How the U.S. supports children in Zambia

Zambian mother holding baby (Dadjie Saintus/UNICEF USA)
A Zambian mother turned trained community volunteer takes a break from providing nutrition tips to other mothers at a health post in rural Zambia, where UNICEF works alongside local partners to provide services to families in need. (Dadjie Saintus/UNICEF USA)

A nation can ensure future success by making sure its children get adequate food, health care and nutrition.

In Zambia, the United Nations and U.S. agencies partner with local groups to help children achieve their full potential.

“Children and adolescents in Zambia face diverse challenges,” wrote Dadjie Saintus, deputy director of philanthropy for UNICEF USA, after a recent visit to rural Zambia. That’s why UNICEF USA takes an integrated approach, Saintus said, “working in communities with local partners to provide the support and protection they need to thrive.”

Ensuring food security

Zambia’s population is young: 48% of its citizens are under 14, according to Saintus. In rural areas, over 80% of children live in poverty, Saintus said. Making sure young people have enough to eat is critical.

UNICEF provides children suffering from malnutrition with ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF), a special peanut-based paste high in nutrients that does not require refrigeration or mixing with water. The product can restore the health of a malnourished child.

“It was heartening to see the progression, the dramatic difference that explains why RUTF has often been called a miracle food,” Saintus said.

Long line of Zambian mothers and children waiting to speak to women seated at desk outdoors (Dadjie Saintus/UNICEF USA)
Mothers bring children to a health post in rural Zambia during a UNICEF-supported community event. Services include birth registrations, routine child immunizations and nutrition screenings. (Dadjie Saintus/UNICEF USA)

UNICEF and U.S. partners also help provide rural health centers where children can obtain birth registrations, vaccinations and nutrition screenings. Staff members give demonstrations on cooking a nutritious meal.

Zambia also is a “target country” in which the U.S. takes a coordinated approach to address the root causes of poverty, hunger and malnutrition through Feed the Future. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) leads that interagency initiative.

Improving literacy

Food is essential for early development, but children also need a healthy learning environment to help them succeed. Other U.S.-backed initiatives that support Zambia’s youth focus on education.

Zambian students sitting and standing in circle in classroom (Dadjie Saintus/UNICEF USA)
Students participate in a group activity during a UNICEF-supported catch-up class at the Bimbe School in the Chongwe district of Lusaka province, Zambia. (Dadjie Saintus/UNICEF USA)

Among these initiatives:

  • A UNICEF catch-up program works with children who are behind in their classroom studies. Literacy rates among the young increased from 37% to 52%.
  • USAID’s Let’s Read project helps 1.4 million children from kindergarten through third grade improve their reading skills.
  • Power of Love Foundation in California works to manage HIV among adolescents in Zambia by educating families about the importance of taking medication. The organization provides vocational training to people who are living with HIV so they can begin a career.

Nzovwa Sakala, a mother of six, joined a USAID-backed parenting support group when her youngest was 5 months old. She learned how to make nutritious meals. She also learned how important the act of simply playing with her children is in their development.

“To encourage my child to walk, I play with her with a ball. I toss the ball in front of her, [and] as she tries to pick up the ball, she is learning to walk,” Sakala said.