Mothers #MakeItHappen

This past Sunday, March 8th, was International Women’s Day. For over 100 years, this day has and continues to represent an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women, marked by thousands of events thrown by organizations, governments, charities, educational institutions, women's groups, corporations and the media to acknowledge the political, economic, and social achievements of women. The theme this year was Make It Happen, encouraging effective action for advancing and recognizing women. All over the world, women are making it happen as teachers, leaders, businesswomen, artists, and activists, as well as one more very important role.

In Haiti, mothers Make It Happen.

In the North of Haiti, more than 460 Mother Leaders are preparing to graduate from Partners of the Americas Nutrition Security Program (NSP), which is focused on improving maternal and child health through educating women about proper nutrition and empowering them to go into their communities and pass the information on to other pregnant women and mothers with young children who are the most vulnerable to the dangers of food insecurity.

From recruitment to graduation, these Mother Leaders attend a minimum of 24 training sessions with NSP staff, and twice a month visit ten to thirteen neighbors to share their knowledge and promote diet diversity. They are active during the community awareness-raising activities around vitamin A, breastfeeding, family planning, immunization, sanitation, hand washing and hygiene, and are involved in livelihood activities like vegetable gardening, annual review sessions of the lessons on health and nutrition, and cooking demonstrations. The mother leaders draw from their personal and cultural resources to present a variety of topics through sketches and role play, which are often received with rounds of applause. Every mother participates in these presentations and together they build a sense of camaraderie, creating a good morale for the group which encourages the Mother Leaders to integrate the improved practices into their own lives.

Magalie Hubbert is one of the many women in the Nutrition Security Program working to make a difference in her community. Magalie, a 33 year old mother of two, lives in Western Haiti and is involved in several community groups as a health agent and the social chair for a women’s organization. When the NSP held a community meeting to present the project, Magalie was struck by the initiative and sought to become involved. Joining NSP gave Magalie an opportunity to continue doing something she loved; educating others.

In her own household, Magalie has focused on nutrition and prepares balanced meals for her family. The women in her neighborhood group feel more confident in breastfeeding. One of the women was planning to stop breastfeeding her one-year old child but was motivated to continue breastfeeding him. The husband of one of Magalie’s neighbors used to eat “pate kode” (a meat patty) from a street vendor every morning and since he attended some of the nutrition meetings with his wife, he has asked that a nutritious soup be prepared for he and his children.

Recently, Magalie was attending a meeting on family education at her son’s school. Some radio stations were invited to the event. As a note taker and reporter for one of the small groups’ discussion, she requested additional time to talk about another topic. After presenting the Nutrition Security Program and her role as a mother leader, she talked about the importance of good nutrition in households. She presented other topics like breastfeeding, dietary diversity and pregnant and lactating women’s nutrition. Magalie gave some examples on how to diversify the diet with a low budget by using fresh products from the home garden. The participants appreciated her contribution and the school director planned to organize a special lecture on nutrition with the mother leader as keynote speaker.

Mother Leaders view themselves as agents of change. They are very proud to put their talent and time into helping others and sharing experiences with program staff and other mother leaders. These visits offer them the opportunity to serve their communities through regular dialogue with the family members in each targeted household. The home visits lead to a dynamic exchange with family members, particularly with the women on nutrition and other priority issues. They learn how to negotiate the right approach for behavior change and they build confidence visit after visit. They respect their neighbors and they give them attention -- a mother leader might be invited to join a radio talk show with other NSP members and community leaders to testify and discuss community activities.

Since becoming a Mother Leader, Magalie has become more empowered and has gained notoriety in her community. Her neighbors now refer to her simply as “Maman.” Magalie and the other women participating in the Nutrition Security Program have had the opportunity to create more independence for themselves and to prove that they are able to contribute to the health and success of their country through their accomplishments. We couldn't agree more with the following quote from the documentary A Light in Her Eyes: “A woman is a school; if you teach her, she can teach an entire generation.” The participants of the NSP are laying the groundwork to create healthier and more prosperous future generations for Haiti. They are proud to be mother leaders because they have something to say, and their audience looks forward to attending the next visit that make them stronger member of the team promoting better nutrition and health.

The Partners of the Americas Nutrition Security Program (NSP) is a $12 million initiative funded by the USAID Feed the Future Initiative – a U.S. Government effort to combat global hunger and food insecurity.