SNV Uganda's Communications Officer, Dorah Egunyu, experiences first hand what it takes to promote nutrition among communities that can only be reached by foot.
Panting uphill on weak feet leaves little room for thoughts. The only thought at that moment is how much distance is left to cover before we reach our destination. Along the way, we meet local inhabitants who are climbing the hills or sloping down with ease, some carrying heavy loads on their heads. Soon we overtake a group of giggling young ladies who, as we learnt from one of our team members, were assessing us and had deduced from our hiking efforts that we were foreign to their land. So why were we subjecting ourselves to this two and a half hour torturous trek up one of Kasese’s hilly landscapes? It certainly was not in the name of keeping fit but rather to spread the good news about the importance of nutrition.
Kasese district is nestled at the foot of the snow-capped Mt. Rwenzori. With its beautiful scenery and home to Queen Elizabeth National park, Lake George, Lake Edward and straddling the Equator, Kasese is a tourist’s paradise. Amidst this beauty however are communities grappling with food insecurity, malnutrition and stunting. According to the 2011 Uganda Demographic and Household Survey, 43% of the children in Western Uganda are stunted. Kasese district is one of the severely affected districts in the region with 40% stunting among children between the ages of 6 to 23 moths according to the 2015 SNV baseline report. The effects of malnutrition and stunting are even more prominent among communities that live in the hills. Because of the hilly terrain these communities are often marginalised and the last to receive government extension services because few are brave enough to undertake the two to three hour trek to reach the communities that live uphill.
Indeed one of the extension workers remarked,”when we have an important meeting, we call them to find us in the low lands.”
While people like me who work in the comfort of the city in Kampala may have the option to choose whether or not to participate in such gruelling field trips, for most of the field teams this is not an option. They are spearheading projects and have to deliver results in given project areas irrespective of the challenges such work may entail. What is more compelling is that communities in such locations are more in need of our services. Kasese is one of the two districts where SNV is implementing the three-year Sustainable Nutrition for All project funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. The project aims to improve household nutrition by: triggering demand for dietery diversity and promoting the production of diverse foods. With its contrasting landscapes, fertile flatlands at the foothills of the mountains and poor soils uphill, it poses a challenge to development workers. How do you promote nutrition especially amongst communities that are grappling with harsh and low food yielding terrains? “We have to engage the communities and find local solutions together,” is Prossy Nakayima’s confident answer.
Prossy is the SNV nutrition advisor in charge of the sustainable nutrition project in Kasese. In her one year of working with communities in Kasese, Prossy has seen first-hand the effects of stunting in children in Kasese. While she acknowledges the challenges of trying to change inherent cultural beliefs and of reaching communities in the hard to reach places, she is very optimistic about her work. “Providing nutritious meals to children does not have to cost families a lot of money. They have vegetables, avocadoes, mangoes, guavas and silver fish among other available foods and these don’t cost much. We just have to raise awareness among communities so they don’t simply sell all the nutritious foods and leave nothing for their children,” Prossy adds. For Prossy trekking up the hills to get to the hard to reach places is a small price to pay if it leads to a change in behaviour. Prossy is no longer a lone ranger, she has managed to rally her sub-county team and they are now driving the nutrition campaign and climbing the hills together.
As I got back to Kampala, I felt enormous pride in the field teams that I had left behind. Their drive and passion for the work at hand was very inspiring.