In Danaba village in Wajir County, North Eastern Kenya, a group of eleven community health volunteers, pregnant or lactating women, and caregivers frequently meet together in a Mother-to-Mother group called Kulmiye. Kulmiye, which means “togetherness” in the Somali language, is one of the 35 Mother-to-Mother groups initiated by Islamic Relief in partnership with the Ministry of Health. These groups provide a sound and practical way to reduce social isolation, equip mothers with information and training, and create a forum for sharing experiences and raising awareness in a given community.
The women of the Kulmiye Support Group meet regularly within the week and are trained by lead mothers and facilitators in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and MIYCN on topical issues such as pregnancy, lactation, exclusive breastfeeding, breastfeeding difficulties and advantages, infant feeding practices, hygiene, and immunization.
These trainings and meetings have led to significant positive changes in attitude and practice among the Somali community in Danaba village. The Islamic Relief team has observed particularly notable advances in exclusive breastfeeding. For years the practice of exclusive breastfeeding was very rare amongst the Somali community of Danaba, however, following the training, a majority of pregnant mothers are now planning to exclusively breastfeed and lactating mothers have opted to continue breastfeeding for longer. To this end, the breast feeding promotion and support will be integrated into the community’s long-term efforts in a bid to improve the health of women and children.
As Saadia Edin puts it:
“I was happy to understand the importance of exclusive breastfeeding in detail. Before the training I knew it is a practice that was encouraged by ‘Daqtariin’ (Health workers) but there I got to understand its health benefits to both the Mother and the child”
Feedback from the women of the Kulmiye Support Group indicated a strong community interest in developing livelihood strategies to build resilience against food insecurity and to improve dietary diversity for children and women. Islamic Relief thus engaged the support group to form kitchen gardens.
This initiative has successfully transformed dry arid lands into productive vegetable gardens, which provide families with both an income generating activity through the sale of produce and a diversified food source to fortify their health status. The gardens have been met with enthusiasm from the women of Kulmiye and have been attended with care. Khadija, one of the group members, described the responsibilities of the garden:
‘’We have developed a roster of daily watering activities where every morning and evening two women water the vegetables. We received some farming tools/equipment and farming inputs such as watering cans, fork jembes, plain jembes, and seeds from Islamic Relief. Regularly, staff from the Ministry of Agriculture visit us to demonstrate farming skills and advice on what seeds would do well in the soil type, when to use pesticides and answers many other questions we may have.’’
The growth of exclusive breastfeeding and the success of kitchen gardens reflect the essential role that Mother-to-Mother support groups have in promoting health, raising issues that affect the community and developing innovative solutions that allow both support group members and their community to address their concerns.