Ten minutes are over when the mush throws large bubbles

by Simone Winneg,  2011/03/31

Cooking according to a recipe is no problem in Germany - in the African country of Niger however, it poses some challenges. How much is 500 grams? How are the women supposed to know when ten minutes are over? In her report, humedica coordinator Simone Winneg describes how she and local employees meet these challenges.

Djamila shows the mothers how many ladles correspond to the quantity stated in the recipe. Photo: humedica/Simone Winneg.

"Today is a distribution day in Kollo. Even after nine months of highly intensive work in the nutrition programme, each of these days still is a special event. Every second week, more than 130 women living in the surroundings of Kollo come to the humedica hospital with their severely and moderately undernourished children, in order to receive important additional food and to have their children's development checked.

But today is not a normal distribution day: there have been changes regarding the rations, humedica distributes to moderately undernourished children in cooperation with the United Nation's World Food Programme. There are new products that are easier to handle and to store, and which - according to latest findings - are more effective for fighting under- and malnutrition.

However, each change also contains risks. The instructions we have been giving the women so far regarding how to prepare the cornmeal mush, no longer apply. The new official instructions for preparation are as follows: mix 50 grams of cornmeal per meal with 250 millilitres of water and let it boil for ten minutes. This may sound very simple to us - every marble cake recipe is more complicated. But here, this recipe poses completely new challenges.

The mothers can neither read nor write; they do not dispose of kitchen scales, measuring beakers and mostly they have no clock telling them the time. What now? We need new, more practical instructions. Hence, we try out various different ways of measuring: we measure out the 50 grams on our laboratory scales and afterwards we remeasure how many of the ladles usually used here can be filled with this quantity.

The children do not only like the cornmeal mush; by eating it they also receive vital nutrients. Photo: humedica/Simone Winneg

We carry through the same process regarding the quantity of water: how much is 250 millilitres of water expressed in cups, measuring spoons or traditional bowls? Finally, we manage to come up with a useful instruction: a large ladle full of cornmeal is to be mixed with four times the quantity of water. This sounds simple - at least in theory.

During the distribution, our measuring concept is put to the test: 40 excited women watch Djamila, who is in charge of nutrition, mixing the mush. She takes particular care to make sure that every single woman understands what she has to take into account.

During each distribution, we also repeatedly explain basic rules of hygiene to the women: they should wash their hands and clean the plates thoroughly before starting to prepare the food.

Together with the women we mix de mush, put it on the open fireplace - like the mothers do at their homes - and wait. We can simply consult our watches in order to know when the ten minutes are over. The mothers, however, can only rely on the statement that they should leave the pot on the fire until the mush throws large bubbles. Then the meal for their children is ready.

The children are looking at us curiously. The mush smells good, and they are hungry. They had to wait for a long time and some had to travel a long way to the hospital. All the more they are looking forward to the sample they will be given - freshly prepared corn mush with oil, sugar, milk powder and a lot of vitamins and minerals.

Unfortunately, undernutrition is a constant issue

The famine of summer 2010 that caused more than half of the population to be faced with existential problems and almost one in five children to suffer from undernutrition, could be kept in check by means of fast and effective help.

During each distribution, the children's development is checked. Photo: humedica/Simone Winneg.

Thanks to the generous support of the German Federal Foreign Office, and in cooperation with the World Food Programme, humedica has been able to make a great contribution to saving the lives of numerous children in the district of Kollo.

But in Niger, hunger and poverty are problems that do not simply disappear from one day to the next. Undernutrition will continue to remain an important issue in this Sahelian state. The steady number of participants in our nutrition programme is sad evidence of a chronic grievance that ever again reaches disastrous peaks.

Dear friends and sponsors: on behalf of everyone here, I would like to thank you for enabling humedica to offer help in particular to children under the age of five. Thanks to your continuous support we have not only been able to make more than 2,500 children recover from undernutrition in the last few months, but we have also given hope and confidence to them and their families.

Please continue supporting our activities in Kollo and the surrounding area!

Kind regards from Kollo,
Yours Simone Winneg“

You can support our work in Niger by means of an online donation, or you can make a donation to the account below:
      humedica e.V.
      Donation reference "Hospital Niger"
      Account 47 47
      Bank Code 734 500 00
      Sparkasse Kaufbeuren

You can also make a secure, fast and direct contribution via your mobile phone: simply send a text message containing the reference DOC to +49 8 11 90 and support our work with a donation of 5 euros, with 4.83 euros of this amount being directly channelled into our humedica project work.

On behalf of the children in Niger and their families, humedica says "Thank you!" Photo: humedica/Lukas Witzig

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