Our nutrition, our future: hear young people speak out about malnutrition

Youth Leaders, Asia

Having never travelled to Asia before, I jumped at the opportunity to support the ‘Our Nutrition, Our Future’ project in Sylhet, Bangladesh.

The aim of the project is to raise awareness of the importance of adolescent nutrition among policy-makers, government ministers, programme designers and donors. We carried out five workshops, focussing on child participation with adolescents in Nigeria and Bangladesh, asking them, ‘What does malnutrition mean to you?’, ‘Why does it happen?’ and ‘What needs to change?’

Watch their answers – and their demands to world leaders –  in this film, ‘Our Nutrition, Our Future’.

An alternative method of reaching policy-makers, the film focuses on adolescents’ experience and understanding of malnutrition and their ideas on how to tackle it.

Strikingly, some children were extremely optimistic after hearing about world leaders’ commitment to End Malnutrition by 2030. Others not so much. That’s hardly surprising – Bangladesh has one of the highest rates of malnutrition in the world, with 7 million children chronically undernourished.

Sounds from Sylhet

After a noisy three-hour drive from the chaos and cacophony of Dhaka, Sylhet was much quieter.

But what I heard here was incredible.

What I heard, far from the sounds of car horns and the hustle and bustle of the capital, was adolescents’ voices’. What I heard was young people aged between 15 and 19 confidently voicing their opinions on malnutrition.

What I heard was young people setting out their ideas on how to tackle the intergenerational cycle of malnutrition – from nutrition education and food storage, to preventing child marriage, tackling poverty, addressing teenage pregnancy, providing better healthcare for children and mothers, and providing more support to people hit by disasters.  An impressive list of policy responses.

And what I learned is just how impactful and powerful child participatory research can be. Children are at the heart of everything we do. But if we’re serious about ensuring they get the support they need and are able to survive and thrive, we must listen to what they have to say. Like Ramji, age 16, who said:

“We need to stop child marriage. This will help reduce nutrition problems.”

And Aparna, 17, told us:

“We need dedicated mother and child services in our community hospitals.”

In the film, adolescents address their nutrition messages to their Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina.

Young people take centre stage

We’ll be screening Our Nutrition, Our Future when world leaders meet in Milan this Saturday (4 November) at the Global Nutrition Summit – to assess progress towards ending malnutrition and pledge new commitments. We’ll call on leaders to listen to what young people have to say about nutrition – and to act.

And next week,  we’re taking the film to the Scaling Up Nutrition Movement 2017 Global Gathering, where 700 participants from government, academia, civil society, the United Nations and the business community will come together to look at how we can take the fight against malnutrition to the next level.

The film Our Nutrition, Our Future eloquently demonstrates why the experiences, insights and energy of young people are critical to that fight.

So there you have it – a snapshot of my eye-opening experience hearing young people in Sylhet talk about tackling malnutrition, and a reminder of why children are the future. Literally.

Watch the full-length, 6-minute version of ‘Our Nutrition, Our Future’.