Abdu Haruna was familiar with the sounds of a baby crying. He’d survived the sleepless nights before when his three older children were babies. But this time was different. This time he was alone. His wife had died shortly after giving birth, leaving him struggling with grief and the care of a newborn.
“When I lost my wife, I believed that Athumani, who was only seven days old, was next,” he recalls. “I was left alone with my children and I did not know how to feed the baby. I suddenly had to play both roles of being a caretaker as well as a breadwinner, working in order to afford food and other basic needs. It wasn’t easy.”
Haruna lives in the village of Mwemage in Tanzania’s Missenyi district, an area where stunting — a result of chronic malnutrition — is a widespread challenge. During his first three months of life, Athumani’s weight nearly halved. He was already in great danger of suffering from the lifetime effects of stunting.
If he survived at all.
“I did not have enough knowledge about how to take care of this baby,” Haruna recalls. “It was a struggle; I was feeding him whatever I had on hand like banana juice, light porridge or mashed potatoes. He was always sickly and miserable, adding to the grief I was already experiencing of losing my wife.”
Help knocked on his door
One morning, a community health worker named Leonsia Amosi came to visit Abdu. She said she was from the ASTUTE project, funded by the UK’s Department for International Development. ASTUTE, which stands for Addressing Stunting in Tanzania Early, aimed to prevent stunting in more than 50,000 children under 5 years of age in Tanzania between 2015 and 2020.
Amosi’s mission was to register his household and conduct a follow up visit for Athumani, who was almost four months old. When Abdu showed her Athumani’s growth monitoring card, she quickly realized the infant’s weight was in danger. She told Abdu that Athumani could face serious consequences if he didn’t get appropriate help and support.
Then she offered a bright spot of hope: ASTUTE was looking for fathers just like him to participate in learning activities so they could keep their children healthy. He would not have to do this alone after all.
Engaging fathers to reduce childhood stunting
One of the ASTUTE project’s key components was to engage and equip fathers and other male caregivers to take an active role in their children’s health and development. This could include feeding and playing with children, talking to and naming objects to aid their child’s development and helping with household chores so their pregnant wives could rest, among others.
ASTUTE reached men through home visits from community health workers, support groups, a mass media campaign, village health and nutrition days and other community events and positive deviance/hearth sessions for rehabilitating malnourished children.
Sample ASTUTE video ad targeting male caregivers