My JJ was born 9 years ago, and since he was born, I have been introduced to Sure Start centres in my local area of Hertfordshire. These government funded centres have all sorts that a new mum would need to help her feel confident and included. The variety of services on offer include toddler groups, baby clinics, breastfeeding classes, one day training in areas such as emergency first aid and baby weaning, and they also have longer courses for new mothers to develop their parenting skills. These can include cookery classes for those who do not know how to cook and classes to learn how to implement effective discipline with their children.
I have enjoyed accessing my local centres and finding fellowship with other mums at these places, but more importantly I know some mothers who by UK standards are living in poverty and they have appreciated using these services and being educated. My heart sank when I heard that the government has decided to cut funding to these centres and to have a national website resource instead. ‘How stupid!’, I just want to shout at them, ‘the parents who most need these centres are not the ones who would probably go online, and surely we have enough credible parenting resources out there without ploughing new money into this?’.
Frustrated at these cuts in a service that I see as vital in the UK, I am so excited to hear that it is the polar opposite in Ethiopia. The government has initiated numerous great initiatives to ensure that Ethiopian parents are able to do the best for their children. There is a real focus on three main areas – children under five years old, pregnant and breastfeeding mothers and vulnerable mothers with HIV/AIDS. The government’s aim is to ensure that the figures for stunting and malnourishment decrease because they have empowered and impacted the Ethiopian people at the ground level.
Save the Children acts as the lead contractor out here using the US government funding of $3,929,341.62 over a 5 year period starting from January 1 2011 to deliver the ENGINE (Empowering New generations to Improve Nutrition and Economic Opportunities) program by means of farmer training centres and healthcare professionals working in collaboration to teach people a new way to nourish their family.
Every mother I have met here in Ethiopia is showing a deep love for her child, and she of course wants the best for them; but some outdated practices and information mean that perhaps she is missing what might be best. I heard today that many mothers feel it is best to exclusively breastfeed for at least the first year and we know that the World Health Organisation recommends weaning at six months as the child needs the additional protein and nutrients that solid food can provide.
So the government has stepped in: they have empowered local people by taking healthcare, agriculture and education down to the lowest level, and it is working. Opinions are changing and people are being positively impacted. I am so impressed when I keep hearing that the Ethiopian people are a pioneering and forward thinking people. The aid that is being used here in Ethiopia is going a long way. Money is effective – isn’t that fantastic?
We met a group of farmers today engaged in the three month farmer training program, and they were all glad to learn new techniques and to be able to grow different nutritional food sources for their families. The farmer training centre we visited was set up about a year ago as a direct result of the Ethiopian Government initiative, and it receives US Aid funding. They were teaching the women how to grow cabbage, carrots, beetroot, swiss chard and loads of other things, all vegetables that thrive in this climate and once established are relatively easy to grow. They have also just started to cultivate some fruits for the women to grow as well, but these will take some time. Imagine how excited the kids will be when they taste papaya, avocado and mango!
As well as the horticulture training they are providing 3 or 4 ewes to each women who is living in poverty. Those ewes will mate with the local rams, and this will lead to sheep, which can go to market for sale. The sale of a single sheep would be enough to buy two months food for that family. Not only are they given the sheep they are also taught how to look after their livestock and eventually it is hoped that the project will be able to provide cows too.
These women expressed their gratitude for this new program but still conveyed their fears that they had no food security until the sheep give birth and the lambs are sold. It was utterly amazing to me that in the face of that kind of uncertainty these women were able to laugh, keep their houses clean, attend church on their holy day each week and look after their families, as well as spending six hours a day in the program farming and learning the new skills. The work ethic here is fantastic.
I’ll tell you my favourite part of this program: once they graduate from the program they are empowered to go and train all the neighbours that live close by them. This way the training does not only go to the few it gets to everyone and it helps to install confidence in these women as they pass along their coveted knowledge.
As we left the site we all agreed we could have spent the whole day chatting to these women, realising that we have so much in common as mothers, but that fundamentally the most important thing we can do – nourish our children, is a struggle for them. Thank the Lord we do not have to comprehend.
We are so much the same and yet this vast difference. I refuse to be sad though, my prayers and our actions as a caring human race will change this for them.
Thanks again for tuning in. And if you like to hear me witter, then here is another little soundcloud clip -
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