A few years ago, Hapsatou Kah counted 50 cases of malnutrition in her small community of Sylla Diongto, in Northeastern Senegal. In the time since, the mother of four has been on a mission to help her community solve a problem that has challenged it for generations.

Now, “It’s nearly nonexistent,” she says.

HELPING HANDS: Hapsatou Kah, a community-based solution provider in Senegal, finishes nursing her newborn daughter, Ramatoli.

Nourishing the next generation

Children here have been small for their age, performed poorly in school and had their adult lives marked by these early-life deficiencies. These are hallmarks of malnutrition, which takes various forms. Stunting, or failure to grow, for instance, impacts 156 million children under age five worldwide. Nearly 20 percent of children under age five in Senegal are at risk.

That’s where Kah comes in. She’s one of 400 participants in a U.S. government-backed project that provides health and nutrition education, as well as trainings on nutrition-focused farming techniques to community members.

'“If you look at the children today, they don’t look the same ... They are more lively, physically active and alert.”'

Kah, a former housewife and now teacher-farmer-entrepreneur, eagerly joined in. “I wanted to help my community because it faced many difficulties,” she says. For example, many villagers weren’t growing enough nutritious crops that children need for a healthy start in life. Local kids were “always weaker than they should be,” she explains.

RUMBLING BELLIES: Community children eat a nutritious meal made from fortified sweet potato flour, provided by Hapsatou Kah as part of a program that improves nutrition in Senegal.

Marking progress

That’s changing, Kah says, as she teaches better farming and market methods, often by example. She provides fertilizer and seeds, ensures that livestock are properly vaccinated and produces and sells fortified flour, dried beans and meats. She grows vitamin A-rich sweet potatoes, and encourages others to do the same.

“A lack of vitamin A impedes a child’s ability to grow up healthy,” she explains. “Vitamin A also helps women stay healthy while pregnant and give birth to healthy babies.”

Kah, who also holds wellness classes for mothers and children, sees the progress herself. “If you look at the children today, they don’t look the same,” she says. “They are more lively, physically active and alert.

“Our next generation will be in much better health, because they will know better how they should eat,” she adds. “When you eat something that is clean, good and rich, you will have a good, healthy life.”