“I do this work because I love children.” Meet nutritionist Gelaye Bekele

Cooking Demonstration - Action Against Hunger

Gelaye giving a cooking demonstration at the IDP camp. Photo: Peter Caton for Action Against Hunger

In a camp for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Guchi, Ethiopia, Gelaye Bekele is leading a cooking demonstration. She prepares a soup using spinach, potatoes and a little butter, explaining the nutritional benefits of the different ingredients and how they can help families maintain good health. Once the soup is ready, she will feed it to children in the camp.

“I love doing cooking demonstrations,” she says. “We perform them using ingredients that we get from our local environment. Teaching the community makes me happy because it helps me to prevent malnutrition.” Her demonstrations teach participants about the different foods available in the area that offer the best nutritional value.

Gelaye, 24, is a nutritionist who has worked with Action Against Hunger for the past four years. She works with young children as well as pregnant and breastfeeding women to help them develop healthy care and feeding practices and reduce the risks of malnutrition. Although the work is not easy, Gelaye is dedicated to her job and passionate about her mission – helping children and families in need. “When I started working in rural areas I saw a lot of children with malnutrition and this encouraged me to become a nutritionist,” she says. “I do this work because I love children. I’ve seen children who died due to malnutrition, and this broke my heart.”

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In the past two years, Ethiopia has experienced escalating conflicts, the COVID 19 pandemic, and multiple crises linked to climate change: flash floods, droughts, and the worst desert locust infestation recorded in the Horn of Africa. As a result, hunger is soaring. Today, over 35% of children in Ethiopia suffer from malnutrition. Conflict and lack of food have caused many people to flee their homes, settling in camps like the one in Guchi, where Gelaye is based.

In response, Action Against Hunger has implemented a mobile Outpatient Therapeutic Feeding Programme (OTP), which allows our health and nutrition teams to travel to different areas of the IDP settlement to reach more people in need. The operational facility consists of two white tents: a smaller one for receiving people who need medical care, and a larger one where our experts provide counselling and awareness workshops on topics like breastfeeding, infant and young child feeding, and healthy hygiene practices. The OTP is the only health facility in this underserved area, and Action Against Hunger is the only organization providing sustained health and nutrition services to the people here.

cooking demonstration - Action Against Hunger
Photo: Peter Caton for Action Against Hunger

“Action Against Hunger has done a lot for the community,” says Gelaye. “A lot of malnourished children have been saved because of the nutrition education and medication that Action Against Hunger gives to the community. I feel so happy to work for Action Against Hunger and to work with all the staff from different mobile OTPs and departments.”

Along with cooking demonstrations, Gelaye provides breastfeeding coaching and demonstrations to new moms – another aspect of her work that she loves. In fact, it was a personal experience working with a new mom – her own sister – that defined her career path and cemented her commitment to helping mothers and children in need. “My nephew was born preterm with very low weight and he needed help. I advised my sister how to breastfeed and trained her in kangaroo mother care [a method for caring for preterm infants, in which the infant is carried with skin-to-skin contact] which is very important in giving the child more heat. Now he is a very healthy four-year-old.” Today, Gelaye uses this knowledge to help mothers in the camp set their babies and themselves on a path to good heath through breastfeeding. “I feel proud and happy when I see that mothers are breastfeeding after my coaching and demonstrations because what I teach helps both the child and the mother,” she says.

Action Against Hunger has worked in Ethiopia since 1985. Last year alone, we provided humanitarian assistance to nearly two million people. Our work focuses on providing nutrition and health support to children under five suffering with life-threatening hunger; clean water, sanitation and hygiene promotion activities; mental health and psychological support to help those who have experienced trauma; and cash assistance to vulnerable families and communities to meet immediate needs such as food and medicine.

Help us fight child malnutrition