At 7am in the kitchen of our Blantyre Infant Home, there is already a large pot of porridge boiling when the day starts.
Ida and Chimwemwe know their way around the kitchen perfectly. They’ve been working together for over ten years. Uniforms on, hands washed and the steaming porridge is dished out!
There are big bowls of the maize and soya porridge for the toddlers and small bowls for the babies over six months. Some of these are enriched with a peanut butter supplement or eggs for babies who need extra care. Too often, babies who arrive for care are malnourished, and need the extra protein and calories to help them recover.
The most important meal of the day
At 7:15 you can hear the ladies singing ‘Thank you Father, for the food, and so many blessings… Amen’ and then the toddlers might say ‘Yay!’ and clap their hands or bang the tables of their highchairs in anticipation.
While the porridge is being consumed in the dining room, it’s time to make up some fresh bottles of milk. These are stocked in a special fridge so they just need warming up on demand. Every ounce that a baby takes in is carefully recorded on their Feeding Chart.
Nutrition in a baby’s first two years has a massive impact for the rest of their life. Babies who come to us may have lacked proper nutrition during their very early development. We give them the nutrition they need as their brain and other organs develop. A seemingly small thing, which prominent scientists agree is the best investment in a country’s future because of the long-term benefits.
“Fighting malnutrition should be top priority for policy makers and philanthropists” ~ Copenhagen Consensus 2012
All round for lunch
There is a well-earned tea break for all the staff by 10:30. They like to sit together, listen to the radio, and we’ll often hear them laughing as they exchange stories. Then Ida and Chimwemwe carry on with the lunch preparations. Before lunch you will always hear the blender at work in the kitchen, smoothing the meal for the babies who are new to solids.
When the vegetable garden is in harvest, one of the favourite lunch dishes is pumpkin leaves with peanut flour and tomato. The pumpkin flowers make this even more delicious. The dish is called Mkwani. Other dishes on the menu could be rice with egg and vegetables or dried fish which is found in markets across Malawi.
Nsima is Malawi’s staple food. It’s made with maize flour, water and salt, and a meal is not complete without it for many Malawians. It takes a lot of stirring with a long wooden spoon until it gets really thick. When it’s time to eat, hands are the best way to squeeze the nsima into a little ball which can be dipped in a sauce of beans or vegetables.
More than just baby food
The children’s weekly menu reflects what they would eat with their families. It’s important to learn to eat independently, and you might be surprised to see the little ones who are able to feed themselves with either their hands or a plastic spoon at such an early age.
In addition to the children’s lunch, there is a meal to cook for the 30 staff on site who take care of the children, laundry and grounds. It takes a lot of work to care for all the carers and staff but is an important part of the day for everyone.
Lunch is followed by the afternoon snack with fruit, more milk bottles, and of course the evening porridge. Ida and Chimwemwe’s work doesn’t stop there either. They might prepare a special meal to send to a child and carer who are admitted to hospital. And they will also go to the market every week for the fresh produce. Cleaning is a huge job that many volunteers often help with and our ladies take pride in keeping everything tidy as they go along.
Finally finishing their day at 5pm, these two wonderful ladies have an important role to play at Open Arms. Making sure that the children get the food they need to grow and develop, preparing them well for life at home and providing fuel for the rest of the staff, Ida and Chimwemwe are an important part of the team.