She Walked Her Talk

She Walked Her Talk

Publication info

Joseph Maulana, CARE Malawi

CARE’s Nutrition Foundations for Mothers and Children project, locally known as Maziko (“Foundation” in the local language), is working in the central region of Malawi. It is a nutrition-focused project targeting pregnant and nursing mothers and children under 5. The project organizes cooking and feeding demonstrations in the Kasungu district. The goal of the demonstrations is to impart skills and knowledge in processing locally available nutritious foods. These sessions are organized because the area has many locally available and nutritious foods , yet the children face numerous health issues; for example, 50 percent of the children have stunted growth and about 20 percent of them are underweight.

I met Beatrice Phiri, who is a leader of a mother-to-mother group in Nguwe Village, Group Village Head Vijumo, Traditional Authority Mwase, in Kasungu District.[1] Once a week, Beatrice as leader of her mother-to-mother group of caregivers, meets and discusses nutrition education with her group, using a behavior-change communication approach.

Beatrice was born in 1982 and is married; her husband’s name is Francis. They have four boys , ages 14, 10, 7, and 7 months. The baby is named Francis and was born in December, 2012. Beatrice married Francis in 1999 and moved from her village to join him in his village, where they still live.

Beatrice said that many villagers face the common problems of not having enough food throughout the year and also lacking a variety of foods. One of Beatrice’s main concerns was not having enough nutrient-rich, diverse food to feed young Francis, who was past the age of exclusive breast-feeding. Beatrice said, “My son refuses to eat any porridge and up to now he has not yet started taking any complementary foods.” Young Francis appeared to be healthy but the problem was that his nutrient and energy demands could no longer be met through breast milk alone. When Beatrice asked ten mothers how many practice exclusive breastfeeding of their babies, she said that only three probably introduce complementary foods early on. This is a good sign that most mothers practice correct feeding practices in the first six months, however the problem comes in during complementary feeding when, according to Beatrice, children are largely  given thin porridge made from the staple food, maize.

The day I spoke with Beatrice was a very special one for her and her son because this was the first time young Francis ate porridge made from pumpkin mixed with an egg and ground flour. Beatrice was very happy to see her son eating the porridge for the first time. “I will continue cooking this type of porridge and also encourage other women in my cluster group to follow the same,” she said. We need to be preparing porridge with ingredients that can assist babies who refuse to eat.”

After the cooking demonstration, we travelled together the kilometer to Beatrice’s house to break the good news to her husband that their baby, Francis had taken porridge for the first time. Mr. Francis Phiri was very happy and he said to us, “I am very happy Francis is eating sold foods for the first time. However, my wife did not explain in detail what activity they were doing today. I would have joined her to participate in the cooking and feeding demonstration. In fact I like cooking and I have prepared some vegetables while she was away, and if you want you can taste them.” Behind the house there was a backyard garden. Although there were no vegetables planted in it, he promised me that if we visit him again after a month I will find vegetables in the garden.

In terms of her role as a leader, Beatrice said that chiefs, especially female chiefs, are assisting greatly in mobilizing people to attend nutrition education cluster meetings. They normally meet every Sunday afternoon. She said door-to-door counseling has not yet started but she prefers group counseling anyway. She has one cluster composed of seven women and three men. MAZIKO has just expanded to the village and most of the activities are just beginning. The program has a special focus to work with women  alongside their husbands. This is because most programs work with women only, even though men are usually the decision makers in terms providing food and making food choices within housegolds. Since they were left out in most traditional nutritional programs, they ended up producing or purchasing non-nutritious foods – in the process affecting the nutritional status of the vulnerable categories like women and young children.

Beatrice’s enthusiasm showed as she renewed her dedication to her task, for the benefit not only of her own family, but of the community as a whole. “I will continue to practice what I encourage my friends to do. I will always walk my talk,” she said with a smile.


[1] Malawi’s 28 districts are subdivided into approximately 250 traditional authorities. Group village heads consist of several villages within a traditional authority.