This is the story of Rahima a 35-year-old mother who had completely given hope on her youngest son’s ability to recover from acute malnutrition.
Rahima was only 14 years old when she was married to a 50-year-old man as his third wife. She hadn’t met her future husband until the wedding day. “I saw my husband for first time in our wedding party,” remembers Rahima, a 35-year-old woman who looks older than her age. “I just cried and cursed myself and my life. He had the age of my father. I didn’t have any way to escape.”
The big reason behind of being a third wife was to bear children as the two other wives couldn’t; having babies, especially boys, was so important for her husband and his family.
“I lost four of my children, two boys and two daughters when they reached six or seven months,”
“I lost four of my children, two boys and two daughters when they reached six or seven months,” remembers Rahima. “My husband’s family told me that my blood was dirty and that’s why my children died,” she says.
Twenty years passed from those dark days. Today, Rahima has five children; three boys and two girls: Abdullah, 14; Habiba, 10; Aminullha, 7; and Belal, 23-months. Her husband passed away six month ago. He was a poor farmer who wasn’t even able to leave a small plot of land for Rahima and her children after his death.
Rahima spends her days working in her neighbours’ houses, doing their laundry and cleaning their houses, but even this hard work is not enough to provide to the needs of her five children. In order to survive, she had to ask her younger son Abdullah to work on his uncle’s land.
“Since my husband couldn’t work the land anymore, I have played both the role of mother and father for my children,” says Rahima. “I worked outside of the home doing different things, like cleaning wool, cooking home-made bread for neighbours and working in other people’s lands to financially support my family and [also] played the role of mother to take care of them,” she said.
Belal, Rahima’s youngest child was about to die before World Vision Staff found him in a growth monitoring screening. He looked pale, fidgety and lethargic. Belal had been brought to the screening session by his mother, who was trying to find a last chance for her son. Belal appeared to be severely malnourished. Despite their initial impressions, World Vision Nutrition Assistants took the necessary steps and weighted Rahima’s children. It was not pleasant. Belal, who was seven months old at the time, weighed only 4.2 kg – not a normal weight for a baby his age. A healthy seven-month-old baby usually weighs more than 8.3 kg.
“Belal had acute diarrhoea and became very weak and skinny. I didn’t have enough breast milk to feed her,” Says Rahima. “I was so tired from work. On the one hand, I didn’t eat good in order to produce milk. And, on the other hand, I wasn’t at home during the day to take care of Belal,” explained Rahima.
“We categorized Belal as severely malnourished,” says Khatera a World Vision Nutrition Assistant. “His mother got so upset and disappointed. She didn’t even want to participate in our nutrition course,” she explains.
“When I heard that my son was severely malnourished, I gave up,”
“When I heard that my son was severely malnourished, I gave up,” says Rahima. “I told Khatera [World Vision Nutrition Assistant] that I didn’t want to annoy my son in the last days of his life by coming to nutrition classes,” she explains, using all her energy to show her feeling of disappointment at that time.
Eventually Rahima was persuaded to try the last chance for treatment for her son. She participated in nutrition classes, called Positive Device Hearth Session, a 12-day class where mothers are taught to cook valuable food from cheap [available] foods for their children. Additional, the mothers learn about hygiene, the importance of breast-feeding and different health topics. Belal was also admitted to a nutrition room of a clinic established by World Vision to receive supplementary food and to be weighted regularly.
Today, Belal’s appearance and weight isn’t comparable to 14 months ago. He looks like a healthy and normal baby. Since his admission into the programme, Belal has shown significant weight gain and caught up on his growth. Nevertheless, staff have continued to monitor his nutritional status even after he graduated from the nutrition session.
On the last day of the nutrition courses, Rahima’s baby was weighted. She couldn’t believe he had gained 200 gr after only 12 days of nutrition sessions. “I was really happy when I heard Belal gained weight in only a few days,” says Rahima. The positive impact she observed from the cooking methods motivated her to continue what she learn through classes at home.
“Through the nutrition classes, I learned how to cook healthy food. Before, I didn’t feed Belal with beans, egg and cucumber because I thought such food are heavy for children and [could] make Belal sick. I only fed him with cow’s milk. Now I know that children should be fed by vegetables and fruits, [as well as] carbohydrates such as bread, macaroni and potatoes as well as proteins, such as meat, cereal and dairy products,” she explains happily and proudly.
The nutrition assistant explained that the major causes of malnutrition are lack of breastfeeding, inappropriate food for babies and children, poor hygiene and misconceptions about using some foods such cucumbers, egg and even meat.
Today, Rahima is happy with her decision about coming to nutrition classes and thankful for her son’s recovery which would not have been possible without the work of Maternal and Under-5 Nutrition and Child Health (MUNCH) project and its staff. Through this project, not only Belal, but all children like him can become healthy again.
“[Today] Belal is 22-month-old with 10.11 kg. You have taught a lot of good things to us,” says Rahima. “You opened our eyes. You helped my kid become healthy and made me and other mothers like me happy so I hope God makes you happy,” says Rahima, her voice shakes as she tries to express the words from deep in her heart.
Belal is alive and well and at a healthy weight.
More about MUNHC project
MUNCH contributes towards improving the nutritional status and reducing the vulnerability of 1,822,315 mothers, infants and children under the age of 5. It is funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs Trade and Development (DFATD) and in partnership with WV Canada. The project focuses on interventions addressing the three underlying causes of malnutrition: household food/nutrition insecurity; poor maternal and child care practices and poor health services and health environments. The project is currently being implemented in 21 districts in the three provinces of Ghor, Herat and Badghis in western Afghanistan.
I visited Rahima for first time during the PDH session. It was her first time coming to the class in June 2014. Her son was so weak and pale he didn’t even have the energy to cry. I was told by the World Vision nutrition Assistant that she had a 70-year-old husband. It was difficult for me to believe. I became curious to see her house and her husband. After the class, she eagerly guided us toward her house. It was heart-breaking; a very small old mud house with only a single room. The sun shine of summer was directly in the room and had made the room so hot it was unbearable. They didn’t have anything to cover the windows. Her husband was lying in the corner of the room, on a rusty bed.
The small and rotten carpet covered some parts of the roof. An old woman was taking care of Rahima’s other children while Rahima was at the nutrition classes or working in neighbours’ houses. Although it was close to lunch time there wasn’t any smell of food in their home. Rahima put Belal in a cloth cradle and told us the story of her life.
At that time, it was too difficult for me to believe that Belal would get better. He was so weak and sickly, how could he survive.
When I was asked to find out a success story in Sept., 2015, I was told by the nutrition assistant that Rahima’s son who we had visited last year, recovered and now he is a healthy baby. I was surprised and eager to visit him again and tell his story.
Once we entered her house, Rahima welcomed me as if she had known me from many years. Although there had been no change in her life in terms of facility, she looked happier than before and her house environment was more clean and organized. Her husband’s bed was no longer in the corner of the room as he passed away six months ago. Her children had grown up and look healthier. She had enrolled them in school.