Child nutrition gets a boost in Masi

The team of Nourished Child ambassadors, from left, are, Zizipo Goni, Nqaba Mhlana, Zenande Kemele, Lwando Siboninge, Siphokazi Mbemba and Philiswa Mlahlo

Six Masiphumelele residents are working on a project to improve childhood nutrition in the township.

The two men and four women will work as “Nourished Child Ambassadors”, advising parents, schools and food vendors on how to improve the nutritional quality of children’s meals.

According to a UN Children’s Fund (Unicef) report, The State of the World’s Children 2019: Children, Food and Nutrition, at least one in three children under 5 is either undernourished or overweight. Almost two in three children between six months and two years of age are not fed food that supports their rapidly growing bodies and brains.

The Masi Creative Hub, a non-profit organisation, and Southern Africa Food Lab University launched the Nourished Child Ambassadors, last month to improve nutrition knowledge and practices in Masiphumelele.

The initiative was birthed from the insights of the Nourished Child research project, a collaboration between Stellenbosch University, City, University of London, and UCT, aimed at improving the quality of diets among children under 5 and women of childbearing age and to address the double burden of malnutrition.

This research was conducted in Masiphumelele and Zweletemba in Worcester.

Since 2017, Yandiswa Mazwana, founder and operations manager at Masi Creative Hub, has been providing after-school care, sports, and arts programmes to the youth of Masiphumelele.

The organisation also runs a feeding scheme for children up to Grade 5 who are not getting school meals. It serves some 1100 children daily across seven feeding stations in the township.

It was for this reason that Dr Scott Drimie, adjunct associate professor at Stellenbosch University and part of the leadership at Southern Africa Food Lab, approached Ms Mazwana.

“I reached out to her not only because of her leadership within Masiphumulele but also her skills as a convenor, she is a real activist that brings people together,” Dr Drimie said.

Together they designed four workshops where they discussed ways to reinforce healthy nutrition in Masiphumelele.

Under the guidance of Ms Mazwana, the six ambassadors have started running the programme in the community.

“We recently visited Ukhanyo Primary School in Masiphumelele to observe what food the children brought for lunch; many of the lunches were unhealthy. We brought fresh fruit and vegetables from our garden to teach them the importance of good nutrition and how different colours of fruit and vegetables help support different parts of the body. For instance, red foods such as berries and tomatoes are good for your heart and memory,” Ms Mazwana said.

“When we arrived the next week, we were pleasantly surprised to see how many of the children had fresh fruit and vegetables packed in for lunch and how proud they were to be making better choices when it came to what they were putting in their bodies.

“We are hoping that we can have the same effect working with informal traders to improve vendor compliance with health and safety regulations,” she said.

Dr Drimie said he would like to see the ambassador approach replicated elsewhere.

“The idea of the ambassadors is very powerful, but it requires commitment and champions to really drive it, and that is the role that Ms Mazwana and the Masi Creative Hub have played. They have not only provided the home but are actually now putting huge amounts of energy and drive into it.”