The Life Changing Impact of Good Nutrition

This report was written by Self-Help International Board Member and nutritional advisor, The Rev. Dr. Mary Jane Oakland, following a trip to Ghana in November 2019. Dr. Mary Jane Oakland is an emeritus professor of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Iowa State University. She has served on the Self-Help International Board of Directors since 2006.

The Rev. Dr. Mary Jane Oakland

Self-Help International’s Growing Healthy Food, Growing Healthy Children program is improving the health and nutritional status of pregnant and lactating women and their babies. The program provides nutrition and health education along with teaching the mothers and their families to grow ingredients for a nutritional weaning food and to participate in income generation strategies.

Today was my last day with moms and babies in the villages of Beposo and Kukubuso, Ghana.  I saw two little toddlers who are growing and thriving despite being separated from their mothers during the all-important breastfeeding period.  Without this program of intensive nutrition support, they well may not have made it to toddlerhood.

I have the privilege of working with two fine Ghanaian nutritionists in this program, as well as agriculture specialists and program leaders for empowering women and girls.  This whole team is changing the trajectory of the lives of women and children in a village where most scrape together an existence as share-cropping cocoa farmers.

Growing Healthy Food, Growing Healthy Children group meeting in Beposo

For women who join the program during pregnancy, all of them have been able to successfully exclusively breastfeed their babies with excellent growth patterns during the first six months.  Weaning from breast milk is a challenge because of the low nutritional value of the family diets, but we are seeing women willing to feed their babies according to the new information they learned who are having positive results. Last year, the moms and babies lost weight during the cocoa harvest, so this year all the women haven taken a pledge not to let that happen again.  The women brainstormed ways in which they can work in the fields and still feed their babies and themselves.

There is still much work to be done – until enough food is grown and income generated so these villages are no longer perpetually hungry.  The response of the moms and their children has shown us that the stunting rates that impacted the development of the children have been dramatically improved.

Today, I looked into bright eyes of two active toddlers.  Last year, I feared we were not going to be able to turn them toward healthy growth and development.  Thank you to all of our dedicated staff and to you, our supporters, who are helping Self-Help International make a difference in the lives of moms and babies.