I was born in the rural town of Nyamandlovu in Zimbabwe, but have spent most of my life in Bulawayo. I remember vividly visiting my grandparents who lived in rural areas every other school holiday, witnessing as well as experiencing the various consequences of poverty and under-development. When I look back now, I am amazed by the coping strategies that the community employed to overcome their challenges. It is the memories of these visits that have shaped the way I view development work in general and public health nutrition specifically.
Both my maternal and paternal grandmothers, despite having no formal education, were well aware of the importance of good nutrition for children. Their concept of a balanced diet was as good as a college educated dietitian could ever prescribe from the available foods. A slice or two of bread with our tea in the morning, and a couple of cups of cow or goat milk afterwards. Mid morning, snacks of fruit from the garden or the wild, then our vegetables at lunch time, and the long-awaited pieces of meat only after finishing what was available for dinner. Washing our hands before and after meals was insisted upon, and an early afternoon as well as evening bath was a must. All this was before the era of development work and health and nutrition education.
Blessed with all these wonderful memories I sometimes wonder, what assumptions do we or should we make when seeking to address the problems of those in need? Are we really addressing the right problems? Do we professionals really know better about the solutions to these problems than ordinary people do? What should be our role? Experts, or facilitators?