Ben Allsop is TEAR Australia’s Manager for Transformational Giving. Working with donors in Australia, TEAR Australia supports local agencies in 19 countries to help them address the root cause of poverty and marginalisation.
This project also receives funding from the Australian Government’s aid program.
It’s a bright Monday morning when we arrive in a small village in Vubwe province, Zambia. Close to 40 mothers and dozens of young children are waiting patiently around a large tree. They’re here for their regular weighin with the local Community Health Worker and we’ve been welcomed into the community to watch the process.
Standing in the bright morning sun with laughing children, it’s easy for a moment to forget the difficult truth about life here in Eastern Zambia. Almost two-thirds of Zambia’s population live in poverty, and many children are malnourished. It’s not unusual for families in this region to be without food consistently available, sometimes for months.
Vainess is mother to four children – the eldest is five and the youngest, Agnes, is just five months old. She’s an adorable young child with gorgeous eyes and strong, healthy legs. I smile as I ask Vainess about the difference that TEAR Australia’s project has made in the village. She talks about how the Community Health Worker is teaching her and others about feeding and raising children well. About how to keep them healthy and growing up strong.
She describes the challenges she faced as a new mother when her other children weren’t gaining weight. “It made me unhappy” she says, but she quickly moves on. “I was taught how to make soya porridge, and when I gave that to them, they gained weight” she says.
Makulata is a volunteer Community Health Worker and has seen the positive changes that the project has brought to the community. She says that children are growing up much healthier than before. I ask her why that is. “It’s training and it’s CA” she says.
‘CA’ refers to Conservation Agriculture. It’s a technique that TEAR Australia’s local partner, RCZ Diaconia Department, has introduced to this community over the past two years. Compared to conventional farming, the CA techniques are proving to be particularly successful. The technique protects the soil, retains moisture, promotes better fertilisation and the rotation of crops. It’s becoming very popular amongst the community, not least because it’s making more food available for families.
This project isn’t driven by cutting-edge technology or a charismatic health worker. It’s successful because it’s doing the basics well. Project staff are working with families to improve their crops and create a more nutritious diet in the community. They’re building relationships with families and helping them adopt better health practices. And – as we’re witnessing today – they’re measuring children to make sure that the trend is positive. None of these activities alone are particularly sophisticated, but put together, they’re changing a trend of malnourishment and food insecurity.
It costs as little as $100 for a family to be supported through this project for a whole year – an incredibly small amount given the range of activities that TEAR’s partner is working on. There are health, nutrition and microfinance activities taking place, all facilitated within the community by passionate local staff and volunteers like Makulata.
It will still take many years for entrenched poverty and malnourishment to be completely overcome in Zambia, but projects like this prove that the right things done consistently and with discipline can make a significant difference in the lives of Zambian families. And that is cause for optimism.
I come home eager to share as much as I can with our donors. Although there’s much to be done, there’s also plenty to celebrate.
Makulata (banner image) is a volunteer Community Health Worker in Zambia, working with local families to help their children grow strong and healthy.
Vainess (image below) is one mother whose family is already benefitting from improved nutrition and agricultural training in Vubwe province, Zambia.