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He was sleeping curled up on a straw mat on the mud floor with a small child cuddled in the crook of his arm when we came to the door.  He quickly roused from his nap and tenderly picked up the little girl.  His wife had recently taken the child to a hospital over 100 miles away to be treated for malnutrition and failure to thrive.  The child gradually improved and was ready for dismissal when the mother became critically ill and passed away.  When we visited, the father had just returned from the hospital mourning the loss of his wife and facing the challenge of raising a frail baby. After visiting a bit and expressing our sympathy, I asked the father what he was feeding the child.  He said, “I don’t have much money but whenever I can I buy her orange Fanta and biscuits [cookies] at the store.”  He obviously had the heart to care for the baby but lacked the knowledge.  We contacted the Sinkhani and asked them to do what they do best: coach and mentor caregivers in good nutrition.

Malawi is a narrow land-locked country in Sub-Sahara Africa. Desperately poor, Malawi has struggled with famine for years because of cycles of droughts and floods. Although still very poor, recent years have seen some progress in the overall well-being of the country.

A group of community health workers, or Sinkhani,  provide first-line primary health care in the little town of Mzimba, the remote village of Chisemphere, and more recently, Nkata Bay, where we met the bereaved father. Trained by Sherri as health workers in 1992, the volunteer women and one man provide weekly health services to their communities. The Sinkhani weigh the babies and provide health teaching to the mothers who come to the government-run well-baby clinics. In 2010, the Sinkhani monitored over 32,000 babies.

The Sinkhani also independently provide educational sessions to care-giver grandmothers who want to learn how to feed nutritious meals to their orphaned grandbabies.  This initiative has focused on teaching and promoting the use of high-nutrition soy bean porridge for malnourished children.  Even though soybeans are readily available in the country, they are not commonly used by the local people.  The Sinkhani hold demonstration/tasting sessions where they show the grandmothers how to process the soybeans by winnowing the chafe, soaking the beans, rubbing the beans together to hull the outer shells, drying the beans on mats in the sun, and finally pounding or grinding the beans into flour.  The flour is then stored until the grandmother is ready to fix porridge made with water and the soybean flour

In spite of years of compassionate service, the Sinkhani decided they wanted to do even more a couple of years ago.  They opened their own bank account in Mzimba and assessed themselves 50 Zambian Kwacha [37¢ US] per Sinkhani each month. Within three years they had saved over 8000 Kwacha [$59. US]. As of the last report they had not decided exactly how they would use the money but they did know it would somehow be used to help the orphans.

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Chipulukusu School
Zambia, Congo