Ensuring nutrition security despite disrupted food systems during COVID-19

Ensuring nutrition security despite disrupted food systems during COVID-19

Ensuring nutrition security despite disrupted food systems during COVID-19
Story by : Pooja Chowdhary
Written on : 4th May, 2020

Community services providers turn into nutrition champions during coronavirus pandemic in Bangladesh

In Bangladesh, coronavirus crisis has immensely affected the poor and the marginalized sections of some of the most vulnerable communities. With no jobs and regular income, access to basic food supplies have become a major cause of concern. Disrupted food systems and income loss in most places are ultimately preventing children from accessing nutritious diets, thereby putting them at high risk and is threatening their health and well-being. However, hope is not lost as committed individuals like Jesmin Akhter and Hosnaara Begum are going an extra mile to help such communities and ensuring nutrition security for their malnourished children during the pandemic.

Jesmin Akhter and Hosnaara Begum are dedicated community service providers associated with Welthungerhilfe’s partners FIVDB and Anando, in Haor and Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) of Bangladesh respectively. Despite the regular project activities being put on hold currently due to the spread of the pandemic, these women are voluntarily visiting the villages and have taken up the role of COVID19 volunteers. They are not only imparting knowledge and raising awareness on how to protect oneself from COVID19 but are also cooking nutritious meals and distributing it to the malnourished children. 

Jesmin and Hosnaara – the ‘nutrition’ champions

Jesmin has been associated with FIVDB since December 2018 and working with more than 200 families in Boro Betham village under Mohanganj Upazila. The nutritional status of this village is extremely low with 47 children identified as severely acute malnourished (SAM) and moderately acute malnourished (MAM). During the pandemic, Jesmin is visiting door-to-door in Boro Betham village and creating awareness on handwashing, maintaining personal hygiene, distributing face masks and asking the community to maintain social distance. She is also distributing government approved IEC materials to the families.

“I am very much concerned about the children. On usual days, the malnourished children with their mothers come to the 15-day nutrition camps organized by us. They learn about nutritious diets and how to cook such meals for children. But now because of the pandemic, the nutrition camps can’t be organized,” share Jesmin. Despite this, since the outbreak of the coronavirus Jesmin has been visiting and preparing lunch for around 43 malnourished children, twice a week.

Jesmin Akhter preparing lunch for malnourished children during COVID19 in Boro Betham village, Mohanganj Upazila, Bangladesh.
Jesmin distributing the cooked meal to families with malnourished children.

In Chittagong hill tracts, 35-year old, Hosnaara Begum started her association with Anando in January 2019. She has always been a dedicated local community service provider working diligently for the cause of nutrition security. And during the COVID19 outbreak, she could not stay at home and become a mere spectator. So, she decided to be a COVID19 volunteer and is supporting Anando on the field. She is working in Bacha Merung village, Merung Union under Dighinala Upazila with around 189 families and 34 identified SAM and MAM children.

Community volunteer, Hosnaara Begun preparing nutritious lunch boxes for malnourished children in Bacha Merung village, Dighinala Upazila, Bangladesh.

Hosnaara Begum works three to four hours a day in the village to raise awareness on COVID19. She also prepares nutritious meal for malnourished children twice a week. “I prepare the meals at my house. Once its ready, I go door-to-door and distribute the food to the families with malnourished children. I do this twice a week besides my other awareness raising responsibilities,” says Hosnaara. Proper hygiene and social distancing are being maintained while undertaking all such activities. 

After preparing the food, Hosnaara Begum visits door-to-door to distribute the food to families with malnourished children.

With a daily earning of BDT 300/-, Jesmin and Hosnaara are not only supporting their own families during this difficult time but are also ensuring that malnourished children do not fall through the cracks during the pandemic. Both Jesmin and Hosnaara are trained in taking anthropometry measurements and conducting nutrition camps. They also keep record of a child’s weight on Growth Monitoring and Promotion card and accordingly provide nutrition counselling to mother besides giving antenatal and postnatal advice to pregnant and lactating mothers. They also help the families to create homestead nutrition gardens. Due to their commitment to ensure nutrition despite the coronavirus pandemic, Jesmin and Hosnaara has become ‘nutrition champions’ in their villages and a source of inspiration for others.

The above efforts are part of Welthungerhilfe’s project ‘Regional Programme for promoting a multisectoral approach for Nutrition Smart Villages in Bangladesh’ with support from the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and in collaboration with FIVDB and Anando. Under this initiative, FIVDB aims to create 40 and Anando to create 30 nutrition smart villages in Haor and CHT region, respectively.