This blog was co-written by Restless Development’s Bob Lamin, Communications Officer and Samuel Jigba, Saving Lives Programme Coordinator, about the events that Restless Development held as a part of World Breastfeeding Week.
Every year since 1990, the world observes World Breastfeeding Week (WBW) from the 1st to the 7th of August. The aim is to promote breastfeeding as a way to improve the health of babies around the world. The week is a time to actively promote, protect and support breastfeeding with each year’s theme. The theme for this year was “Empower Parents, Enable Breastfeeding, Now and for the Future”, which is a continuation of 2018 when we marked the inclusion of aligning breastfeeding with the Global Goals. This theme stresses the importance of empowering parents to enable and sustain breastfeeding. It aimed to promote nutrition, accountability, food security, poverty reduction and governance. The theme further calls for actions to protect breastfeeding for the common good of both the mother and child, as it contributes towards meeting most of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
This year, the government’s Ministry of Health and Sanitation (MoHS) through its District Health Management Teams and their partners, including Restless Development, celebrated World Breastfeeding Week together by co-hosting events in cities and District Headquarter towns.
World Breastfeeding Week was celebrated at Restless Development by our Saving Lives project – a project that aims to save the lives of women and children by improving the quality, availability and accessibility of reproductive, maternal, newborn and children’s health services. Saving Lives is funded by UK Aid through the UK government’s Department for International Development (DFID), and is being delivered by a group of eight organisations. At Restless Development, we are using our youth-led model to create demand for family planning services in over 1,000 communities across Sierra Leone. There are 180 young volunteers leading the programme, who we call “Community Mobilisers”, who work in pairs of community and national volunteers. Each pair of volunteers has one ‘hub community’ where they live, and many other ‘satellite communities’ where they also do activities. World Breastfeeding Week is a crucial moment in the year for the programme, since breastfeeding provides newborn babies with all the necessary nutrients, and helps protect them against diseases.
It is against this background that Restless Development collaborated with the ministry, civil society, local and international NGOs to celebrate the week. Restless Development used the celebrations to strengthen our relationships with the DHMTs to raise awareness on the importance of breastfeeding. This is especially crucial at community level, where despite the many efforts made by the government and its development partners to promote exclusive breastfeeding, very few newborn babies are breastfed within the first 24 hours of birth (which is vital for the baby’s health). Most mothers in the communities we’re working in still prefer to give water and other fluids to their babies, which often contributes to newborns getting sick.
We celebrated World Breastfeeding Week with 90 events in many ‘hub communities’. For people who couldn’t make it to the events, the volunteers also held community meetings, and walked around villages to meet with people in their households to discuss breastfeeding. Throughout the week, the volunteers met with community stakeholders, health facility staff, lactating mothers, pregnant women, caregivers of under-fives, women of childbearing age, husbands, community health workers and mother’s support groups.
The Field Officers supported the young volunteers to work together with local authorities and other key people like the Community Health Officers, Chiefs, Religious Leaders, women’s support groups, and other NGOs prior to World Breastfeeding Week to organise the events.
In all the 90 communities where the events were held, they were chaired by either the Community Health Officers or other health facility staff in order to support us to send out strong messages on the importance of breastfeeding for both the mother and the child. One Nutritionist and one Social Mobilisation Officer from the DHMTs joined Restless Development staff in the meetings to encourage people to practice exclusive breastfeeding, and also to dismiss myths.
The events started with statements by stakeholders, and then dramas and skits were performed with key breastfeeding messages, and practical breastfeeding sessions were led by District Nutritionists. All of the events ended with a quiz competition amongst pregnant women, lactating mothers, and women of childbearing age, with an award to the best-breastfeeding mother who was identified by the Community Health Officer in that community.
During the questions and answers sessions, we realised that the celebration had helped increase community awareness on their roles and responsibilities in promoting breastfeeding for children up to two years old, which improves child survival, growth, and development.
In most of the communities, action plans were made which said that all mothers in their communities should exclusively breastfeed their children and also talk to their peers about the importance of early and exclusive breastfeeding.
Through these events, we learnt that working with the DHMTs and especially the in-charges of the Peripheral Health Units (PHUs) in the communities, contributed to the success of the celebration.