Community Nutrition Volunteers: the bedrock of nutrition intervention in Ngala, Borno State

Community Nutrition Volunteers: The bedrock of nutrition intervention in Ngala, Borno State

In conflict-affected regions where access to health and nutrition services is scarce for many mothers, community volunteers play a pivotal role in improving the availability of essential care for both children and mothers. These volunteers, deeply embedded within their communities, possess invaluable local knowledge and trust, enabling them to reach vulnerable populations that might otherwise go unnoticed or underserved.

Hassan from Ngala is one of the Community Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM) assistants working with FHI 360 to advance nutrition program implementation in Ngala. Equipped with knowledge through regular capacity-building training provided by FHI 360, Hassan conducts house-to-house screening of children with malnutrition and nutrition counseling sessions around Ngala communities. With four years of experience working as a CMAM assistant, Hassan has conducted screenings for acute malnutrition in more than 2,172 children under the age of 5. Ngala is facing a significant number of malnutrition cases in addition to the prevalent food insecurity triggered by the insecurity.
“Because of this work, I am well known by community leaders, women groups, and men groups. Hence, during the monthly community dialogue meetings, I often take the lead to speak about nutrition as the people are familiar with me, so they pay attention very well” says Hassan.

During the meeting, Hassan encourages wide-ranging discussions answering questions about breastfeeding, child feeding, health, and hygiene. Also, he provides helpful tips on locally available nutritious food that community members can leverage to improve their children’s nutritional status. Community members like Hassan play a pivotal role in enhancing program effectiveness through their deep understanding of the local context and the high level of trust and acceptance they enjoy within the community. This involvement has led to more tailored and impactful programming, guided by the volunteers’ firsthand knowledge and the community’s confidence in their efforts.

“There were so many instances where the volunteers were able to trace those who attempted to double dip and even those who are in the habit of selling the therapeutic feeds. It was only possible because they know their community members well.” highlighted Maravi Dauda an FHI 360 Technical Officer for Health and Nutrition.

Hassan conducting mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC) screening. Photo credit: Jonah Haruna/FHI 360

Enhancing Economic Opportunities

Maryam Abba, also a volunteer works as a support group promoter for mother-to-mother groups in Ngala. A single mother of three, Maryam has been volunteering with FHI 360 for two years. The insecurity has led to the destruction of structures and means of livelihood for Maryam and her community members. With the stipends she earns from FHI 360, Maryam has been able to establish a side business: selling bean cakes which not only supplements her income but also provides for her family’s needs.

Despite the disorder caused by insecurity, Maryam finds solace and purpose in her work. Training sessions organized by FHI 360 enrich her understanding of nutrition’s critical role in supporting children affected by conflict.

“During the day, I work as a support group promoter for pregnant mothers and mothers of children under 5. In the evening, I go to my stall to fry and sell the local bean cake. I got the money to start the business from my volunteering work so now I comfortably pay my children’s needs.”

But beyond economic empowerment, Maryam has improved her skills through participation in the training organized by the FHI 360 nutrition team in Ngala.

“As the support group promoter, I work mainly with the mothers to provide community health education. We discuss topics such as balanced diets, breastfeeding, and the nutritional needs of the children. The trainings I attended organized by FHI 360 have enhanced my understanding of the importance of nutrition to children affected by the conflict.” says Maryam.

Moreover, Maryam finds fulfillment in facilitating discussions within her role, as it allows her to glean insights into the nutritional deficiencies present in the community. By fostering an environment where experiences and challenges are openly shared, she gains valuable knowledge that informs her approach. Maryam adeptly tailors her sessions to directly address these gaps, ensuring that her efforts are both relevant and impactful in meeting the community’s needs.

Hassan and Maryam’s stories exemplify how community volunteers support communities with knowledge and foster positive change from the grassroots level. Despite facing challenges, both individuals have shown remarkable dedication and resilience in their efforts to improve the well-being of those around them.

Maryam providing community health education during a session with a mother-to-mother group. Photo credit: Jonah Haruna/FHI/360

Since 2017, FHI 360 has been providing comprehensive nutrition programs including community-based management of acute malnutrition and infant and young child feeding (IYCF-E) in Emergency Interventions. Furthermore, Outpatient Therapeutic Programs (OTPs) were established to treat severe acute malnutrition (SAM) without complications with Ready to Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF), and three stabilization centers to admit cases of SAM with medical complications in Bama, Mobbar, and Ngala LGAs of Borno State.

In 2023, through the SURE-SN Project, FHI 360 with support from USAID admitted a total of 23,132 children (13,058 girls, 10,074 boys) into the Community Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM) program. This includes 10,252 SAM cases (9,325 into OTP and 927 into Stabilization Centre), and 12,880 Moderate Acute Malnutrition (MAM) admissions, achieving above 5 times the LOA target of 4,596. Through support group meetings, skilled counseling, lactational management, and community dialogues, a total of 47,889 individuals were reached.

Written by: Yakubu Fwangshak, Wachikma Mshelia