Real magic beans: soy improving children’s nutrition in Burundi

By Achel Bayisenge – Communications Manager for World Vision Burundi

Searching for a solution

Claudine was sick, and Cesarie had spent her last penny on treatment for her eight-year-old daughter without much improvement. With her limited means, the mother had struggled. She had brought her child to many different facilities, even trying some traditional healers in her area without success.

Health facilities had already told Cesarie that her child needed to be fed with a balanced diet and had even given her some drugs to try, but Claudine had not responded.

Cesarie decided to seek support from a World Vision office in her area. When Elysee Nikwibitanga, a World Vision Burundi community development facilitator saw Claudine, she screened her and found her malnourished. Elysee noticed that her hair had already turned grey and her body was swollen, making it hard for Claudine to walk.

“I could realise how Claudine’s mother was distressed and hopeless,” Elysee says. “I tried to comfort her but deep in myself, I doubted if we would make it."

Parents unite

Malnutrition is common in this region of Burundi, taking its toll on the health and future potential of children. World Vision’s Act for Life-saving Actions to Reach Mothers (ALARM) Project, supported by the Australian Government, is investing in solutions to improve children’s health, including nutrition programs.

When one group of children graduated from World Vision’s nutrition centres, their parents came together and pondered on how they could prevent their children from relapsing, and also help other children who are malnourished.

They agreed to start farming nutrition-sensitive crops, and found that soy was the most nutritious and suitable for their area. Hearing about the plan, World Vision’s ALARM Project supported the parents with soy seeds and fertilisers.

They started farming and upon first harvest, farmers came back to World Vision requesting more support with grinding tools and kitchen utensils. They wanted to make soy milk to complement the diet given to malnourished children.

Left: Claudine and her mother Cesarie. Right: Drinking soy milk regularly helped bring Claudine back to good health.

Claudine’s incredible transformation

World Vision connected Cesarie and her daughter with the soybean farmer’s association, and Claudine began to drink soy milk regularly.

In a period of three months, Claudine incredibly gained weight, her hair regained its colour and her swollen body came back to its normal size.

“Soy milk is an amazing solution to malnutrition,” says Elysee. According to Elysee, soy milk reacts quickly in combatting malnutrition. When food is scarce, soy milk provides protein much needed by malnourished children.

People in the area now understand that soy milk is a product their children can consume even when they are not malnourished. Besides helping malnourished children for free, association members are supplying soy milk to households at a price of 500 BIF (30 cents) per litre.

With her daughter's health restored, Cesarie has decided to join the farmer's association. She’s seeing the benefit of a new source of income, providing nutritious food for her children, and helping other families at the same time.

With Burundi being a country with the highest malnutrition rate of children under five years of age in the world, different stakeholders in combatting malnutrition, including the government, are taking an interest in the success of soy milk in this community. One idea to keep children healthy has grown into a solution that could save lives like Claudine’s all around the country.