Bridging Nutrition Gaps: Reflection From Field Visit, Sun Civil Society Network Eastern Southern Africa Regional Group (Esa Sun Csn)

Viwandani Comprehensive Community Organisation (VICCO) Setai village, county Masado, Nairobi

The SUN CSN East and Southern Africa regional group held its first post-pandemic face-to-face regional meeting in Nairobi, Kenya from the 14th to the 20th of April 2024. The meeting, was attended by 14 Civil Society Alliances, 6 National Youth Coordinators, Kenyan Government Officials, the SUN Business network, the UN, INGOs and the media. During this five-day meeting, one of the key objectives was to foster peer-to-peer learning, knowledge exchange, information sharing and identification of joint advocacy opportunities among CSAs in the region. Following the agenda, on the final day of the ESA CSN Regional Meeting, Friday, April 19th, we visited two community-based organizations, VICCO and City Shamba, to observe their activities. This write up will highlights some activities and future collaboration prospect among Kenya CSN including these CBOs, CASCADE and government to integrate and strengthen the nutrition activities.

The Viwandani Comprehensive Community Organisation is a proactive community-based organization dedicated to empowering society holistically. Their initiatives include Zero Hunger, Making More Health, cooking demonstrations, and nutrition education, especially for teenage girls. Fresh Tuesday/Wednesday is a great initiative of the Zero Hunger Movement, which aims to collect vegetables from companies and distribute them for free to vulnerable families in slums and schools to improve diet diversity and fill consumption gaps. They are scaling their program in five rural sub-counties, promoting production and bringing those food products to the growing cities.

With this initiative, they also support mothers who have children under three years of age. From their shop, they sell all types of grains; young adolescent mothers receive subsidy vouchers to buy those grains. Visiting the activities, I saw an opportunity for strengthening VICCO’s work through collaboration and engagement with the government’s social safety nets program and by promoting bio-fortified grain. Maybe #SUNCSA, Kenya, can take a role here, collaborate with the #CASCADE project, and arrange some cross-learning to share with VICCO, including relevant government actors. #CASCADE is working with the government and private sectors to promote fortified grain consumption.

A number of volunteers are involved in VICCO’s field activities, and the key motivation of volunteerism is to return to society,” said Alex, a VICCO volunteer. He mentioned that he used to be homeless but now owns a hotel and wants to give back to society. VICCO identified volunteers like Alex as Community Champions. We need more volunteers like Alex in our community to integrate nutrition across all different programs and increase community awareness of nutrition.

Teaching art is my passion

I was a full-time artist, but now, I want to serve my community, and I joined VICCO as a volunteer”, said Victor, another VICCO volunteer. In VICCO, his role is teaching children art. He encourages children to participate in wall art, write messages on the wall, and promote community awareness of different issues. VICCO aims to break mental health stigma, advocate for menstrual hygiene education, and promote environmental sustainability through community clean-up efforts, promoting economic empowerment, providing accessible services, and implementing awareness campaigns.
@Alex_Community Champions

VICCO emphasizes the importance of knowledge with their slogan: “Avery gof,” which translates to “Information is Power.” Witnessing this motto prompted me to think that integrating nutrition information with the aforementioned activities could amplify that power!

Images:  VICCO site visit

There were plenty of vegetables in a cooking demonstration, but to increase awareness of a healthy diet, we need to consider other diversified food items, such as the presence of local fruits, nuts, legumes, eggs, and milk.

VICCO has established a gym exclusively catering to male participants, aiming to enhance their overall health and socio-mental well-being. This initiative not only provides a space for physical fitness but also could serve as a central hub for male engagement and nutritional counseling. The ultimate goal could be to improve the health and well-being not only of the male participants but also their families, including their wives and children.

Image: VICCO established GYM

City Shamba (an agriculture learning center) Mama Lucy Kibaki Hospital in Kayole, Nairobi

We also visited a youth-led training center called City Shamba, part of a community-based organization called ‘mwengenye lifestyle.’ City Shamba is a transformative urban agriculture initiative that showcases a medley of cutting-edge technologies tailored for sustainable food production in urban settings. Mwengenye Lifestyle CBO aims to transform urban livelihoods and ensure food security goals are achieved by teaching residents how to practice urban agriculture.

The training center focuses on vertical farming, horticulture/small farming, black soldier fly farming, organic waste decomposition, fish farming, poultry, and much more. This training center also provides training to teachers and primary students while university students work in the demo sites. The City Shamba is located at the premises of Mama Lucy Kibaki Hospital in Kayole, Nairobi. The Team Lead, Japhri, demonstrated different demo plots of fruits and medicinal herbs.  

As a nutritionist, my interest was piqued by the potential for nutrition-focused initiatives. Surprisingly, I realized, the demo plot was dominated by herbal and medicinal plant cultivation rather than nutritional vegetables and fruits. By exploring the various demonstration plots, I recognized the opportunity for collaboration between City Shamba, the hospital, and nutrition initiatives to enhance the nutritional aspect of the project. It’s not sufficient to solely understand how to produce; knowing what to produce, why, and how to ensure optimal nutrition for vulnerable community people, especially women, and children of poor and extremely poor families, is equally essential. I foresee a fruitful collaboration between the CASCADE project and SUNCSA Kenya to address this gap and bolster nutrition initiatives.” @Nazneen

Images: from City Shamba training center’s demo plots

About SUN engagement in CASCADE: CASCADE is committed to a strategic partnership with SUN networks and contributes to achieving nutrition commitments in six African countries: Benin, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, and Uganda. In the CASCADE program design, the critical role of Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Networks, especially Civil Society and Sun Business Networks, is essential, and we work to strengthen collaboration between government, private sector actors, and civil society to enhance nutrition outcomes through tailored interventions and advocacy efforts. CASCADE teams in all 6 countries are working with numerous community-based organizations and community groups  and strengthening their capacity to promote healthy diets and nutrition among families in greatest need

About the Author

Nazneen Rahman is a seasoned Public Health Professional with nearly 20 years of experience in national and international NGOs, excelling in managerial and technical roles. She is a dynamic team leader and mentor known for innovative systems thinking and problem-solving. She is dedicated to identifying new opportunities for impoverished women and children and adeptly formulates and reports strategic plans at the executive level.