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Above: MCSP nutrition volunteers sing during a cooking demonstration session. (Photo courtesy of Gino Regina/MCSP.)

Singing for Change in Mozambique this World Breastfeeding Week

Posted July 31, 2018

Exclusive breastfeeding is one of the simplest and most effective ways to ensure proper nutrition. Yet only 40% of the world’s infants less than six months of age are receiving this care.

In Mozambique, MCSP is using a novel approach to change this – reaching families with key breastfeeding messages through song.

Dancing and singing are deeply rooted in Mozambican culture. In preparation for World Breastfeeding Week, MCSP worked with community activists and volunteers in Nampula to transform key infant and young child feeding (IYCF) messages into songs:

After the child is born, we must give the mother’s milk
The first milk is a yellow-colored milk
The yellow milk is like a vaccine, it is like the first vaccine
translated from “Murerelo wa nipele na máma” (The Importance of Breast Milk)
We have to give the child breast milk until 6 months of age
Only after that can we give other foods
Mothers listen, listen, listen,
We have to breastfeed the child because breast milk contains all the nutrients
translated from “Omuamwiha muana nipeleru pahi” (Exclusive Breastfeeding)

These songs – on breastfeeding, handwashing, and prevention of malnutrition – were practiced by caregivers when they joined community education sessions, proving to be both educational and motivational. The community meetings, aimed at mothers and young children, feature cooking demonstrations and messages about nutrition and safe water, sanitation and hygiene practices.

MCSP-trained community activists and volunteers lead these meetings in 11 districts of Nampula, covering about 8,800 families. Since October 2016, MCSP has reached nearly 3 million children under five with its nutrition programs in Mozambique. Gatherings occur once a month for all families supported in a district; within communities, these meetings may occur as often as once a week.

“As I do my work – such as sweeping the patio, cooking, on the farm – I have been singing, remembering, and perceiving better the messages I have received in the songs than in lectures,” said Elisa Xavier, who participated in a group for mothers from the community of Cororone.

Elisa Xavier speaks with MCSP nutrition officers in her community.
Above: Elisa Xavier (seated) speaks with MCSP nutrition officers in her community. (Photo courtesy of Aurélio Fernando/MCSP.)

Seeing the powerful connection between the repetition of songs and social and behavior change, MCSP aimed to expand their reach further, collaborating with another USAID-funded project – the Mozambique Media Strengthening Program (MSP) – and the Radio of Monapo to record the songs in Emakwa, Nampula’s dialect.

These recordings are now planned for wide dissemination and use by the Nampula Health Provincial Directorate and its partners in mobilization events, entertainment education activities (including radio programs), and trainings. As the country kicked off World Breastfeeding Week this year, for instance, the songs – tailored to Nampula province – were featured prominently during events in Nampula.

Mozambique’s Minister of Health, Dr. Nazira Abdula Valy,
Above: Mozambique’s Minister of Health, Dr. Nazira Abdula Valy, presided over the national launch event for World Breastfeeding Week. (Photo courtesy of Fernando Fidelis/MCSP.)

Mozambique’s Ministry of Health (MOH) has traditionally celebrated the holiday for a full month in August, with MCSP supporting related events throughout the country. This year was no different, with MCSP providing breastfeeding education materials for the national launch, and supporting other celebratory events – featuring contests, health fairs, and radio programs focused on breastfeeding – in Sofala and Nampula provinces.

Dr. Valy with mothers, health professionals, and implementation partners present at the national World Breastfeeding launch event
Above: Dr. Valy with mothers, health professionals, and implementation partners present at the national World Breastfeeding launch event. (Photo courtesy of Fernando Fidelis/MCSP.)

This year’s World Breastfeeding Week theme – “Foundation of Life” – captures succinctly why promoting breastfeeding is a key part of MCSP’s efforts to improve maternal, newborn and child health in Mozambique. Beyond providing all the nutrients an infant needs for the first six months of life, breastfeeding protects both child and mother against illness, and reduces health care costs for families and, ultimately, nations as long-term health of the population improves.

 cover of the compact disc of health education songs and talk
Above: The cover of the compact disc of health education songs and talks recorded by MCSP and MSP, in collaboration with the Radio of Monapo.

These songs are a new tool in our arsenal as we continue to support the MOH and Nampula and Sofala provincial health directorates to strengthen health workers’ capacity to promote adequate IYCF practices. Going forward, more than two dozen MCSP nutrition officers will begin using them widely during mobilization and education activities.

For guidance on how to address barriers to exclusive breastfeeding in health programs, click here. And to learn more about MCSP’s work globally on nutrition, click here.

Maternal and Child Survival Program