Talking to Kenyan women about food

by Julia Heckbert

Hi Everyone!

This week our nutrition team had to modify our schedule to accommodate the midterm break for the primary schools. As a result, we had a week packed full of home visits with women from the Destiny women’s group. After completing 37 interviews, the houses start to look the same with the same furniture and the same farms. However, we had the opportunity to switch it up this week and assist Julie with her new Masters project.

In order to assess the needs of the community, we arranged to meet with five members of the Destiny women’s group who have children of school-going age. The purpose of this particular meeting was to obtain feedback and opinions of a food frequency questionnaire to be used for class 6 students next year. While Julie presented the questionnaire to the women, myself and Haley took notes in order to keep track of all the ideas presented.

Blog picture 1

Julie engaged in conversation with the women while Haley takes notes

While tracking the discussion, it was difficult at times to stay focused. One of the adorable children in the room decided my shoe would make a great toy. He began putting the shoe on his foot and attempting to walk around the room. While his mother tried to stop him, I kindly let her know that it was okay and we all laughed. This small entertainment kept the mood light and conversational.

Blog Picture 2Little boy wearing my shoe

Throughout the session, the women were very engaged and provided insight into the traditions of children cooking in the home. We learned that after the age of 12, boys are no longer found in the kitchen and it is the girls who typically learn to cook. We also realized that some of the foods on the list were viewed with a negative perspective. For example, since pumpkin is fed to babies and cows, older children claimed to dislike the food. This reminded me of apple sauce in Canada and its association with baby food. Learning this information helps us to consider food taboos and traditions that aid in tailoring the questionnaire to their community.

In order to obtain various perspectives we also interviewed six more women from Kambabu women’s group.

Blog picture 3Julie presenting information to the second group of women

While sitting on a wooden bench (that was not very stable), we again presented the questionnaire and asked the women to think of the questions from the perspective of a class 6 student. Although this was a different group of women, we found similarities between the answers. Even though they lived in different areas, the traditions and gender roles were the same. Women and girls are still expected to cook and boys and men are still expected to eat more.

One unique topic that was brought to our attention was the concern that students would lie about their intake. The consumption of meat is representative of a higher socioeconomic class, so students may overstate their consumption in order to appear more well off. We assured the women that the children’s answers would be confidential and written down as opposed to discussed in order to maintain anonymity. This seemed to lessen their concern and we hope that with a thorough explanation to the students, this will not occur.

We have been lucky thus far to meet such lovely women that are willing to share their ideas. No matter where we go, we are met with gracious people who thank us for our efforts even though they are the ones who need thanking. We have learned to say thank you in both Kimeru (the local language) and Kiswahili and we use both constantly to make sure they know our appreciation.

This week we gained insight into the reasons behind food choice and what is expected of class 6 children. I realize that back home in Canada, most children do not have to cook at such a young age and are given less responsibility. The 11 and 12 year old students here seem very independent and capable of not only helping out in the kitchen, but also assisting with younger children. When their assistance is needed, children in Kenya may have to grow up faster in order to contribute to the family.

After talking to the women this week, I am interested to see whether the class 6 students will come up with the same feedback next week. Comparing the perspectives of children and parents should enable us to thoroughly assess the needs of the community and also become more aware of their beliefs regarding nutrition. Discovering Kenyan foods and food practices has been very educational thus far, but I think we still have a lot more to learn!

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