. The child must be strictly fed this food when warm—within 30mins. After a month, Samuel’s son is now ok.
But this was just a treatment, proper feeding must continue throughout the child’s lifetime. Meaning, the family has to devise ways and means of ensuring consistent quality food supplies. They have been taught how to grow vegetables in sacks filled with soil and manure since they lack enough land to grow food on a large scale. The wife is prepared to start growing vegetables when the rains start soon. The husband is also working hard to improve his income in order to feed his family better.
They both say that the important lesson learnt from this experience is that to feed a child properly is not about the quantity of food but rather the quality and how it is balanced.
Through donor funding, SFH is able to develop high quality printed materials, design and support radio programs, and explore the use of the existing network of Rwandan Partner Organizations structure to support the nutrition program implementation.