A peek under the hood: Women in DR Congo learn to cook properly for themselves and their children – Democratic Republic of the Congo

For more than twenty-five years, conflicts have threatened the population of one of the poorest countries in the world: the Democratic Republic of Congo. The territory of the DRC is under constant pressure from armed groups. People survive there in insecurity, under the threat of violence and in fear for their lives and those of their loved ones. The country is also plagued by waves of displacement, inadequate access to health care and the number of people suffering from acute malnutrition. This is why People in Need supports the work of mobile clinics, which, among other things, teach residents how to maintain a healthy and nutritious diet. The fight against malnutrition starts with a chef’s apron.

People in the South Kivu region have faced the country’s war for more than two decades. Although used to living in harsh conditions, they fear looting by armed gangs, violence against civilians and the destruction of vital infrastructure such as health facilities, schools and much-needed markets. The danger has spread to other regions in recent years, namely Minembwe and Biyombo.

“I fled my village after seeing my husband taken away by armed gangs. I gave up everything to save my life and that of my children because it was no longer safe where we lived,” says Bora Anna, a mother of three children. .

Malnutrition is a persistent problem

Due to the massive displacement of people from certain areas, thousands of people have limited or disrupted access to health care. During 2019-2021, several incidents occurred in which health facilities such as hospitals and clinics were looted or destroyed.

In the Hauts Plateaux region, access to medical care or medicines is limited due to a lack of medical supplies and trained personnel. At the same time, malaria and intestinal problems persist. In addition, the region is plagued by persistent acute malnutrition, both among children and adults. The natural high altitude conditions and constant fighting do not allow people to consume a varied or nutritious diet. Consequently, people living here are caught in a vicious circle of unbalanced diets and limited resources. The main aid for acutely malnourished children is Plumpy’Nut, a high-calorie mixed nut paste that can quickly provide necessary nutrients and improve the child’s condition.

According to a report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs published in 2021, nearly 4.4 million people suffer from acute malnutrition, including 3.4 million children under the age of five. The same source also reveals a sad first for the DRC – it currently ranks first in the world in terms of the number of people suffering from acute food insecurity, with 21.8 million of its population at risk.

“I walked with my three children for seven days to reach Katala. We only walked at night to consume less food and water. When we arrived we were exhausted and dehydrated. I needed help for my sick son, so I was dependent on free care at the health center,” continues Bora Anna.

Cooking lessons and direct help thanks to the mobile clinic

People in Need organizes a project in collaboration with Doctors of the World (MdM) From Belgium. With the financial support of the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), this cooperative project aims to improve health care for local populations. In Lemera and Ruzizi regions, around 25,000 people found new housing last year. These people are helped by a consortium of organizations trying to help and improve their health care options. Mobile clinics provided by MdM arrive regularly in harm-affected areas and are often the only way for local patients to access specialist care.

“As part of a project implemented by People in Need and MdM, we set up a system of mobile clinics. Thanks to them, we can follow the needs of people in the villages and adapt to their needs to receive adequate help. center is one of those working with mobile clinics,” says Mbirizi Kavindazi, health officer at the Katala center.

Raising awareness of the causal factors of malnutrition is an essential part of the work of People in Need and Médecins du Monde Belgium in the DRC. That’s why we also support local health workers in organizing cooking classes for women. Mothers with children have the opportunity to “look under the hood” of preparing a balanced meal, and they can learn how to prepare a nutrient-dense diet not only for their children but also for themselves. They learn time-tested techniques for cooking food from local sources. These workshops aim to gradually reduce malnutrition in local families and eventually at the national level.

Other activities the project is implementing in the community include Covid-19 prevention; posters with pictures are displayed in public places to teach people how to prevent transmission of the virus. This is essential as the pandemic is still ongoing in the country, although the number of positive cases has dropped significantly. Nevertheless, health institutions continue to take precautions and inform the population about vaccination.

Author: Zawadi Izabayo, Karolina Šugarová

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