By Marlene Angir
Malnutrition continues to pose a serious health threat for children in Kenya, with about two million infants having stunted growth—the most frequent form of under-nutrition among young children, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)
A Non-governmental Organization (NGO) dubbed Carolina for Kibera (CFK Africa) is helping to improve nutrition outcomes in Kibera through the Lishe Bora Nutrition Centre. Formed in 2013, the program seeks to serve malnourished children under the age of five.
The program, which works with daycare centers and Early Childhood Development (ECDs) centers to improve the health of children and reduce child mortality and morbidity, is supported by a number of organization individual donors, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the University of North Carolina (USA) and the World Food Programme.
The caregivers/ teachers at such institutions are taught about malnutrition and also how they can improve the health of malnourished children by giving foods that add nutritional value. When a severely malnourished child is identified by a Community Health Volunteer (CHV) operating from the area, such children are referred to the Lishe Bora Center in Kibera.
Kibera is made up of 13 villages. Each village has two CHVs who are appointed to check on children and also educate mothers about the importance of good nutrition.
“Every month we organize meetings with mothers and educate them more about the importance of nutrition and also how they can achieve nutritional benefits from their daily meals,” say Ms. Mable Madahana, a CHV at CFK Africa.
“We also frequently visit the daycare and ECDs to play with the children and also keep tabs on those who are malnourished to check if there is an improvement.”
CFK Africa also works closely with midwives, such as Mama Emily, to identify needy parents and babies. Mama Emily, a renowned traditional birth giver in Kibera, says that after helping mothers to deliver their babies, she informs them about the nutrition program at Lishe Bora Center (Kibera). She urges them to attend the weekly meetings held by the organization for mothers to help them understand the importance of feeding their children nutritional foods.
Back in 2013 when the program had just started, she found it hard to convince mothers to attend the meetings. Most of them did not see it as important.
Mama Emily reminisces that most parents at the time were ignorant about their children being malnourished. They believed that with time their children would gain better health. Due to superstition and low literacy levels, she says, most parents believed that their children with severe weight loss had been bewitched.
Walking in the thin corridors of Gatwekera village in Kibera together with Bentado Omiya one of the CHVs, we head to Rose Anyango’s house. Rose had found help from the organization when her sister-in-law passed away, leaving behind a two-month old baby.
“I sought help from Lishe Bora because the baby had started losing weight. I could not provide the required nutrients for the two months old baby,” Rose narrates.
The infant was enrolled for the eight-week program and would be given nutritional porridge among other supplements. The seeing the baby gain weight under the program was a relief to her.
Rose would also attend weekly meetings for mothers where she would be taught how to provide a balanced diet for the child within her means. A balanced diet can be as simple as porridge made of millet and peanut butter. Once the child was showing an improvement in her health she was released from the program.
The training of the mothers helped them to be able to take care of their children once they were out of the program to avoid relapse.
Initially, the organization also had a daycare where parents would bring their children in the morning and pick them up in the evening. During the day, the severely malnourished children would be fed a balanced diet.
However, some parents would take advantage and not come back for their children- and this led to the daycare taking the children to orphanages within the area since no one stayed at the daycare at night.
Additionally, the parents would take severely malnourished children to Tabitha Clinic which is part of CFK Africa where they would be given supplements together with some nutritious food stuffs such as porridge flour for the children.
It was later discovered by the CHVs that when parents were given such food stuffs they would share it among the entire house hold and that would force the child to stay in the program for more than 8 weeks. The organization later decided to chip in and buy the house hold some food stuffs to share among themselves without affecting the diet of the malnourished child.
In 2020 the organization could not be able to run a daycare full time and decided to partner up with various ECDEs and daycares in Kibera. By doing this, children would be able to be fed a balanced diet as well as learn. The teachers and daycare operators would be taught how to achieve the balanced diet and also what to provide for the children.
“We’ve partnered with CFK Africa and generally the turnout is good. At times we have some children not turning up but we do our best to check on them. We feed them a nutritious meal based on what we can provide,” says Mama Mercy of the Double Mercy Daycare and ECD, one among the daycares that partnered with CFK Africa.
The daycare/ ECDs in the area charges shs.50 (about half a dollar) a day for their services. Some parents pay monthly while others are not able to afford paying daily due to the harsh living conditions.
The center still allows the parents to bring their children and from the small amount they receive they are able to provide a nutritious meal for the children. Parents have found it easier taking their children to such places since they are able to go to work knowing their children are in great hands as they are also being fed well.
Another beneficiary Ms. Immaculate Owino, a single mother of two, started a home-based daycare to be able to provide for her family. She charges shs.30 (less than half a dollar) a day and takes care of upto seven children from the area.
To sharpen her skills in daycare management, Immaculate attends CFK courses to learn more about how to care of the children. He daycare also benefits from visit by CHVs who come to play with the children as they also monitor their health.
Immaculate usually encourages the parents to bring their children with a fruit that they will eat during the day and on the other hand prepares nutritious meals for the babies.
Although CFK Africa has closed the Kibera Lishe Bora Center, it still works closely with CHVs to spot malnourished children whose mothers are then referred to Tabitha Clinic run to receive their supplements.