“Through this project I have taught many women with low – or no – literacy about cholera, diarrhea, natural breast feeding, pregnancy, and many aspects of maternal health. I feel like I’m having a positive impact in my society and that, if I die, my life had meaning.”
Navigating through cacti, thorns, and rainstorms on rugged roadways, Ola makes her way to the households of some of Yemen’s poorest people to help support women and children. Every day from 7 a.m. – 7 p.m. she treks from village to village to educate pregnant women and those with children under five on the importance of nutrition.
“Before I started this work, my life was at home, filled with chores and daily routines. This Cash for Nutrition programme has brought many positive changes to my life. I have greatly benefited from it and am able to help other people. Through this work I have been able to send both of my brothers to college.”
Ola is one of over 5,000 women health educators employed and trained in nutrition and hygiene for children and mothers. “I tell the mothers that with any amount of money you can have good nourishment and a diverse diet. I talk about kidney beans, bread, onions, and food supplements. To date, I have worked with nine pregnant women and 13 children who suffered from malnutrition; they have since fully recovered.”
Cash for Nutrition Programme
The spiking rate of malnutrition among children – in what’s already the world’s worst humanitarian crisis – reflects the full tenor of Yemen’s conflict. As of June 2020, twenty-five percent of Yemenis, including 2.1 million children and 1.2 million pregnant and lactating women, suffer from malnutrition.
Responding to this urgent and pervasive need, in 2015 the Social Fund for Development (SFD) began implementing a Cash for Nutrition programme that has since been incorporated into the Yemen Emergency Crisis Response Project (YECRP) – a United Nations Development Programme and World Bank partnership project. YECRP works with existing development institutions such as SFD to deliver short and long-term crisis response interventions.
Local women like Ola are employed as community health educators. Having at least a high school education, they receive basic training to provide monthly nutrition education sessions and to screen for malnutrition. Despite severe decreases in dietary diversity across Yemen due to the conflict, households that have participated in the programme have increased food purchases by at least 17 per cent and spent the majority of that money on non-staple foods with greater nutritional value, like vegetables, fruits, milk, and eggs. Through these efforts, over 175,000 pregnant and lactating women and nearly 176,000 children have received nutrition education and intervention.
Amnah is one of the mothers who worked with Ola after her son became sick, only 10 days after his father’s funeral. “Because I was overwhelmed with grief, I couldn't feed him anything but sorrow. My child was suffering with diarrhea and vomiting. After the vomiting and diarrhea stopped, he lost a lot of weight and had a weak immune system,” Amnah recalls.
Luckily, Ola was already well known within the community and Amnah had some familiarity with the signs of malnutrition. After reaching out to Amnah, Ola took immediate action. Ola visited Amnah at home, assessed her son, and conferred with SFD and her manager.
Amnah explains that “I received enough money to travel with my son to the Bait Al-Taibi health center. Later that day they gave him nourishment and medicine. He was better the next day; this programme saved my child's life.”
Research from the International Food Policy Research Institute indicates that cash transfer programmes providing homes with financial support to purchase food have succeeded in reducing conflict-driven, acute malnutrition in Yemen.
Since this health scare, Amnah regularly attends Ola’s classes on maternal nutrition and breast feeding, and now knows how to provide a better childhood for her sons and daughters. “I applied what I learned from [Ola] and gave him healthy food and fed him from my breast. I didn't think Ali would survive.”
Funded and supported by the United Nations Development Programme and the World Bank, the Yemen Emergency Crisis Response Project (YECRP) is implemented by the Social Fund for Development (SFD) and the Public Works Project (PWP). The US$400 million project provides economic stimuli in the form of cash-for-work projects, support to small businesses, and labor-intensive repairs of socio-economic assets, benefiting vulnerable local households and communities across Yemen.