March 2014, Nyamagongo, Tanzania
Tabi Musselwhite, Oakland, CA
Food and nutrition educator/ Alternative education youth mentor
"When I first decided to volunteer with REACH Shirati (formerly AISCS) in Tanzania during the spring of 2014, I wasn’t sure how I could be most helpful. Dr. Laura Mason, the trip organizer, explained a project to makeover the hospital patient lunch program to be more nutrient dense. Nothing makes my ears perk up more than food projects.
Healthy living centered around nutritious food has been something I have been very interested in for over 10 years and have spent a lot of time studying. I am by no means a licensed nutritionist, but I was excited to help in the creative brainstorming process and experimental cooking.
"Upon arrival I paired up with Kelly, a social work intern working on health issues in Nyamagongo and already waist deep in the food project. Our goal was to come up with a more nutrient dense meal than the typical staples in the Tanzanian diet: white rice or Ugali (maize paste). Both of these are significantly lacking in calories, protein, fat, vitamins and minerals. Our requirements were that the meal should be nutritious, made with locally available ingredients, be simple to make, and fit into the modest program budget. The more cost effective the meal, the more patients we could feed.
"Sourcing local meat as the primary protein was pretty far out of the program budget. Therefore, we focused on finding a whole grain paired with beans or lentils to make a complete protein while adding avocados to introduce healthy fat. We explored the weekly Shirati open market to see what ingredients were comparable in price to the current menu. As you can imagine, almost everything was more expensive than rice. We were happy to find a few good options and decided on yellow split peas and millet, topped with avocado. A major factor in our decision-making process was to pick ingredients that were not obscure or far from the comfort level of the patients.
"Compared to white rice, millet has roughly three times the amount of calories, significantly more protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Yellow split peas pack a huge amount of protein and fiber, and avocado provides healthy fat and an abundance of vitamins and minerals such as potassium, vitamin K, vitamin E, fiber, and magnesium.
"A challenge we later ran into was to find out that the beautiful meaty avocados at the market were only used by locals for juicing! We were aware of the risk that unfamiliar combinations of ingredients could be less acceptable to the patients, and tried to keep it as familiar as possible. We also had to keep in mind that the addition of any oil, salt or spice would add to our cost. Therefore the few ingredients we picked had to taste good together without many additions.
"Kelly and I woke up early one morning to prepare this millet-split pea meal for Martha, the amazing lady who is the cornerstone of the hospital kitchen. She was incredibly welcoming and was interested in working with us to come up with a better meal. I thought of her as the sort of “gate keeper.” If she liked what we came up with, she would then present it to the patients and educate them about the health benefits of this new meal vs. the usual rice. When Kelly and I presented the meal to Martha, she and her team of four were hesitant at first but soon asked for seconds! There was relief and excitement in the air. Martha asked Kelly and I to come back in two days to teach her and her team to make the meal and help serve it at the hospital.
"The process was full of laughter and a lot of learning for Kelly and I as we really needed hand-holding to cook over open fire on the three-stone stove! We all worked together to make it happen. When we proudly brought the new meal to the maternity and pediatric wards, there was some confusion but mostly curiosity. As we presented the meal, it took some convincing for the patients to try it but the subtle flavors seemed to exceed the initial skeptical thoughts. The meal was a success!
"Unfortunately, my month in Shirati went by very fast. I had to leave a couple of days after the first new meal was served, but the memories I made in the hospital kitchen will last much longer. Cooking with the generous, warm and welcoming ladies at the Shirati hospital will forever warm my heart and bring a smile to my face, and hopefully fill some tummies with nutrients!"
Kate Brady and Steven Kahn, San Francisco, CA
"Cooking with the generous, warm and welcoming ladies at the Shirati hospital will forever warm my heart and bring a smile to my face"