Dr Russell Stephenson in the Western District taking a break from his vital malnutrition education volunteer work.
Dr Russell Stephenson in the Western District taking a break from his vital malnutrition education volunteer work.

PNG nutrition project for retired horticulturist

AT THE midway point of the Rotary-backed Alleviation of Malnutrition project in Papua New Guinea, volunteer project leader Russell Stephenson is seeing valuable changes in the communities he is working with.

The 75-year-old retired horticulturist and Rotary Club of Nambour member, devised an awareness program as a result of several visits revealing a state of dire malnutrition throughout PNG.

Working under the umbrella of Rotary's Food Plant Solutions project which promotes the cultivation of traditional plants, Dr Stephenson is trying to get the message out to remote communities in the Western Provinces that people, particularly babies, need a range of nutrients to grow properly.

"Almost 45 per cent of the young children are stunted and about 15 per cent wasted," he said.

"It's caused by inadequate diet; it's very simple."

 

Graduates of the Train the Trainer program.
Graduates of the Train the Trainer program.

 

He has taken the theory behind Food Plant Solutions, consulted colleagues in PNG and adapted it to work in the field.

For 18 months Dr Stephenson has flown into isolated communities of the North Fly District where some of the poorest people in the world live on an average income of $10 a year.

Hehas based himself at the Evangelical Church's Mougulu Mission, but often happily stays in surrounding villages.

"It's not a dangerous place which can't be said for a lot of the rest of PNG," he said.

"There are no government services there, no shops, no police, nothing."

But there are about 35,000 people living in the district he is trying to reach.

with the help of interpreters. Dr Stephenson initially ran a two-week Train the Trainer program covering nutrition, health and hygiene, family planning and breastfeeding. The focus was on babies and young children growing strong, healthy and smart.

"We called for volunteers and I expected we would get about 25 or 30 and mostly women," he said.

"I got 60 and the majority were young men.

"We spent a week going over the theory that I wanted them to teach in their villages and then another week practising preparing and teaching a lesson. I also prepared a manual for them to work from."

Dr Stephenson got them to focus on the use of local foods, since imported food was not sustainable and far too expensive.

"They have to make the most of what they have already got," he said.

After that course, 15 teams of instructors went out to the villages where they taught 41 courses to 8600 villagers which represented over 2000 families or nearly half the families in the district.

"I was pretty pleased with that," Dr Stephenson said.

 

Dr Stephenson with villagers receiving malnutrition alleviation education.
Dr Stephenson with villagers receiving malnutrition alleviation education.

 

Since then he has delivered nutrition workshops to villages, set up demonstration food gardens and planted crops.

"The main nutritional problem there is lack of energy as their main food, cooking banana, is a very weak energy food. They are pretty tasteless to my palate, but they love it," he said

"They also eat lots and lots of green leaves from the bush which are particularly nutritious. But there is no protein in their diet," he added.

"There is no meat in the diet even though there are pigs running around everywhere. The problem is those pigs signify wealth and celebration."

Dr Stephenson is teaching the communities about eating high-energy corn and coconuts, along with nuts.

Last December Dr Stephenson ran a practical food preparation workshop for the women's fellowship to help them drive improving the diet of their young children which often start their life chewing on hard, dry cooking banana.

The three-year project, with month-long visits each quarter, will have Dr Stephenson head back this month.


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