“As someone with the passion to change lives in Africa, I count myself lucky to have studied under the prestigious Australia Awards – Africa Fellowship. This Award came at a time when my organisation needed to increase its operational scope to reach out to many more beneficiaries. The Small Grants Scheme gave me the opportunity to stand tall in the achievements of the organisation, enabling it to touch thousands of lives within a year,” says Australia Awards Alumnus Abongha Maurice Chiabi.
Abongha is making significant contributions to a pressing development issue in his home country of Cameroon: the fight against malnutrition among children. He is one, among others, who is channelling efforts through non-government organisation (NGO) initiatives and achieving impressive results.
The statistics show that, in Cameroon, 33% of children under the age of five suffer from malnutrition, and 14% suffer from extreme malnutrition (thinkafricapress.com article of 31 July 2013 on Malnutrition in Cameroon). According to data from the World Bank, the effects of malnutrition on the growth of these children are heavy.
It is against this background that Abongha, from the NGO Humanitarian Action Cameroon, led the Micronutrients for Better Health project, which aims at alleviating micronutrient deficiency among children under five years of age. Abongha completed an Africa Fellowship in Organisational and Employee Development in 2012 at the University of Queensland and in 2013 received an Australia Awards Small Grant to assist in implementing the project, which started with community sensitisation in 2012.
But development does not occur in a silo. Applying the skills and knowledge gained on-Award, Abongha led a consultation process with staff and volunteers that allowed him to develop the concept of the Micronutrients for Better Health project. He was also the key person in securing a strategic partnership with the USA-based Vitamins Angels for the donation of micronutrients, while the Small Grant funded the training of the distribution team, the acquisition of materials and community sensitisation.
The project achieved outstanding results. It complemented government efforts towards reducing micronutrient deficiency among children under the age of five by distributing micronutrients to 10,470 children in seven communities in Cameroon, exceeding the original project target by 470. Distribution targeted schools, health units and communities.
Furthermore, in the process, the project built capacity for subsequent delivery and sensitised communities about the issue. Understanding the need for partners at the local level, administration of the micronutrients was done by field workers in partnership with personnel from the District Medical Offices in the target areas and 16 community-based volunteers. It also reached out to women’s groups. Seventy groups of women were sensitised, which assisted in improving the number of families allowing their children to receive the micronutrients.
The success of the first distribution phase fuelled efforts to implement the project’s second phase, which was scheduled to be rolled out in the second half of 2014.
Through the Small Grants Scheme, the Australian Government provides funding for initiatives led by Alumni with a clear development benefit. The Grant Scheme has funded 23 projects across Africa since 2012 to a total value of about AUD150,000 by June 2014.