How Small Changes in Nutrition Can Make a Big Difference

By Laila Jewayni, Program Coordinator for West and Central Africa, PSI

Bibi takes a break from playing her favorite game “Snake and Ladder,” to talk to me.  The fabrics in her shop cover the three walls while the front overlooks the dirt road stretching through the busy market.  Neighbors poke their heads through the door to say hello. She clears the wooden bench piled high with cloth and invites me to sit.

Bibi Busrat Bola Jimoh is a single mother of three children. Four years ago, her husband left her to care for her children alone. She tells me that raising twins was tough and she struggled to provide for them.

Like many Nigerians in rural areas who lack the means and access to education, Bibi is now learning for the first time that a few simple practices can help keep her family healthy.

A staggering 48.5% of Nigerians live with anemia according to the Global Nutrition Report. Oral health is also a major problem in the country. 57% of adults’ aged 25-39 have periodontal disease and up to 30% experience dental caries or tooth decay according to the International Dental Journal.

She recently received a visit from an Interpersonal Communication Agent (IPCA) working for the Sunlight Village Project led by Unilever, Society for Family Health (SFH) and Population Services International (PSI). The IPCAs teach people in their community about the importance of oral care and eating iron-fortified foods to help reduce the prevalence of dental diseases and iron-deficiency. The project covers health areas such as nutrition, oral care, diarrhea treatment and hand washing.

Today, Bibi says that she and her children brush their teeth twice a day instead of once a day as they usually did. She also tells how she has changed her family’s diet. They now eat green vegetables 3-4 times a week.

“I am seeing a lot of changes in the community, diets are changing and people are eating more green vegetables,” Bibi says.

A few days ago, she herself was feeling tired, dizzy and had a headache. Remembering what she learned from the IPCA, she asked her daughter to buy green vegetables and cook them. Bibi ate the vegetables for three days and on the last day she felt better. She was amazed that something so simple could make such a significant difference in how she felt.

She thanks the IPCA and the Sunlight Village project for bringing this knowledge into her life.

“Everyone should be an ambassador of the Unilever project because people who are exposed, are managing their health in a better way.”