Famakan Kiabou, a Community Health Worker trained by Action Against Hunger in the remote village of Kourounan, Mali, screens a child for malnutrition. Photo: B.Stevens/i-Images for Action Against Hunger, Mali
This Father’s Day, we want to pay tribute to the many fathers and men around the world fighting to protect children from hunger and give them lives full of promise. This is the story of one father in Mali, caring not only for his own family, but also for the children throughout his entire community.
Until about a year ago, the remote village of Kourounan had virtually no access to basic healthcare services. The nearest health clinic is 25 miles away – a journey that is often too lengthy and too expensive for most families, who are barely able to meet their most basic needs from subsistence farming. Severe undernutrition is common among children under the age of five in Kourounan, and access to lifesaving treatment can be beyond reach for many parents. This is the case for many rural communities in Mali.
Kabo Dembele is the head teacher at the local primary school in Kourounan. He is also the father of five children. He has seen the devastating effects of malnutrition too many times. “We’ve suffered a lot in the past. I’ve seen so many children die needlessly from malnutrition because there was no health care in our village. When our children fell ill, they weren’t able to recover,” says Kabo.
Kabo Dembele is a father of five children and the head teacher in Kourounan. With Famakan’s help, Kabo’s son Sumita has recovered from undernutrition. Photo: B.Stevens/i-Images for Action Against Hunger
Kabo and his five colleagues teach math, grammar, and French to about 200 children in the village. He is deeply committed to his work.
“Our village is very remote, and growing vegetables is a challenge because our wells are drying up,” says Kabo. “We used to not be able to afford transport for our sick children, and it’s nearly impossible to walk to the health center in the blazing heat. It hurt me seeing our children suffer like this. They are our future.”
Action Against Hunger has been working to bring treatment for severe acute malnutrition directly to communities in Mali, saving parents long and expensive trips to and from a regional hospital. In 2014, we launched an ambitious research project to find out if community health workers could effectively expand the package of basic health services they already provide to include not only screening for malnutrition, but also treatment.
Famakan Kiabou is one of the community health workers in Kourounan. Action Against Hunger provided him with training to screen and provide treatment to children suffering from pneumonia, diarrhoea, malaria, and undernutrition. These community health workers are providing health care to their neighbours right at home, the first time the village has had direct access to even the most basic services.
“WE SHARE A SPECIAL BOND”
“I still remember my first week here in Kourounan, when a mother named Awa brought her little boy Khali to me,” Famakan says. “Khali was listless and suffered from severe undernutrition. I checked in on him every week and provided Awa with high-energy, ready-to-use therapeutic food to support his recovery. With this simple treatment, children can quickly regain their health. Khali made a full recovery and to this day we share a very special bond. He was the first undernourished child I treated here in the village. I’m very fond of him.”
Famakan checks the medical records of Khali’s little brother, Samakoun. Photo: B.Stevens/i-Images for Action Against Hunger
Kabo’s son Sumita became severely undernourished not long after Famakan received his training. Kabo had always tried to look after the well-being of the children in his school, but now his own child was in jeopardy. Thanks to Famakan, Sumita was screened early and received the proper treatment.
“When Famakan came to set up the local health post, things improved. Our suffering came to an end,” says Kabo, holding the hand of his youngest son, Sumita.
Kabo told the Action Against Hunger team, “Look at him! He’s healthy and playful and this is because of Famakan and his team. Sumita fell ill a few months ago. He was undernourished. We went to see Famakan and he received treatment for free. Famakan kept checking up on my son until he regained his health. Look how healthy he is now!”
By training champions like Famakan to screen and treat children for severe malnutrition at home, instead of expecting parents to walk as far as 25 miles to the nearest clinic every week for treatment, Action Against Hunger’s program aims to empower community health workers not only to help save lives, but also to partner with fathers like Kabo, as well as mothers and other caregivers, to spot the warning signs of malnutrition and get early treatment to prevent children from becoming seriously ill in the first place.
The initial findings from our study show encouraging potential: in the villages where we implemented the program, community health workers were able to double the number of children who received treatment for severe acute undernutrition.
“Famakan looks after all the children in our village so they can play and attend school in good health,” says Kabo. “As a father, as a parent, you want nothing more than for your children to grow up healthy. Our children are our future. They should be healthy; they should be able to learn. All children should receive the urgent treatment they need. All children should be able to survive. And all parents should see their children survive.”