Christine, her son, and her mother are among 100,000 refugees, mostly women and children, living in a camp in northwestern Uganda, served by the World Food Programme (WFP) and its partners, which are providing critical assistance to breastfeeding mothers.
On the occasion of World Breastfeeding Week, Christine explained how she is helping other nursing mothers through a UN-supported programme in the Rhino Camp.
“I feel like the proudest mother in the world when I breastfeed him,” said Christine, from South Sudan. “I know that breastfeeding him will help him grow into a strong and healthy and intelligent boy. He is my future.”
Each morning, inside her small house, she gets herself and young son ready for the day. With 12-month-old Alvin snuggled into a wrap tied across her back, she makes her way to the local health centre just a few minutes’ walk from her house. There she is greeted by a small group of women, most of whom have tiny babies in their arms or on their backs.
Christine comes here each day, where she earns a small income as a community worker, mentoring other breastfeeding mothers. She is here to help give her son the best start at life and to help other women do the same.
Lifeline in fragile settings
Breastfeeding is always important, but in fragile settings like this, it’s a lifeline. It not only provides all the nutrients a baby needs for the first six months of life, it’s also free of charge and almost always available.
In 2016, when Christine was a 25-year-old college student and aspiring teacher, rebels attacked her hometown of Yei, in South Sudan. She and her family fled into the bush, but shortly afterwards, her father was killed while looking for medicine for a sick family member. Fearing for their lives, Christine and her family fled to Uganda, eventually settling in Rhino Camp.
Her husband has since returned to South Sudan, but Christine has stayed on. In South Sudan, two thirds of the population are facing crisis levels of hunger, the highest number ever, and there is no sign of the situation improving soon.
She has found some stability in Uganda, for herself and her son. She said she was happy with the life she is building there.
Cash for breastfeeding mothers
Last year, while heavily pregnant, Christine became one of 13,000 pregnant and breastfeeding women from both refugee and host communities to receive Nutricash.
Part of the Swedish-funded Child Sensitive Social Protection Programme, under which the World Food Programme (WFP) collaborates with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Government of Uganda, the project provides each woman with $13 to help meet food and nutrition needs and $4 that is put into savings.
Christine has used some of her savings to plant avocado trees and cassava. She plans to go back to school one day and become a teacher. She hopes her savings will make this a reality. Other women use the money to buy goats and pay for school fees.
Breaking cycles of poverty
“By supporting breastfeeding mothers, through cash and nutrition assistance and counselling, we are breaking a vicious poverty cycle and giving the opportunity to these mothers to send their kids to school, to invest in their small business and in the near future, to become fully self-reliant,” said Abdirahman Meygag, WFP’s country director in Uganda.
After receiving nutrition training from WFP’s partner, Save the Children, Christine started supporting women to breastfeed.
“Some women, especially younger mothers, are often scared to breastfeed,” she explained. “Often, they don’t know how to place their babies, and they want to give up because it’s too painful. They have a lot of chores that cause stress, and they don’t produce enough breastmilk.”
Knowledge is power
Breastfeeding is one of the simplest, smartest, and most cost-effective ways of ensuring that children survive and thrive. Breastfeeding has broad benefits, and can help to prevent infant death and childhood illness.
Each week, Christine and members of the Joy Care Group come together for friendship, to share information on breastfeeding and to support and comfort each other.
The women gather under the shade of a tree, holding their babies in their laps as they share their struggles, worries and fears. From time to time, they breastfeed their young babies.
Group member Jemma said knowledge is key.
“I know my child is going to be well and not only my child, but everyone’s child in the group,” she said. “Because we have the knowledge and since we are coming together, every week we learn more.”
Learn more about how the UN supports women and their children during World Breastfeeding Week and throughout the year here.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of UN News.