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Aid for Africa Scholar Tracks Community-Led Nutrition and Health Efforts in Rwanda and Kenya

Nutrition centers in Gicumbi, Rwanda, provide a meeting place for mothers to learn about nutrition and child care.

Nutrition centers in Gicumbi, Rwanda, provide a meeting place for mothers to learn about nutrition and child care.

This past summer Dianna Bartone, the fourth Aid for Africa Endowed Scholar, traveled to Gicumbi, Rwanda, and Nairobi, Kenya, as part of her graduate work in nutrition and public health at Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. Bartone undertook this work with support from the Aid for Africa Endowment for Food and Sustainable Agriculture, a partnership between Tufts University’s Friedman School and Aid for Africa. The Aid for Africa Endowment provides a Friedman graduate student with funding to help defray the costs of research in Africa each year.

In Rwanda, where almost 40 percent of children under the age of five suffer from acute malnutrition, Bartone observed and documented the activities of village-based child nutrition centers in the Gicumbi region, which is  north of the capital, Kigali. The centers, which are run by local women, are a cross between community kitchens and day care centers for children under five.

Mothers bring their children to the centers along with food to share. The women learn from each other about hygiene, food preparation, nutrition and more, according to Bartone. Children receive a variety of foods that improve their diets. Some centers include vocational training for women. The centers serve multiple goals, including improved child nutrition and women’s empowerment, Bartone said.

“They [the centers] are community run and sustainable, which is exciting,” she said. “Women will hear about a center and visit it to see what is happening, then go back to their villages and replicate it.”

Dianna Bartone and Rwandan colleague.

Dianna Bartone and Rwandan colleague.

Bartone said that the first center was launched in 2012. There are 13 centers in the region today.

Bartone shifted gears in Kenya, where the Kenyan government is working to decentralize health services throughout the country. According to Bartone, Kenyan health officials understand that community health advocacy organizations can be instrumental in disseminating public health information, particularly about sexual and reproductive health.

Bartone spent four weeks learning “who is doing what” and how health advocacy organizations already active in the country are coordinating with each other, or, in some cases, not coordinating.

To determine the gaps in effectiveness of these organizations, Bartone conducted interviews with key players in the communities. She found that issues like maternal health and HIV/AIDS were receiving attention, while family planning, general counseling, gender rights, sexual abuse and violence were not. Bartone found a consensus for the establishment of a legally based, government-sanctioned health advocacy network to ensure health initiatives are focused on need.

Bartone worked under the auspices of World Vision in conjunction with Rwandan and Kenyan staff. At Tufts, she is working to complete master’s degrees in human nutrition and public health.

Aid for Africa, which believes that development should be research-driven, created the Aid for Africa Endowment at Tufts University to support scientific research on the ground in Africa.