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Written by: Priscilla Sogah
“You never worry once you know your family has enough food to keep healthy,” said Mercy Oduro, a 40-year-old community health volunteer, during a nutrition education session in her community. For the past three years, Mercy has been working with CARE in promoting a healthy eating lifestyle in Ahyiayem, a farming community in the Brong Ahafo region of Ghana.
Mercy’s work all started with her dedication to mobilizing women for prenatal care in the absence of a community health assistant. Her seven years of experience as a community health volunteer gained the admiration of her neighbors, who recommended Mercy to CARE as a volunteer to promote nutrition education.
Mercy’s love for her neighbors grew stronger after undergoing CARE training on food and nutrition promotion. After her training, Mercy wholeheartedly accepted a position as a community health volunteer to promote best nutrition practices among her peers and other members of the community.
Mercy gathers all members of the community, mostly women, on the first Friday of every month to educate them on ways to prepare nutritious meals using available foodstuffs from their farms in order to maintain a healthy eating lifestyle. During nutrition education sessions, Mercy also shares the risks associated with a lack of essential nutrients, so that women can understand the importance of preparing meals with nutrients in the correct proportions.
On a recent field trip to Mercy’s community, as usual, Mercy had gathered members of her community for another nutrition education session. Participants had copies of the nutrition counselling card, an illustrated card with information on the various food groups and the different nutrients they provide to the body.
At the session, Alimatu Mustapha, a 33-year-old mother of two, took her turn recounting how participating in the CARE nutrition education sessions has improved her choice of meals for the family, especially when feeding her two young children. She said, “For the past two years I haven’t been ill, and neither my children nor my husband have reported being ill either”
Mercy recounts the eating habits of members in her community, saying, “At first, we ate whatever came to the table. We weren't mindful of the nutritional balances or what was appropriate for pregnant women, nursing mothers or children.”
Prior to the CARE food and nutrition education, children received the smallest portion of meat whenever meals were served. In some cases, households ate meals without any source of protein. Families were more concerned about satisfying their hunger with whatever was available, without any regard for the nutritious value of the food being eaten.
Mercy’s hard work is yielding truly positive results, and she is not alone. So far, 4,072 community members have benefited from CARE nutrition education with support from 192 community health volunteers. As a result, household dietary diversity scores (a score based on the variety of food groups consumed per household) have increased from 4 to 8 as of February of 2016.
At the heart of this success is the fact that Mercy has gained substantial experience in community healthcare and currently works closely with the community health clinic to ensure the wellbeing of Ahyiayem residents.
Mercy stated, “I am very excited about my role as a community health volunteer. I love this job. I have become popular, and people call me midwife and nurse. I have become the first point of call for women and children health in the community.”
I felt proud knowing the impact that CARE’s work is having on our beneficiaries. From where I stood, I witnessed the active participation of all while they shared their experiences, and I was able to see the large impact that nutrition education is already having in various households.