Thriving in Nacala: One Community’s Story

I recently spent a week in Africa, my second visit to the continent in 2012.  After a quick stop in Cape Town for The Economist’s global meeting on healthcare in Africa I went on to Mozambique to visit Save the Children programs in rural communities in the north of the country.


I came away from this trip with a renewed understanding of the huge difference it makes when a community is really involved with kids’ development.  I visited a village outside Nacala where, besides meeting some truly beautiful children, I also got to see how the whole village was building a better future for their children.


The program, funded by USAID and private donors, included several elements.  Mothers, trained by Save the Children local staff members who speak the indigenous dialect, were clearly in charge of the health and nutrition element of the program.  They were weighing each child on a scale hung from a tree branch.  A couple of the kids cried in the little blue sling, but most swung happily as their weight was noted—it was clear that this was something they had done before.  The woman in charge—the community leader of the program—counseled each mom about her child’s progress, showing her on a chart where her child was and the line where he or she should be.  She advised moms to breastfeed their children exclusively for the first six months and to continue breastfeeding through age two for the best health outcome.


Next, the women showed me how they make a fortified porridge for the kids from corn meal, sugar, salt, and a few secret ingredients.  The secret ingredients are actually the key for this dish: they include ground sesame seeds for fat content and the leaves of the moringa tree, a local tree that is very high in vitamins. Using another leaf as a spoon, we all got a taste and I could see why the kids were finishing every bite…tasted a lot like grits to me!


Then, others community members took me through the agricultural part of this program.  Through double translation (from the local language to Portuguese to English), we followed along charts that detailed the different crops they grew, plans to increase yields, market values, and expected profits for the upcoming harvest.  The community’s ability to sell some of the crop after growing enough for their needs is the difference between children having all the nutrients they need during the “hungry season”  and surviving on a diet of staples that does not fully nourish their growing bodies. Without that income, families can’t buy extra protein and fat they need to ensure their children develop.  Mozambique still has many malnourished children, and 44% of children under five are stunted, according to UNICEF. But in this community, the children all seemed to be flourishing thanks to the hard work of their parents and the support of the program there.


As the sun started to set, we concluded our visit by sitting in on the village savings group meeting.  Community members, with women all in matching green scarfs, went through their accounts and made decisions on which members would be approved to take out loans, who may need help from the emergency fund, and which loans had already been paid back with interest to continue to grow the funds.  Save the Children trains community members on how to run these funds and make their own decisions.  This group was on their third round of loans to members and had a 95% repayment rate on outstanding loans.


The best moment of this long and busy day came when we were saying goodbye. One of the groups’ members said to me, “We are very grateful for Save the Children’s help in getting this savings group started.  But we don’t need you to stay here to do this program anymore.  We can do it all ourselves now and your team can go teach another village how to do this.”


This was music to my ears. Truly, the best result of Save the Children’s work is when a community can support the health and development of their children and we are not needed. This vibrant group of people has built a community that invests in the health, wellbeing and future of its children—a model of self-sufficiency that so many communities can emulate.

What can you do in three seconds?

DhheadshotDave Hartman, Social Media Specialist

Washington, D.C. 

March 22, 2012

We gathered more than 90 kids this past week in Washington D.C. as part of our 10th annual Advocacy Summit. The kids met with their members of Congress and wrote blog posts, made videos and visual media to help spread the word about the nutrition crisis that children are facing around the world. Here’s what they had to say:

What can you do in three seconds? You can “LOL” to your “BFF”. You can sign on to Facebook. Did you know that a healthcare worker saves a child’s life every three seconds in a developing country? It’s true.


 Salif is one of these health care workers who helped save the life of a 3-year-old girl named Barandje who was suffering from malnourishment. By feeding her Plumpy’nut, a high nutrient food similar to peanut butter, her health steadily improved. Thankfully, she was saved before her poor health was irreversible. Sadly, there are not enough health care workers to provide services to everyone. By clicking on this link, you can help make nutrition-based programs more accessible so that children like Barandje will not have to suffer. Make the next three seconds count.

 “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping in the same room as a mosquito” – African proverb.

