Nurturing the future

After several months of being treated for malnutrition, Ali is healthy and well. ©UNICEF 2018/Jennifer Sparks

“When I first went to the nutrition center, I was hopeless. I said, ‘No one can help my son. He’s going to die.’ But after two visits, he improved.” Afrah and her youngest son Ali are sitting in their tent in Khazir camp for displaced people.

Nine months ago, Ali was diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition. Today he’s a healthy and thriving fourteen-month-old child.

With partners like the Government of Japan, UNICEF is able to support vulnerable children and families in their time of need.

These photos show Ali’s improvement, from when he was first registered in the nutrition program in summer 2017 (l), in September 2017 (m), and March 2018 (r). ©Samaritan’s Purse/UNICEF/Jennifer Sparks

Ali is looking alert, his eyes tracking people as they enter the tent and sit down. His cheeks are rosy and plump, and he’s gotten a dashing haircut. This is a dramatic improvement from our first visit with the family, when he was listless and unresponsive.

Afrah agrees. “[The supplemental feeding] program really, really helped. Without it, he would have died for sure. Whenever I see a child in the camp that is very thin, I tell the mother to take him to the nutrition center.”

Camilla, Afrah’s case worker, cannot speak highly enough about this mother and son. “Afrah is one of the best moms in the program. She always comes on feeding day, and that regularity has really helped Ali improve.”

Afrah holds Ali as he plays with Camilla in their tent. ©UNICEF 2018/Jennifer Sparks

The specter of malnutrition is ever-present inside the camps. Despite the fight for Mosul concluding in the summer of 2017, there is still movement between Mosul and the camps. Some people have attempted to return to their homes but found that they are still uninhabitable — basic services are not universal in Mosul. Some areas of the city are still prone to instability, making the camps a safer place for families.

Around 130 children in the Khazir camp are being treated for Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) or Moderate Acute Malnutrition (MAM). It can take up to two months of regular nutritional assistance to bring a child like Ali back from the brink of starvation.

UNICEF and partner Samaritan’s Purse run diverse portfolio of programs in the Khazir and Hasansham camps, which lie between the cities of Mosul and Erbil. Activities for mothers begin the moment new or expecting mothers arrive in the camp.

Camilla (r) and other case workers with Samaritan’s Purse participate in a feedback and lessons-learned session. ©UNICEF 2017/Jennifer

Case workers like Camilla visit expecting mothers, who are registered and made aware of services offered inside the camp. These include growth monitoring, nutritional guidance and supplemental feeding options, breastfeeding guidance, mother-to-mother support groups and individual nutrition counseling. UNICEF also supports the Government of Iraq in providing regular vaccinations for all children under the age of 5.

Farida and her mother participate in a breast-feeding course graduation. ©UNICEF 2017/Jennifer Sparks

In the breastfeeding area, small-group counseling is ongoing. One woman is pregnant and due to have a c-section today. “I’m a kind of scared. Yeah, I’m nervous,” she admits. All of the women in the caravan, staff and camp residents alike offer comforting words. Samaritan’s Purse staff is talking her through steps to help her breastfeed her newborn once she wakes from surgery.

Individual breast feeding councelling sessions are available at the UNICEF-supported baby hut. ©UNICEF 2018/Jennifer Sparks

Another activity that women have access to are cooking demonstrations that show how to make their World Food Program rations into healthy, nutritious meals for the family, with some supplementary fresh produce that is available in the camps.

Mothers and babies attend nutrition demonstrations, which show how to use food available in the camp to provide optimal nutrients to children of different ages. ©UNICEF 2017/Jennifer Sparks

Food rations largely include enriched starches like flour, rice and beans that form the staple components of the Iraqi diet. Entrepreneurs inside the camp have set up stands selling everything from fresh produce to household goods, giving camp residents access to much needed nutrients.

Mothers and children attend cooking classes to learn how to make healthy food using the food available in the camp. ©UNICEF 2017/Jennifer Sparks

Young mothers may not know how to maximize the nutritional value of the foods they have access to, especially if they have children of different ages who have varying nutritional requirements. Work in and around the camps is hard to come by, limiting the amount of cash families have to buy supplemental food, making it important to make the most of what fresh foods they can afford.

Nutrition services for displaced people are saving lives while building strong bodies and healthy minds.

Jennifer Sparks is a Communications Consultant with UNICEF Iraq.