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The Great Race and Porridge


Photo: Member of the Koraro Women Development Army leading the porridge demonstration.

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012

Before I discuss a bit more about the projects I’m working on in Koraro, I wanted to give you a snapshot of life in northern Ethiopia. Ethiopia is known for producing some of the best runners in the world, so I thought I should see with my own eyes the talent on a local level — you never know, one of the kids running could be the next Haile Gebrselassie. So, two Saturday’s ago, I participated in the Hawzien “Great Race,” which is essentially a 5km disorganized free for all, in honor of the 15th anniversary of the bombing of the Hawzien market by the Derg. The minimalist running shoe movement has not made its way to northern rural Ethiopia, where the shoes of choice are “congos” i.e. jellies or Croc-like plastic or foam shoes. Even the young guy who won, apparently a serious racer, was not wearing running shoes but imitation Crocs. At the start of the race, which occurred about an hour and a half after the official start time, the organizers tried to hold back the hoards of kids, but once the whistle blew, it was chaos. Everyone sprinted off at a mad dash stumbling and pushing all over the place. There was no concept of how to pace oneself as not too far into the race people were walking or sitting alongside the road. A bus took off at the start of the race with the runners to measure the distance and mark the turnaround point. I found this out after the fact and during the race thought that the brightly colored bus was simply stuck on the side of the road waiting to move until the race had finished. It was fun of course and I settled into running with a small pack of students (in full school uniforms) and thus participated in my first international running race!

The following day was a Sunday, and I decided to head to Koraro with one of the Community Health Worker Managers for a porridge demonstration by the Koraro Women’s Development Army. The MVP team had also helped me organize focus groups with a group of women of childbearing age and men with young children that I was planning on starting that Sunday. We started off the day in a fortuitous fashion by getting the truck stuck in a ditch on our way to the Koraro Health Center, but with a heroic and rapid effort by the driver we were on our way again to round up the women for the porridge demonstration. A series of negotiations ensued in Tigrinya, the local language, from which I understood that the women were debating over where to hold the demonstration and the remaining materials that were needed in order to perform the demonstration. Eventually, we all walked to one of the women’s homes to start the demonstration. Throughout the demonstration the women demonstrated examples of positive methods and behavior for those present, including washing their hands and each of the cooking materials before beginning the demonstration, as well as using iodized salt. The Women’s Development Army leaders clearly demonstrated that they knew how to prepare the porridge and had practice preparing it in front of the community members gathered for the demonstration. At the moment the porridge was ready, it seemed as if the number of children present multiplied out of nowhere to enjoy the mix of grains and pulses with oil and iodized salt, which is not only tasty but also nutritious.

Over the past four weeks I have been interviewing, collecting information, and talking to people about the state of nutrition in the Koraro cluster, and from this have begun to draw some conclusions about what the most appropriate interventions will be. The nutrition-sensitive and nutrition-specific interventions will focus on increasing nutritional knowledge and practices at the household level, improving infant and young child feeding practices through the promotion of active feeding and better weaning techniques, and ensuring the identification and follow up of all children, and pregnant and lactating mothers in need of nutritional rehabilitation.

Overall, due to the MVP agricultural, health and nutrition interventions in the Koraro cluster there have been a significant amount of positive improvements in community nutrition. This is evident from responses I received during interviews and focus groups that illustrate the amount of changes that have happened in a relatively short period of time. For example, mothers and community health workers noted the decrease in malnutrition evident throughout the community; how before they had only access to one type of grain, but now they have multiple stored in their homes; the improvements in their diets and hygiene practices; or that the vast majority of mothers interviewed gave their children colostrum after birth. It will be important to build on these positive achievements to continue to improve the community nutrition, especially that of infants and young children.

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