Recently we were conducting a community nutrition screening on the outskirts of Nouakchott – weighing young children and measuring their arm circumference to identify children suffering from malnutrition. A three-year-old girl Aminetou was identified as being moderately malnourished, and she and her mother were invited to attend the Doulos nutrition program where the mother would be taught, together with several of her neighbor friends, to cook nutritious food from readily available local ingredients. Aminetou and the other children under age five who took part in the program would, for twelve days, gather at the home of one of their neighbors who opened her home for the program. Early every morning, the mothers would first cook a nutritious porridge together and feed their children. While the food is cooking and the children are playing, the trained community volunteers and nutrition coordinator teach the mothers important lessons about nutrition, health and hygiene.
Aminetou was moderately malnourished, but her eight month old baby brother, Sidi, showed signs of severe malnutrition. He lay apathetically in his mother’s arms, only looking at us if we picked him up. Because he needed more intensive care, we referred him and his mother to a local hospital where his mom was given little sachets of special calorie laden paste called “Plumpy Nut” to feed Sidi. Plumpy Nut is specially designed for severely malnourished children like Sidi who are too malnourished to absorb the nutrients in normal food.
Following the twelve days of nutrition training with the mothers and children, we always visit each child in their home to see how things are going and to encourage the mothers in applying what they’ve learned. What a joy it was to arrive at Aminetou and Sidi’s home and see the changes in Sidi after two weeks with Plumpy Nut. His cheeks were starting to get chubby and he looked around with interest as he was sitting unassisted on the floor. He proved that he wasn’t apathetic anymore by protesting loudly when we tried to pick him up, showing that he knew and cared about who held him. His mother must have been faithful to follow the instructions she had been given and we hope that she will continue to use the training she received in our nutrition program to better care for Sidi and Aminetou.