Afghanistan

Supporting maternal and newborn nutrition in Afghanistan

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By Rachel Bergen

November 30, 2017

It's every parent's worst nightmare to be unable to provide for their child.

For 35-year-old Omar, whose last name isn't being used for security reasons, that nightmare was a reality. His son Shakeb was undernourished and very small for his age because of chronic drought and persistent conflict in their area.

"I wasn't able to sleep because every night my son was crying the whole night," Omar explains.

Omar brought Shakeb to Medair's mobile clinic every two weeks to receive a progress check-up and enough Plumpy Nut, a high-energy nutritional supplement, to last until the next visit. The difference is remarkable, he says.

For the last year, Medair, an MCC partner in Afghanistan, with support from the Government of Canada's Global Affairs department, has delivered child nutritional supports to people like Shakeb to address the high levels of malnutrition and preventable illnesses in Afghanistan. Mothers too get nutritional support.

"Since he was admitted into this program he is becoming better, and my mind is now at ease. I'm very thankful for these services," Omar says.

According to Jacob Hale, one of MCC's representatives in Afghanistan, this project addresses different needs in different parts of the country. In Kandahar, where the ongoing conflict is most severe, Medair and MCC are focusing on providing nutritional supports for mothers and babies.

"Food costs are noticeably higher in Kandahar because of the difficulty in getting food to the markets there. Traders are less likely to want to take the risk to move goods to the area and when they do they have to pass through armed opposition group-controlled areas where they are taxed," Hale explains.

Shakeb is just one of more than 62,000 children screened for malnutrition in rural Kandahar and Kandahar city and nearly 6,500 children admitted into Medair supported treatment centers. In the last year, more than 5,000 were discharged as cured.

Part of the three-year project includes education. More than 26,000 men and women across the country were reached with messaging about good family nutrition, especially for pregnant or nursing mothers, infants and young children.

In the Central Highlands area where there is relative peace, but the land is arid and sanitation is a problem, Medair is able to work towards long-term solutions.

Nearly 2,000 women took part in a gardening class where they learned about seed planting, irrigation and management of pests and diseases. MCC and Medair are providing seeds, shovels, fruit trees and watering cans to get them started.

This project also addresses sanitation. Through the partnership with Medair, MCC constructed 25 safe water supply systems benefitting more than 3,500 people in rural Central Highland villages and areas of Kandahar city previously without a safe water source.

In the Highlands region, MCC constructed 22 household latrines and eight school latrines, providing improved access to sanitation facilities for 176 people and 300 school children.

MCC's partnership with Medair, an organization with years of experience in the region, is vital to earning access into Afghan communities.

"Afghanistan is a complex place to work. After decades of war, trust is hard to build. These are places where Medair had already done the challenging work of building relationships and making connections," Hale says.

Mennonite Central Committee: Relief, development and peace in the name of Christ.

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Rachel Bergen is a staff writer for MCC Canada.