By Esete Yeshitla
Sekota, AMHARA, 21 June 2017- Meet Netsanet, a strong and independent 25-year-old mother who is very self-assured; reminiscent of her name, which means ‘freedom’.
When we visit Netsanet in her house, it is a typical morning for her. First, she waters her home garden: cabbage, carrots, tomatoes and other vegetables. The seeds were provided by FAO with funding from the European Union through the woreda (district) agriculture office as a support for her family to have balanced meals. Her next task is feeding her chickens, from which she uses eggs for cooking and as a source of income. She sells eggs on Thursdays at the nearby Hamusit market. She then starts preparing breakfast. She takes fresh vegetables from her garden; a couple of eggs, milk, mixed grains and starts to cook the meal for her daughter.
Netsanet has two daughters, Mekdes age 5 and in kindergarten; and Tsige age 2. Netsanet explains the difference between her two pregnancies, birth and the girls’ first two years of life. “I had my first child at home, as we did not have awareness. I was lucky that I did not face any complications when I had her. If something bad had happened, I would have regretted it,” says Netsanet.
Back then, even when health extension workers insisted that women give birth at the health centre, it was embarrassing for most women. Netsanet explains, “Nowadays, even the wife of a priest gives birth at the health centre. We lost many of our sisters due to high blood loss during birth. I am grateful for the awareness we are getting now.”
Twice a month, they participate in awareness training at the health post, as part of a UNICEF-supported, European Union-funded programme called EU-SHARE. They also receive education on how to prepare balanced meals for young children under two years old, something Netsanet did not know how with her first child. She says, “I was younger, I only breastfed Mekdes when I had spare time as I was busy with house chores.” For her second daughter, she breastfeeds her 8-10 times per day. Netsanet says, “It makes my child strong and at the same time, it serves as protection against unwanted pregnancy.”
Netsanet has witnessed the results. “My first child was fragile and got sick regularly. I used to spend most of my time at the hospital or pharmacy. She was malnourished and at one point, I thought I would lose her. Thank God she was better after she started taking the [ready-to-use therapeutic foods] that was provided by the health post.”
Netsanet put into practice the education given to her about healthy nutrition with Tsige. She started to feed her food when she was six months old. She says, “We did not know that we can feed different vegetables to our babies.”
Netsanet and her husband have three plots of land allotted by the Government, which they use for harvesting crops. Netsanet says, “We do not sell what we produce. We use it for our consumption.” In addition to selling eggs, Netsanet buys lambs, raises them and sells the sheep. She also buys grains from retailers and sells it for extra money. Netsanet adds, “So the money I get, I use it to buy other stuff.”
This is not the only work Netsanet has. She is also a member of the health development army (HDA), a strategic network the Government has galvanised to reach rural communities. As part of the Government’s intervention, health extension workers train women from the community to become HDA members and drive health-related behaviour change, including breastfeeding and child feeding practices, within their communities. Netsanet is a leader of five teams that each consist of five women- a ‘network’. Netsanet and five additional network leaders are supervised by a health extension worker.
Mothers meet to discuss twice a month. They meet at the health post to demonstrate how to make food for children. They bring whatever food stuff they can find at home such as eggs, flour and milk, then they cook and feed their children.
The Government of Ethiopia has placed malnutrition high on both the political and the development agenda over the past decade. As a result, bold actions have been taken in health and other nutrition-related sectors, putting in place policies, programmes and large-scale interventions to significantly reduce malnutrition among the most vulnerable groups: young children and pregnant and lactating women.
The EU- SHARE project addresses gaps in implementation of the National Nutrition Programme while strengthening nutrition outcomes of major health, food security and livelihoods Government programmes. The primary focus is on the first 1, 000 days of a child’s life, in order to accelerate the decline in stunting.
Sekota is the woredas targeted by the project and has received support with an aim to enhance quality and uptake of nutrition services being delivered to the community. This is done through building the technical capacity of health workers, improving availability of nutrition supplies and sensitizing community members towards proper infant and young child feeding practices.
These interventions have a significant impact in the overall reduction of child malnutrition, especially through contributing to the improvement of nutrition and dietary diversification practices for adolescent girls, pregnant and lactating women, and children younger than five, just like Netsanet and her girls.