Thursday, August 18, 2011

Saúde e Saudade

This morning, we paid a visit to the local district office of the Department of Health in order to learn more about the issue of malnutrition in Ribáuè.

Serviços Distritais de Saúde

We spoke with the local director and a "malnutrition technician," who confirmed that the community suffers from widespread malnutrition due to shortages during the dry season as well as nutritional deficiencies in the corn-based diet. We quickly discovered, though, that reliable statistics would be hard to come by; record keeping tends to be spotty, and figures such as poverty and malnutrition rates, based mostly on anecdotal evidence, vary widely. The only measure the Department of Health could use to estimate malnutrition rates is the number of patients who come to the clinic to be treated for malnutrition, but these represent only a fraction of the most severe cases, excluding many more who are too far from the nearest clinic or are unable to receive treatment for other reasons.

They told us about a new initiative they are testing with the most severe cases that has been somewhat successful. A non-profit organization helped the Department of Health develop a peanut-based food supplement that can be used to deliver much-needed nutrients to malnutrition patients. We also discussed TechnoServe's goal of fortifying maize meal with vitamins, which they agreed was an untested but highly promising concept.

Next, we headed to Fátima's mill to interview her about her involvement with the Millennium Maize Mills project.

Dona Fátima

She talked openly about the factors that made her an entrepreneur, which include a willingness to think outside the box, as well as necessity—as a single mother, she was driven to find ways to support her children and herself. After working for several years at a nearby cotton factory, she decided to take out a loan and launch her maize milling business. Despite her struggles, she is now doing well; indeed, it was Fátima's success that caught TechnoServe's attention. (As a side note, the MMM's project future mill owners will be women who would not be able to launch a business on their own, in line with TechnoServe's mission of fostering entrepreneurship where it is needed most, but they wanted to partner with an experienced businesswoman for the initial pilot studies.) As we spoke with Fátima, it was clear that she has a knack for business and will be a valuable asset for the MMM project as its leaders seek to expand its impact throughout the region.

Meanwhile, her assistant was packaging maize meal to sell at nearby markets:

After lunch, we interviewed Belchion, a TechnoServe employee assigned to the Millennium Maize Mills project who has been an extraordinary resource during our time in Ribáuè, teaching us about everything from basic words in Makua and local customs to technical aspects of the milling process.

In addition to answering our questions about MMM, Belchion was able to provide insightful comparisons with other TechnoServe initiatives he has worked on. He also added that, as a native Makua, he considers this project particularly important and meaningful.

As meninas, antes da cena que tive que enterrar...

By the way, in case you're wondering why I haven't posted any of the interview footage we have, it's because 1) the files are large, 2) they need to be edited, and 3) they wouldn't make sense for most of you anyway, since they're in Portuguese. I'll try to post a few edited videos along with updates on the project in the fall.