The problem: Afghan women living in rural areas die at one of the highest rates in the world during and soon after childbirth. Their children are often underfed and malnourished. Anemia in pregnant women and infants and toddlers is one of the most prevalent, and treatable, health issues in these rural areas.
The project: The Bamiyan Maternal and Child Health Project (BMCHP), aims to address these problems by providing women and children living in remote rural areas, the opportunity for nutritional improvement and dietary self-sufficiency.
Several families in 2 separate rural communities were selected to pilot the program. Each family was provided with lentils, beans, seeds and chickens and educated on how to optimize their nutritional impact upon their diets. The impact of the dietary changes will be measured through the comparison of pre-program blood tests with those taken at certain intervals throughout the trial. With proper adherence to the recommended guidelines, a positive change in the participants nutritional blood chemistry should be observed within nine months.
Going forward we hope to roll this model out to other communities and families with a "pay-it-forward" mentality with regards to education and produce, from those families who have found improved health and success with the program.
After a long and dangerous ride into the mountains, I began by meeting the elders of two villages and landowners in each town. They welcomed me and the project with excitement and hope. I then met with eight families that farm the land in each village. For each family, I purchased the following items, lentils, beans, three chickens, and a rooster. I was able to get the lentils and beans quickly, but it took me a while to find local chickens and roosters as there was a bird influenza epidemic.
Adding lentils, beans, and eggs to the diets of local farmers provides them the folic acid and vitamin A their diet lack. In the absence of these vitamins, the women and children suffer from anemia, which is a prime cause for the maternal death and childhood malnutrition. Once families incorporate these foods into their diets, we expect to see an improvement in their hemoglobin levels. The progress will be examined through medical checkups and matched with the results of the baseline data that the project team collected during the inception phase of BMCHP. For those who follow their diets, we will provide beans and lentils to plant next spring, allowing the families to become nutritionally independent.
My trip to Waras included several meetings with women and their husbands, individual visits to their households, interviews, medical checkups for the women and their youngest child. One thing all the families expressed often was gratitude that I was thinking about them and came up with a plan to help out. They said, "many have found a way to get out these villages, and they never come back, and your project gives us hope that one day, you can help us more." The local coordinator shadowed me during the entire time and continues to visit the families every week to monitor compliance with the diet I developed for them. Qamar
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