One hot meal is changing everything for moms in Rwanda and Sudan
No matter where you live, giving birth can be both a joyful and stressful time—in the minutes, hours, and days after birth, it’s critical that both mom and baby get the care they need to heal and grow. But in resource-limited refugee camp settings like Rwanda and Sudan, that time just after birth can often be shortened, sending moms home without even a hot meal.
One Alight teammate in Sudan, Beatrice Nyalwal, wanted to do something about it. As one of our teammates who oversees nutrition programs in Sudan, she knew the importance of getting a warm, nutritious meal to moms right away—before they even left our clinic. She had an idea to spearhead a new program in camps for internally displaced people in Darfur, providing a warm meal and a hot drink to new mothers that would benefit their health, recovery, and overall well-being after the stress of birth.
And it didn’t stop in Sudan. Now our Alight teams in both Rwanda and Sudan are doing the doable, making some seemingly small changes that make all the difference in the world to new moms and their babies.
Nyabiheke Refugee Camp, Rwanda
Located in Eastern Rwanda, Nyabiheke Refugee Camp is home to over 14,000 refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo. One of Alight’s roles in Nyabiheke is to provide health services at the camp, serving residents with primary and maternal healthcare.
Part of that responsibility includes nutrition, which is designed to help kids under the age of five, pregnant women, new moms, and people living with chronic diseases get the nutrition they need to grow and stay healthy.
But the team noticed a problem—young children and moms were still being hard hit by nutrition deficiencies like anaemia. They knew that something more, something different had to be done.
Meals for Moms: One Step Toward Better Health
After moms give birth in Nyabiheke, most of them can’t afford to meet their nutritional needs. A nutritious meal immediately after delivery replenishes mom’s energy and, critically, initiates breastmilk. But unfortunately, many new moms in Nyabiheke were simply not getting one.
So the Alight team in Nyabiheke stepped up to intervene. Inspired by Beatrice’s program in Sudan and with the generous support of the Jacobson Family, they launched a pilot project that was designed to do something simple—provide a warm meal to moms after giving birth, before they left the Alight clinic.
A hot stew with rice. A bowl of leafy green vegetable puree. Bread. A cup of tea. Simple, comforting, nourishing food. But, a meal that they might not be able to afford otherwise. And a gesture of kindness and thoughtfulness that they will keep with them as they prepare to go home.
Aside from helping to meet nutritional needs, the warm meal project also helped improve overall health in Nyabiheke: the program helped increase the number of mothers who come to deliver at the clinic and who are seen by birth attendants, further lessening their risk in childbirth. It was a win win!
Amazingly, the Alight Nyabiheke team found that even this small change can make a huge difference. It can help forge a deep and meaningful connection between a mother and her new baby, instead of being plagued with worry about where the food will come from on day one.
The Nyabiheke Community Joins in to Support New Moms
The project launched with the Alight Nyabiheke team was only a pilot that lasted a few months. But when the refugee community in Nyabiheke saw the results, they stepped in to help move it forward.
The project was so successful that members in the community decided to volunteer to use their kitchen gardens to supply the hot meal program with freshly grown vegetables needed every day to make two to three meals for the new mothers at the maternity ward. Now they’re keeping the momentum going, ensuring that the brand new moms and their newborns are taken care of right when they need it most.
Hot Meals for Moms in Sudan
Although Rwanda embraced the idea of hot meals for moms wholeheartedly, Sudan was where it all began. Alight’s midwives, doctors, and nurses work in 29 health clinics throughout the country, mainly in the South and East Darfur region. They work to provide prenatal care to expectant mothers, and deliver tens of thousands of newborn babies over the course of the year.
Sudan has some of the highest rates of malnutrition in the world. 2.5 million children and mothers are acutely malnourished. While our teams run large nutrition programs feeding tens of
thousands of Sudanese people each day in Darfur, we also look for the small things (the doable things) we can do that will make a big impact in a person’s life.
The window of time our health teams have with mothers is very small—after moms deliver their babies, they have just six hours in the maternity ward before we need to welcome another mother in labor (assuming, of course, mother and child are not experiencing complications).
The time is so short. But our team, led by Beatrice, stepped in to do the doable for these moms, making the most of a few short hours we have with mothers—providing one warm meal. The program is a human centered and doable answer to providing better service, a simple but effective way of showing new mothers that we care.
“The meal can sometimes bring more joy than the baby, because when they come to us, they are very stunted and have nothing to eat. The meal can even relieve pain because they are so happy,” one of the midwives told us.
A warm, steaming homemade meal costs just 11 cents in Sudan, but the health benefits can actually last a lifetime. It’s a healthy start to life for a newborn, and it helps moms feel cared for and valued at such a critical and tender moment in their lives. And, getting off on the right nutritional foot is so important, especially in a place like Sudan.
Doing the Doable in Rwanda and Sudan
One warm meal for moms is the perfect example of teams stepping up to do the doable. A few pennies will pay for a meal for a brand new mother —and set the stage for her newborn’s health in the subsequent weeks and months.
As we monitor mother and child health outcomes in the long term, we expect to be able to make a case to fund this kind of nutrition program at scale. In the meantime, we’ll do the doable, providing one warm meal at a time…helping a new mother feel cared for, valued and ready to take on the challenges ahead.
Help Us Do the Doable for New Refugee Moms Everywhere
This work is only beginning. In Rwanda, Sudan, and everywhere Alight is active, we’re working to help both new moms and babies grow and thrive, against the odds. If you want to learn more about how you can help these teams in their work providing hot meals to moms, show your support or contact us today!