PINKK fosters female leaders in Senegal

| September 29, 2019 | 0 Comments
Amy Mandiang demonstrates the use of the ‘tippy tap,’ which dispenses clean water and soap for handwashing and is used in areas without running water.

Amy Mandiang demonstrates the use of the ‘tippy tap,’ which dispenses clean water and soap for handwashing and is used in areas without running water.

At just 16 years old, Amy Mandiang’s dream is to become a doctor and her work as a volunteer “nutrition champion” in her community is a stepping stone on that path. Amy is a member of the Young Girl Leader Club in Kolda, Senegal, an initiative of Nutrition International’s Projet intégré de nutrition dans les régions de Kolda et de Kédougou (PINKK), conceived to empower young women and instil good nutrition and hygiene practices in their communities.
Launched in December 2015, PINKK focuses on the Kolda and Kédougou regions of Senegal, areas with some of the highest food insecurity rates. Knowing there is no single solution to tackle the challenge of food shortage and long-term hunger, the project’s approach has been to implement broad, targeted interventions that include nutrition, hygiene, health care, agriculture and business development — all with the direct involvement of community members such as Amy.
The Young Girl Leader Clubs are key to this broad-based solution. PINKK provided support to 30 existing clubs and funded the creation of an additional 15 in more remote areas, connecting more than 1,400 adolescent girls. As part of her club membership, Amy received nutrition and hygiene training. Now, she visits three families and shares her knowledge, instructing the children and their mothers on the benefits of regular handwashing, food sanitation and nutrition for a diet that ensures children grow up healthy.
Children in Kolda frequently suffered from diarrhea, due in part to not understaing the importance of handwashing. Thousands of Senegalese children die yearly of diarrheal diseases and acute respiratory infections; a huge portion of these deaths could be prevented by washing hands with soap and running water.
During one of her visits, Amy teaches two-year-old Adana how to use the “tippy tap,” installed with training and support from PINKK and located outside, near most of the houses in the village. The tippy tap is an effective and simple hygiene solution in areas without running water. Consisting of a soap stand and a plastic bottle filled with clean water collected earlier from the well, the tippy tap disburses water with the press of a foot pedal. Tippy taps can be built at a minimal cost and effort using available items, and are simple to use.
After they have washed their hands, Amy and Adana share a papaya, and Amy explains its benefits — a rich source of micronutrients such as vitamin A, critical for children under five to boost their immune systems and prevent blindness. In an area where malnutrition and child mortality rates are high, a more diversified diet, complete with essential micronutrients, is a simple and cost-effective way to ensure children’s survival and good health.
Papaya trees are now widespread in the village, thanks to PINKK’s support for farmers growing nutrient-rich foods. It distributes fruit tree seedlings and seeds. Amy understands the nutritional benefits of fruit and vegetables, and helps her mother tend their family garden.
“In the past, only a few people maintained gardens. Now that I know how different foods can be good for health, especially for children, I encourage everyone to do it,” Amy says.
Amy’s self-assurance is all the more impressive, considering the traditional barriers faced by young women in Kolda. Education often comes second to making ends meet, particularly for girls who must care for siblings, fetch water and cook. Little information on reproductive health also means the number of teenage pregnancies and early marriages is particularly high, leading to further school dropouts.
“Because of their gender and young age, girls in Kolda are more susceptible to fall victim to violence, female genital mutilation and early pregnancy,” says Cheikh Tidiane Samb, regional nutrition and public health co-ordinator at Nutrition International. “It is critical to strengthen girls’ leadership to enable them to defend their interests and needs at the community level. In short, to be recognized.”
The clubs have helped girls achieve this aim by teaching them topics such as sex education and encouraging them to stay in school. As a result, Amy and her friends are a new, confident breed of young women better equipped to serve their communities. Club members spread the message to their friends at school and the young girls they mentor.
“School is important for girls; it can help them get good jobs and the means to look after their families,” Amy says.
The volunteer activities supported by PINKK, a collaboration between Nutrition International, World Vision Senegal, World Vision Canada, Développement international Desjardins, the government of Canada and the government of Senegal’s Cellule de Lutte contre la Malnutrition, have given young women the expertise and confidence to take on community leadership roles. Strong ownership of health and nutrition activities is a key part of PINKK’s sustainability strategy, ensuring people have the resources required to implement and innovate beyond these valuable advances in the future.
Nutrition International places women and girls at the heart of its work because the heaviest burden of malnutrition is borne by women and girls — particularly teens. Despite the fact that in many countries women plant the food, work the fields, harvest the crops and cook the meals, they often eat last and least. As a result, more than one billion women and girls around the globe are malnourished.
That is why Nutrition International has made adolescent nutrition a priority. Adolescent girls have been overlooked for targeted nutrition interventions, despite adolescence being the fastest development period after infancy. Considered a second window of opportunity for catch-up growth, height, muscle and bone mass increase and every system and organ in the body matures. Yet of the 600 million adolescent girls living in low-income countries, an estimated 30 per cent are anemic.
Malnutrition negatively impacts not only a girl’s physical and mental development, but also her ability to fully participate in life. Anemia results in low energy levels, making it hard to concentrate in class or make it to school at all. This may keep a girl from graduating and prevent her from obtaining a better job and a higher income. If she eventually chooses to become a mother, she faces increased risk of complications for herself and her baby. Anemia jeopardizes her dreams.
Nutrition International is an Ottawa-based global nutrition organization that delivers high-impact, low-cost nutrition interventions, global, national and community advocacy, technical assistance and knowledge generation. It works on the ground with trusted implementers, local governments and innovative partners to ensure girls have the nutrition they need to thrive. Through a combination of weekly iron and folic acid supplements, nutrition education so girls understand the impact of nutrition on their own lives and government advocacy to help create policies that prioritize nutrition, we help ensure girls such as Amy have the tools they need to build the life they want.

Margaux Stastny is director of advocacy and communications for Nutrition International. See for more.

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Margaux Stastny is director of advocacy and communications for Nutrition International. See for more.

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