KIHEFO promotes local initiated solutions to fight disease, ignorance and poverty in southwestern Uganda
I’m sitting on a wooden school bench. The tattered, pale yellow wall to my left supports an elongated chalkboard with the phrase, “John goes to the market,” etched across its surface. Encased between the hard, polished under surface of the desk and a bar that rests along the crease between my ankle and the top of my foot, my knees and hips begin to resist the walking motion all-too-common eight hours earlier.
I drown out the pulsating tension by fixating on the constellation of wrinkles in the face of a woman sitting in front of me. As she speaks to Sister Beatrice, a midwife with the Kigezi Healthcare Foundation (KIHEFO), the rhythmic sounds of the local language, Rukiga, tell her story, animated by her oceanic arm movements. A familiar sound in my right ear draws my attention. “She has ten children,” Frank translates. “Her husband refuses to let her access family planning services,” he continues to whisper.
Wednesday, May 13th is filled as the Project HOPE (Hands Open to People Everywhere) team shadows KIHEFO staff and medical students during one of KIHEFO’s outreach camps, an initiative that provides basic healthcare services to rural communities in the Kabale region, including general medicine, dental, optometry, pharmacy, HIV testing and counseling, family planning, and antenatal services.
Situated in a room offering family planning and antenatal services, I collect stories of struggle and resistance from community members fighting barriers to child nutrition and maternal health. As women wade through the sea of people seeking healthcare services, KIHEFO staff invite mothers with children showing signs of malnutrition to participate in a brief, interactive workshop – often women with many young children within a few years of each other.
In southwestern Uganda, the World Health Organization estimates 45% of children under the age of five are malnourished. Dr. Geoffrey Anguyo, founder of KIHEFO, states that nearly 70% of children visiting rural outreach camps are malnourished – an estimate that only includes mothers attending outreach camps predominately because of concerns with their own health.
A strategy to identify and prevent child malnutrition in rural communities, “What’s on Your Plate?” animates which locally available foods are required to feed children a healthy, balanced diet. Painted across the surface of a large “plate,” the activity discusses five categories – meat, oils, carbohydrates, vegetables, and boiled water.
Crowded together along rows of wooden school benches, I ask mothers what foods displayed on the large “plate” are easily accessible. Unanimously, the women echo that all foods, other than meat, are locally available within their own gardens.
As we leave the dimly lit classroom, I ask Lilian, the Ugandan coordinator I am working alongside, “If most foods required to build a balanced diet are readily available, what is the most common barrier to feeding children a balanced diet?” She responds that many women do not know which foods are required to consume a healthy diet – a barrier KIHEFO is attempting to hurdle with “What’s on Your Plate?” and other nutrition education initiatives directed at women.
As Lilian voices, “If you educate mothers, you educate the community.”
Project HOPE is an initiative of Ceiba Association, an Edmonton-based organization that ignites activism through education and cultural exchange in local and international communities. Visit www.ceibaassociation.com to learn more of Ceiba Association’s partnership with KIHEFO in May 2015.
Story By: Ashton James