1 December was a special day at the DREAM centre of Balaka in Malawi.
It was decided to celebrate World AIDS Day with a party for all the children followed by the programme and also with a training session for their mothers and grandmothers. This consisted of a health education lesson on nutrition, held by nurses and doctors of the centre.
The idea to have a day dedicated to children came to the DREAM workers after the death of Mary and Felix, aged 10 years and 18 months respectively. Alas, these two came to the centre too late, when malnutrition and disease had already compromised their state of health beyond repair.
For a while, the staff members have also felt the need to take time to talk to the children’s carers, to help many small nuclear families feed their patients in a more suitable and appropriate way, because these children – precisely due to the disease they suffer from – require even more attention paid to their eating habits than their healthy age peers.
Often, in fact, the children come to the centre in very poor health and nutritional conditions. Mothers and grandmothers have gradually become much more aware that the food supplements they have been receiving since the centre opened, for the children and for their families, are extremely important. But it was not felt to be sufficient. Something more was called for, that is, to tackle the theme of feeding in more depth with the women, starting from the problem of breastfeeding and the preparation of the children’s first meals, with detailed explanations about the value of different foods and with practical demonstrations.
So the DREAM campaigners took care to deliver, in good time, a written invitation to attend a nutritional education lesson to all mothers and grandmothers who come to the centre. Printed on the invitation card was the name of each child on treatment. Those people, who did not turn up at the centre on the days when the invitations were issued, were reached at home.
The date was 8am on 1 December, but at 7am, some women were already waiting outside the centre, their invitations in hand. Many came from far away; some had to undertake a long walk to arrive.
Around 80 women, mothers and grandmothers, attend the nutritional education lesson at Balaka. The women participated actively, asking many questions and revealing their interest in the topic. After the explanations and the preparation of food, the children were able to taste the meals, and their mothers received a bar of soap as a gift, seeing that the lesson also touched upon hygiene matters.
The day ended with a prayer for the infected children. A procession took place from the centre towards the neighbouring chapel of the Montfort Fathers, where they met their friends of the Community of Sant’Egidio of Balaka. At the entrance, each put in a basket a card with the names of those dear to them who they wished to remember especially. The church was packed, not only with adults but with children too, and all took part in the emotional celebration.