On World Food Day 2014 GOAL's Behaviour Change and Gender Officer Gillian Mckay reflects on a GOAL innovation - NIPPs - that is changing lives in Malawi.
Stunting, or small height based on age, is a problem in many of the countries in which GOAL works. It occurs as a result of long-term, chronic lack of food, as well as a result of poor hygiene, which is an issue because children who have multiple stomach bugs don't get the chance to absorb food properly.
Stunting doesn’t only result in reduced height. It can also lead to children failing to reach their full potential in school, and in life, due to reduced mental capacity and physical strength.
However, stunting can be reversed. If we work with families before their children turn two, it is possible to completely reverse the effects of stunting, meaning their children will grow up strong and do well in school.
GOAL’s Nutrition Impact & Positive Practice (NIPPs) innovation is a behaviour change approach to prevent and treat malnutrition in children. It also works with mothers and others at risk, including people living with HIV.
We have rolled out the intervention in 3 countries (South Sudan, Zimbabwe and Sudan) over the past three years, and this year, we are bringing it to one of the world’s most densely populated and poorly developed countries, Malawi.
Malawi is a country with a childhood chronic malnutrition prevalence of 47.1 per cent, meaning nearly half of all children under 5 are considered stunted.
GOAL’s NIPPs intervention works to improve household behaviours by increasing diet diversity through household kitchen gardens, and reducing disease by encouraging the construction of household latrines and handwashing stations.
Over a period of three weeks I had the privilege of working with the GOAL Malawi Health and Nutrition team to prepare and roll out this intervention to four Traditional Authorities in our areas of operation in Southern and Central Malawi.
We are starting small, as it is an intervention that requires a large amount of research into current practices, finding locally available solutions to challenges, and building the capacity of the local Ministry of Health to monitor the approach. We are hopeful, however, that in the next year we will be able to scale up the intervention to our entire area of operation, thus helping to improve the lives of many more vulnerable families.
The GOAL team here has taken up the challenge with a huge amount of enthusiasm and energy, as they can see how NIPPs goes beyond just teaching about nutrition, and really works to create sustainable change in households. This is happening in part of the world where food shortages come each year due to flooding and drought.
With all the planning and preparation complete, we are looking forward to recruiting NIPPs volunteers, who are women and men in the community who demonstrate positive behaviours, and who are considered influential leaders by their neighbours.
By empowering the community members themselves to identify and share their own healthy solutions, NIPPs is a departure from a “handout” approach that results in a dependent community that struggles once the distribution finishes.
Through a model like NIPPs, the community gains the confidence and skills to grow together as a healthier and stronger community that will be less likely to suffer from the shocks that climate change is bringing to fragile agricultural countries like Malawi.
I would like to thank the GOAL Malawi team for their hard work over the three weeks that I worked with them. I, and the wider food security and nutrition community, look forward to hearing how the intervention progresses, and to getting some great stories of families who have improved their lives thanks to NIPPs.
-Gillian McKay, GOAL Behaviour Change and Gender Officer
GOAL is an international humanitarian agency dedicated to alleviating the suffering of the poorest of the poor. We are a non-denominational, non-governmental and non-political organisation. GOAL is currently working in 15 countries: Ethiopia, Haiti, Honduras, India, Kenya, Malawi, Niger, Sierra Leone, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Iraq and the Philippines. Go to www.goal.ie to learn more.