Social centers get equipped to meet the nutrition needs of orphans and vulnerable children in Côte d’Ivoire

Venance Kouakou, IYCN technical advisor, shares his experience supporting social centers in improving nutrition for OVC.

Social center directors from 21 communities received packages of scales, height measuring boards, mid-upper arm circumference tapes, cook stoves, mixing bowls, and more during a May 18, 2010, ceremony in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. I was proud to present the tools, together with US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and government officials, and celebrate the launch of our efforts to support social centers in improving nutrition for orphans and vulnerable children (OVC).

During a May 18, 2010, ceremony, social center directors received height measurement boards. The boards will be used for nutritional assessment.

After the nationally televised ceremony, we celebrated with cake and drinks. Social center directors told us they were eager to take the equipment back to their centers—community hubs offering a range of services for families and children—where they are sorely needed. Now, they said, they will finally have the tools they need to monitor the growth of children and identify malnourished children before they develop serious health problems.   

Amany Meh, director of the Abobo Social Center, a bustling site located in the center of Abidjan’s most populated community, told me that previously, the only way social workers at her center could identify malnourished children was to look for visible signs—usually only apparent once a child is severely malnourished.

At the ceremony, social centers received refrigerators, cook stoves, pots and pans, mixing and serving bowls, cooking and eating utensils, and plates for their kitchens. Fully equipped kitchens will enable social workers to conduct cooking demonstrations, showing caregivers how to prepare nutritious complementary foods.

Children orphaned by HIV or left vulnerable to the disease are particularly susceptible to malnutrition and childhood diseases. Without tools to measure weight and height, Amany explained, her staff had no way to monitor their growth, making it difficult to address malnutrition before it became a serious issue. Amany is eager to get the social workers at her site up to speed on using the equipment during an upcoming training workshop supported by the Infant & Young Child Nutrition Project.  

To help ensure that our country’s 540,000 OVC have the nutrition support they need, we assisted the National Program for Orphans and Vulnerable Children and the National Program of Nutrition to develop and pilot a special training workshop curriculum for national trainers.

The trained trainers will conduct onsite training for social workers at each of the 21 social centers that received the new equipment. During training workshops, social workers will gain skills, such as using the new tools to accurately measure and track the growth of children, practicing nutrition counseling techniques, and providing support for malnourished HIV-infected children.  

Mid-upper arm circumference tapes will help identify children who are severely malnourished so social workers can refer them to appropriate care.

After the training, social workers—who are trusted by community members and work closely with community agents—will be able to offer support to caregivers to prevent malnutrition of children, identify malnourished children sooner, make referrals for health services, and offer correct advice about feeding.  

I look forward to checking in with the social centers in the coming months to see how the new tools and training are making a difference for OVC in our communities.

Learn more about IYCN activities in Cote d’Ivoire.

Photos: Venance Kouakou, Alain Kouakoussui