Thursday, 28 July 2016

Masterchef - Zambian Style

I asked my sister, Rhi, to tell you about one of the recent training sessions she led for our Arise guardians.

One of the things I love about being out here is working with the Arise guardians. As Arise has a strong education focus, initially I wasn’t sure that my healthcare background would be relevant and fit with the vision. However I soon discovered that not only is the standard of academic education poor in the local area but so is the level of health awareness. This has meant that I have had the privilege of teaching our Arise guardians how to look after their own health and the health of the children they care for.

One of our guardians with some of the children she cares for

One of the ways I have been able to do this is by educating them on healthier ways to prepare food and what foods are good for us. A typical attribute of cooking in the Zambian culture is overcooking vegetables to ensure that worms, eggs and germs are destroyed. Unfortunately this also means that the nutritional value of the vegetables they eat is significantly reduced, especially as they add a large amount of oil to everything they cook. Washing vegetables with only water as we do in the UK would not be particularly beneficial due to the cleanness of the water available in the local community. Therefore, the first lesson in their ‘healthy food’ session was how to safely and thoroughly wash their vegetables by soaking them in a large bowl of water with a small amount of bleach/chlorine. By soaking the vegetables for ten minutes the unwanted parasites are killed but the nutritional content remains.

Learning a new way to wash vegetables

In Zambia knowledge is power. This means that it is not freely shared and many people are left without knowing basic information about how to stay healthy, and so end up relying on old wives’ tales and traditions passed through the generations. Groups like the 7 Day Adventists who choose to live vegan lifestyles end up teaching people that meat and meat products are bad for them, and without any alternative education this begins to become a widely believed ‘fact’. I was so impressed with the enthusiasm of our lovely guardians to understand how to look after their health and why they should do this. One of them even brought a notebook and our volunteers helped her to write notes!

Choosing their vegetables

The next lesson was to understand how using so much oil affects our body and leads to common heart problems such as high blood pressure. Other useful information that we discussed included what common foods are good for us and why eating the right food prepared in the right way is so important. 

Understanding the importance of preparing food in the right way

As all of the guardians had arranged to bring their own braziers and pots, the big highlight of the morning was a competition for who could prepare and cook the vegetables provided in the healthiest and tastiest way. Our two Zambian Arise volunteers and our school cook were asked to be judges and enjoyed sampling all of the vegetables and passing on their feedback. They wrote down their comments and decided on a winner. One of the entertaining factors of the morning for us was how direct the judges were in their feedback. Comments such as “overcooked”, “too much oil” and “too much salt” were freely shared and I found the absence of British manners hilarious!

Practising cooking vegetables with less oil

Presenting food to the tough judges

After the winner was declared and they received a bar of chocolate from the UK for their prize (not quite in keeping with the healthy ethos!) the guardians showed me how to cook their staple Zambian food nshima. They offered for me to try stirring it and I was amazed at how difficult it was and how strong they must be! Needless to say they found my lack of natural ability very amusing. 

Making the nshima

Perhaps the biggest challenge of teaching our guardians about what foods are good for us is the limited types of food that are affordable to them. Meat and other animal products are vital to a healthy diet here, however with limited financial resources these are the first foods to be withdrawn from a meal. As a team we are looking at ways we can support our guardians to include protein in their diet, however the price of these foods is significantly higher than vegetables, rice and mealie meal (to make nshima). One of the other challenges in trying to teach Zambians about healthy food is the difference in what food we are used to cooking and eating. Eggs are the most nutritious food available here, but boiling them is the only method used. I demonstrated how to make scrambled egg, which is an ideal nutritious food for children and those who are sick and struggle to chew.

The morning was a success, with guardians commenting on how much they enjoyed learning about healthy foods and putting this into practice. They were keen to go home to try out what they had learned and will return in two weeks for another go at the cooking contest and to learn more about what foods will help with some of the common health conditions faced in Zambia. The session ended with a chance for all the guardians and a few of the school children to enjoy the fruits of their labour and eat a balanced meal of nshima, eggs and vegetables. It was a wonderful morning with excellent company and a delicious lunch!

Enjoying a tasty lunch

No comments:

Post a Comment