Food: The Heart of the Matter

It is estimated that 2.83 Million people in Malawi will experience acute food shortages during the 2015-16 lean season (Dec- March) this will also lead to nutrition insecurity, especially affecting children under 5. This information paints a rather grim picture of what to expect in the next few months, but then you come across people like Martin and Noel who show you that all is not lost.

Martin is a choreographer, linguistics major at Chancellor College andan art based activist. This 23 year old is part of the team that makes up ‘Kudya Koma Uku’ (loosely: This is the way to eat).

The project is focusing on promoting nutrition through art and theatre in Malawi.

Martin collaborated with Noel from the beginning to make this project successful. “It’s very important to pick the right people to work with, especially if they can understand and build upon the vision that you have”.

Noel (22), also a student at Chancellor College was pursuing a Bachelor of Education degree. He is very focused, driven and especially likes giving his time and energy to projects that involve helping others, “My entire life is devoted to helping. . . The needy, the sick and the helpless”. This is no surprise for us that he decided to dedicate some of his final year to this particular Students With Dreams project which is aimed at rural communities in which households live on less than $1 a day.

Kudya Koma Uku promoted nutrition through art and theatre in Malawi. Its main objectives were to engage communities on how to attain a balanced diet using locally available food resources. This was achieved through community inclusion, mobilizing people and at times actually designing a mock-market. During the mock-markets they would divide the foods in different food group categories. They would then ask participants to spend a fixed amount of money (in most case $1) and budget it well enough to purchase foods from all the necessary groups. These demonstrations were practical yet powerful.  Some of the interventions reached up to 50 households who, in turn, spread messages to other community members.

Contextually, Malawi is currently the poorest country in the world. What this means is that there will be high levels of hunger that comes with abject poverty. Some of the projects’ aims were to give pointers of alternative sources to the maize (corn) crop and rice; especially where cheaper alternative sources were just as nutritious (cassava and sweet potato). Martin and Noel also gave pointers on how to preserve foods for longer periods of time, food hygiene and the science that comes with preservation and budgeting so that each family could sustain themselves for a longer period of time.

The framework they used was a participatory one – The Theatre for Development Model is easily relatable in rural communities. This model engages the audience in the discussion through an inclusive process that looks beyond the ‘preaching’ to create a platform for the team to engage and learn from the locals as well. This empowers everyone and there is a sense of dynamic ownership.

Other activities involved in this project were workshop, seminars and interventions. The interventions employed drama, music and dance and poetry. Martin and Noel are Dreamers who always had the community in mind, this project was never for their personal gain, but to assist and inform communities which would not have likely had such up close and personal interaction on such an important issue.

“We have never studied Health professionally, but we always took it upon ourselves to attend nutrition workshops, and to speak to professionals in order to deliver this information as accurately as possible – and in the end we have improved ourselves far more and on many other levels than we had anticipated”.