Is healthy an option for kids? Make it an option!

DhheadshotDave Hartman, Social Media Specialist

Washington, D.C. 

March 22, 2012

We gathered more than 90 kids this past week in Washington D.C. as part of our 10th annual Advocacy Summit. The kids met with their members of Congress and wrote blog posts, made videos and visual media to help spread the word about the nutrition crisis that children are facing around the world. Here’s what they had to say:

Imagine looking at a banana and not knowing what it was. This is how Colby felt before he joined Save the Children’s after school program. Colby is one of 3.6 million kids that live in “food deserts,” areas where there is no fresh food.

Thanks to Save the Children’s after school program each year, 16,500 children, like Colby, have an opportunity to be exposed to healthy foods. However, there is still more work to be done! Children living in remote and rural areas have to drive twenty or more miles to a grocery store, or have to shop for all their food at a local gas station.


Save the Children held their 10th annual Advocacy Summit to inform and give youth tools to influence friends, family, and members of Congress to address this malnutrition epidemic. How can you help? Call your local member of Congress and tell them to protect funding for critical nutrition and health programs for children in the United States and around the world. Congressmen aren’t scary! Give them a call.


  Check out these personal messages from the authors of this post:

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“I came to the Advocacy Day because I feel that awareness of global issues like malnutrition is the first step to making changes to how Congress responds to the massive funding needs.” ~ Chris Bertaut – Garland, TX


Photo (26)“I am interested in the issue of malnutrition in America because I feel that even though America is supposed to be this great power where everything is possible and the people are healthy, malnutrition is a preventable problem that is being ignored by this country’s leaders.  I have been taught to expect more from US.” ~Elena Crouch – Chevy Chase, MD


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“I came to the Save the Children summit to be a part of the solution to ending malnutrition in children around the world.  I am being a voice to the voiceless and lending help to the helpless.” ~ Helena McCraw, Chicago, IL


Photo (25)“I came to Save the Children’s youth advocacy day because I am doing work around food justice and this will give me the opportunity to learn more about malnutrition. I feel like our country is falling and there needs to be a change!” ~George Walley-Sephes, Philadelphia, PA

 Join these youth advocates, click here to urge Congress to make child nutrition a priority  

Catching up with Drummer Boy Boubacar

Philippe6Philippe Nia-An Thera, Early Childhood Coordinator

Bamako, Mali

March 1, 2012

Two years later, Boubacar is still playing with the drum. But as a first grader, there are plenty of new things he can do.

It’s impossible not to remember Boubacar, a boy we met in Mali two years ago.


We heard him before we saw him. He was furiously tapping away on a drum strapped around his waist – transfixed in the discovery that his tiny hands could create sound and rhythm with an object he had never seen in his life.

At age four, he had just started attending preschool at a Save the Children-supported early learning center in the village of Ifola. This center is one of 40 supported by Save the Children in the Sikasso and Yorosso Districts of Mali.

Before coming to the center, he spent his days at home in this impoverished village. With no access to toys, he created things out of mud.

That changed after his mother, Haby Sanago, decided to send him to the preschool. There, Boubacar discovered not just his beloved drum, but a whole new world of playing and learning.

Boubacar is applying what he has learned in his early years to where he is now: first grade in primary school.  He is continuing to learn how to read, write and draw. “A happy student who participates in class,” his teacher says.

He is an active child, often seen playing soccer in the school yard, and still “visits the early learning center where he can play with the drums,” says Philippe Nia-an Thera, Save the Children’s early childhood development coordinator in Mali.

Haby, who never went to school, is delighted and grateful. She says, “The change I saw in my child shows how much Save the Children’s early learning program benefits the children.”

“I do not miss any occasion to discuss with the other women in the village what it has done for my child. I tell them that as soon as my daughter, Tjimono, reaches the age of three, I will also send her to the early learning center,” she adds. “If it were up to me, all the children in this village would go there so they can start learning early.”

Today, we can still hear Boubacar tapping away on that drum. What we don’t hear is the sound of the step he takes every day as a first grader in Ifola  – the quiet sound of progress that can take him farther than his parents have ever gone.