This story was featured on the Partners blog, found here.
Nearly one in every three Haitians does not have enough to eat, and women and children are especially vulnerable to the impacts of malnutrition. Dr. Mukuria’s presentation focused on the ways social capital can be used to decrease the levels of malnutrition in a community. Social capital is, “the network of relationships among people who live and work in a particular society, enabling the society to function effectively.” In other words, people in a community build relationships, and those relationships create economic growth and a stable society with free-flowing ideas and knowledge.
There are three levels of social capital- bonding, bridging, and linking. Bonding capital, often the strongest form of social capital, are the relationships a person has with friends and family. Bridging capital is the relationship between friends of friends, neighbors, and others that are just outside of the bonding relationships. Linking capital is the relationship between a person and a government official or political groups, community leaders, and others with resources.
Haiti NSP implements all three levels of social capital in the communities where it works. Bonding relationships traditionally reinforce social norms, which are often passed down through generations or shared among closely knit communities. This can have both positive and negative consequences. Knowledge is shared, but if the knowledge is not accurate, poor nutritional or social behavior can be reinforced and normalized, making it hard to counter-act. Information or behavior from outside sources often has trouble permeating those relationships.
Communities are typically untrusting of outside programs teaching new information. Haiti NSP overcomes this by having each community select its “Mother Leaders,” who have the responsibility to be educated by Haiti NSP volunteers about healthcare and nutrition. The Mother Leaders then share what she has learned with her own bonding relationships, such as close friends and families. Each Mother Leader also shares her knowledge with 10-12 other women, through monthly house visits. This activates bridging relationships. Since the Mother Leaders are already trusted and respected in their communities, they are able to create effective change.
To date, 162 care groups comprised of over 2,000 community-appointed Mother Leaders have provided trainings to over 20,980 neighboring women on breastfeeding, food choices and diet diversity, maternal and child health, small-scale gardening, cooking, and healthcare. As a result, exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months of an infant’s life has risen from 46 to 85 percent; pregnancy deliveries with a trained health professional have risen from 53 to 88 percent, and mothers are learning how to grow their own fruits and vegetables to improve the food security of their households.
Mother Leaders are already expanding their roles and thinking up with new ways to teach their neighbors. Two women i decided it would be better to teach their neighbors about proper nutrition by actually showing rather than telling. These two women created a community nursery out of their vegetable gardens so the women under their care would come, see how to incorporate healthy foods into their families’ diets, and then be able to grow some for themselves.
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