Khazana Sihwaya: 2030 Nutrition Project contributes to preventing non-communicable disease

Khazana Sihwaya is the founder of the 2030 Nutrition Project, which aims is to mobilize resources for scaling up nutrition in under-served schools and community health centers within Lusaka. She was born and raised in Lusaka, Zambia.  A few years ago, after interning at a Children’s Hospital, she developed a strong affinity and passion for maternal, child health, and nutrition issues. She believes that malnutrition and wasting during the 1,000 critical days of life can be eliminated only if mothers and caregivers are empowered with the right tools and awareness of nutrition and child health.

[Below is the transcript of interview which is edited for clarity.]

Sotheary (0:00): Welcome to Next Women Generation. Today we have Khazana from Zambia joining us. Khazana is the founder of the 2013 nutrition project, aiming to mobilize resources for scaling up nutrition in underserved schools and community health centers in Lusaka. Khazana, you are running a 2030 nutrition project. I would like to learn how do you come up with this idea.

Khazana (0:38): The 2030 Nutrition Project was an idea that I developed two years ago. As a medical student, I had an amazing opportunity to intern at a children’s hospital in Lusaka. I realized that most non-communicable conditions, such as low stunting in children, were preventable. Most of these children were coming from low-income families. I had an idea to say if most of these kids that come to this hospital have diseases that can be preventable, and why isn’t anybody doing something? Of course, the government is involved. Still, I was thinking there are not many non-government organizations that are doing the same thing. I had a chance to represent my country in the United States at the University of Delaware for a leadership program. I pitched my idea, and they liked it. They funded the first six months of the program. That’s how I came up with the 2030 Nutrition Project. And 2030 is because I wanted it to align with the 2030 SDG goals.

Sotheary (2:06): Okay, so how did you start two years ago? Did you have everything in place? So how did you present your idea, get the funding to support your project, and bring back to Zambia?

Khazana (2:20) : When I pitched the idea, I didn’t know what I was getting into. I didn’t have so much information. The only information I had was the experience that I got from working at that Children’s Hospital. I had to do lots of research and team up with many organizations doing similar things to understand better and how I can help these people from low-income families. It started with a whole lot of background research. When I got the funding for the first six months, it was a bit overwhelming because this was my first time, and I’m doing this huge project. I want to help so many children, and I didn’t have enough knowledge. I had to team up with nutritionists. I have to team up with local clinics in local communities. I have to team up with many young people who were willing to volunteer and help out during this project’s first six months. It’s been amazing. It’s been a learning experience so far.

Sotheary (3:34): How do you reach out to the community? Do you start to engage them directly?

Khazana (3:39): The project has what we call Nutrition Ambassadors. The Nutrition Ambassadors go out there in the community to educate more people on dietary information. When we partner with local clinics, we realized that it was easier to reach these mothers and these parents coming to the local clinics. In Zambia, there’s what we call Child Health Week or antenatal or maternal health week. Pregnant women and expecting mothers and parents come to these places. I realize that if we partner with local clinics, it will be easier for us to talk to these mothers and talk to these parents about nutrition. In that story, we realized that if we reach out to these mothers, why not engage somebody they’re familiar with. We would easily team up with a nutritionist or a health worker that already works at that hospital, so it was easier to reach the communities because we give out flyers. We also reach out to the community using Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. That’s how easy it becomes since we started.

Photo provided by Khazana Sihwaya

Sotheary (5:05):  I learned that your project focuses on women and children. Why do you focus on women and children?

Khazana (5:12): Zambia has 16.6 million people, and 35% of children under five. And unfortunately, the statistics state that 88% of these children have no access to acceptable diets or lack balanced meals. It was a huge problem. Hunger is one of the main issues. For me, I discovered that not so many organizations were focusing on malnutrition in my country. That’s why I came up with the 2030 Nutrition Project. With my medical field background, it was easy for me to come up with something that I could do to help out the communities.

Sotheary (6:01): It’s really exciting to learn about your passions and how you engage your community. I want to ask you about your project and children’s health. How does your project promote children’s health?

Khazana (6:15): Because most of these families are coming from low-income communities, we just can’t say that your child is supposed to eat this, or they’re supposed to eat that. We’re supposed to understand where these people are coming from and how much they can afford to feed their children. We came up with a nutrition handbook in the local language, and it’s in English. It’s in pictures for those people that can’t read. The nutrition handbook consists of preparing local foods and affordable food that these people can afford. We also do nutrition mixers, where we partner with a local clinic and provide food for these people. We select the health worker and nutritionists to show them how to prepare the food. We also partnered with farmers’ initiative, helping them grow fruits and vegetables in their homes behind their gardens. It’s called home gardening, where these people can grow vegetables and grow fruits. And if they make enough, they’re able to sell it and buy what they need for their children. So far, we’ve been making COVID-19 relief donations with schools that have a feeding program. We’re doing for gifts. We’re doing nutrition. We also have nutrition workshops. Health workers and I know what team members cook and prepare food to show them how to prepare food for their children. We also have home gardening for these women to grow food in the bucket.

Sotheary (8:01): Is it difficult for you to engage with the community first because you introduce something new to them.

Khazana (8:09): At first, before we had the handbook, it was not easy to know how these people can better understand the purpose of the project. When we teamed up with a nutritionist, we were given ideas to say some of these women will not, and some of these people that attend these workshops will not understand what you want. We thought of doing the nutrition mixer where we buy the food and show them how to prepare the food. We realized that more and more people from the communities were coming to those events. And then we decided that how long are we going to buy food for these people to prepare and show them how to prepare the food. We decided to come up with the manual, the nutrition handbook. In the nutrition Handbook, we realized that it was in English, and most people could not relate or understand what was written. We decided to include pictures for people that couldn’t read to see photos and prepare the food. Many people were getting interested. We just can’t tell these people what to eat and what to cook; what if they can’t afford these meals. We decided to partner with farmers’ initiative to help these women grow their fruits and vegetables in their backyards. They’re able to prepare that food. We also encourage them to buy food from local markets and communities so that it is affordable for them. As the project was growing, we realized that so many people in the communities are interested in seeing what happens and how to eat healthily and live a healthy life. When these people know that 35% of under-five children are stunted, I think they must do something about it. It’s been very easy to engage with the communities.

Sotheary (10:16): That’s great. Do you work on this project alone? Do you have a team to work together because it sounds like a lot of work that you have been doing?

Khazana (10:26): We have a partner. We also have a few nutrition ambassadors that are on board. These are volunteers that go out in the communities. They’re also volunteers that help out during these workshops and nutrition mixes. What challenges me to run this project is when working with certain people, they’re always expecting money in return or something in return. It’s also been a little bit challenging when we engage these mothers in the communities. Some people are like, but what if we can’t afford this food? What if we don’t have the money? When you run a non-government organization, they are expecting money in return. Those are the main challenges, and the other challenges are engaging with honest, genuine people who are willing to help. I think that’s the main challenge.

Sotheary (11:39): How do you engage with those genuine people who want to have the project and want to give back to society?

Khazana (11:48): I think, first of all, they have to understand that it’s about volunteer work. It’s about their interest. If you’re expecting money in return and want to help these people, it’s not going to work. It’s supposed to make things clear to say, Okay, so this is an NGO, and we only operate on funding. If you agree in the beginning, I think it’s easier to go ahead. If there’s some information they don’t know, there’ll be expecting something in return, which will not be the case.

Sotheary (11:10): You are a young woman, you do not have children, and start a project that works with mothers who have children, and you work with young children, how it was like to work with them?

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