Imagine a city of 30,000 in Canada. Now imagine there is just one health clinic serving the needs of all 30,000 people. It has four consulting rooms, a small drug storage room, and a waiting room which doubles as a weighing area for infants. There are nine staff, but none is a trained doctor; the highest level of medical training is a registered nurse.

This is the situation for the Solwa Clinic, found in Shinyanga District, central Tanzania. The 30,000 residents live in four villages and in very remote rural areas. Transportation is somewhere between unreliable and non-existent. And the health of the population is severely compromised: one third of children under five are stunted in growth, cases of malaria, HIV and diarrheal diseases are common.

Edwin Ibrahim, the Solwa Clinic Administrator, was having a hard time getting parents to address factors leading to high rates of child malnutrition. Years of being underserviced in healthcare had created negative conditioning, with parents feeling helpless when their children became sick.

In February 2016, Edwin attended a training on how to prevent and treat severe malnutrition, and brought his new learnings back to his staff. But for months, the Solwa team struggled to get parents to change their diets and habits.

The catalyst: one mother, one child

A mother receives nutrition counselling at Solwa Clinic.

Then the breakthrough came. The mother of one child, named Salawa, agreed to be helped. Salawa was one and had been sick much of his young life with diarrhea and pneumonia. He was severely malnourished when he came to the clinic.

Edwin advised the mother on feeding practices that would help him gain weight and immediately got him on a fortified peanut butter supplement and a micronutrient powder to be taken at home. Within two weeks, Salawa’s condition had markedly improved. The surprising transformation caught the attention of others who had largely assumed Salawa was not going to make it. Another mother, after seeing the change in Salawa, took her undernourished 18-month-old who unable too weak to walk on his own. After just three weeks receiving care, he began walking.

Edwin Ibrahim, Clinic Administrator (left) sets up for a Nutrition Club training.

Word spread. More mothers began to show up at the clinic with children in tow and with questions. Edwin and his staff started teaching parents how to make a nutrient rich porridge from local ingredients such as sweet potatoes, bananas, peanuts and spinach. The Solwa Clinic launched a Nutrition Club to spread the new ideas among more parents and track progress. Parent began to understand the importance of a balanced diet and learned how to catch the danger signs of malnutrition early and get help.

The right use of nutritious local ingredients can be the difference between life and death.

Growing the program

In November, 2016, World Vision’s 1000 Day Journey program began supporting Solwa Clinic with more training and agricultural supplies. Now the Nutrition Club is growing weekly. One mother brought her child from nearly 200 kilometers away to attend a cooking demonstration. Parents are ‘graduating’ from the program with new knowledge, but also with a new spirit of hope and sense that they are steps they can take to improve their children’s health.

Edwin is pleased with the turnaround in his community. And he’s keen to see where the new partnership with World Vision will go as they look to expand the program—at Solwa and at clinics in other areas.