In photos: Unlocking potential for adolescent girls in Senegal
In this photo essay, learn how Nutrition International is supporting the Government of Senegal to prevent anaemia and empower adolescent girls with the nutrition required to unlock their full potential and improve their wellbeing.
Posted on October 6, 2023
Join us on a journey to a school yard in Senegal, where a partnership between Nutrition International, the National Council for Nutrition Development (CNDN) and the Ministry of Education (MoE) is supporting adolescent girls to reach their potential through the weekly iron and folic acid supplementation (WIFAS) program. The initiative, aimed at reducing anaemia, spans nine regions and targets 77% of the nation’s adolescent girls. Nestled on the rural periphery of the Saint-Louis department, Cem Gandon school serves as a prime example of how participating communities are already seeing its benefits. Follow along, in photos, as we walk through a school day with two high-school students at the centre of this program.
Meet Adia Khady, a grade nine student at Cem Gandon school, located in historic northern Senegal. Firm in her conviction that the future belongs to women and girls, Adia Khady dreams of becoming a trailblazing entrepreneur in the agricultural sector fueled by the understanding that good nutrition is her passport to success. “Girls have to be as successful as possible because in my opinion women can do everything a man can do these days. They are doctors, they are teachers,” she says.
This is Nagnima, a fellow student in grade 10 at Cem Gandon, who has aspirations of becoming a doctor in the future. Nagnima believes in the power of nutrition and eagerly encourages her peers to reap its benefits too. “I think [adolescents] must first take care of their nutrition and take a good look at what to eat to have good health because without health, you can’t fulfill your dreams. You can’t succeed. Health is the basis.”
Adolescent girls in Senegal confront a unique set of barriers to good nutrition. Malnutrition poses a persistent challenge, disproportionately impacting women, adolescent girls and children, who encounter significant limitations to accessing adequate diets to meet their increased nutritional needs, especially iron. Additionally, anaemia remains a public health concern, affecting nearly six out of ten girls in the country. Anaemia carries long-lasting consequences for adolescent girls, including decreased potential school performance, productivity and participation, as well as adverse maternal and infant outcomes for those adolescents who become pregnant.
Once a week, Adia Khady and Nagnima consume a tablet containing 60mg of elemental iron and 0.4mg of folic acid as part of their school’s WIFAS program. When taken once per week, WIFAS reduce the risk of anaemia, which can boost adolescents’ potential for academic performance, improve capacity for physical activity and support improved overall wellbeing.
Since beginning their WIFAS journey in the sixth grade, both girls have experienced the undeniable benefits the supplements have had as they navigated the challenges and increased nutritional requirements of adolescent growth and development, including menstruation. “I think [WIFAS is] a very good thing to strengthen the nutrition of students,” Nagnima shares. “I have self-confidence and I also don’t resist physical activities.”
Holistic adolescent nutrition includes more than just supplementation. At Cem Gandon, both male and female students also receive nutrition education, covering topics like adolescent growth, the importance of a balanced diet, physical activity and menstrual health. “It allowed me to know what to eat, to understand which foods are healthy or not. It gave me confidence,” Adia Khady reflects. Equipped with this knowledge, Adia Khady, Nagnima and their peers are empowered with a deeper understanding of their growth, development and potential to benefit from improved nutrition.
Nutrition International provides technical and financial assistance to the Government of Senegal, through the MoE and the CNDN, to deliver a package of gender-responsive adolescent nutrition services at schools. Our approach is built on three pillars: integrating adolescent nutrition into national strategies and plans through advocacy and capacity building, ensuring the supply of WIFAS in nine regions of Senegal and igniting demand for WIFAS by collaborating with the Ministry of Health and Social Action to raise attention on the importance of reducing anaemia in adolescents.
Additionally, Nutrition International led the formation of a technical working group, comprised of key stakeholders from the MoE, Ministry of Health, UNICEF, the World Health Organization and UNFPA. Collaboratively the group developed and distributed frameworks and guidelines to facilitate the implementation of the WIFAS initiative for adolescents, build the capacity of teachers and health workers to deliver and implement the program, and to sensitize adolescents and parents on the program to ensure its success.
Ndeye Fatma Diop is the recently retired principal of Cem Gandon who has a lot of gratitude for Nutrition International’s timely support. “Before the program, there were a lot of dropouts in the classes, especially girls. There were also many students who slept in class,” she explains. “With the program, we understood that anaemia caused this drowsiness.” Diop and her fellow teachers received training on anaemia prevention and WIFAS reporting, enabling them to not only educate students, but also track supplement distribution. The program is now paying dividends. “It helps the students concentrate better in class. It will influence their school results and will be beneficial to their future life.”
Initially, some students and their parents had reservations about taking the weekly iron and folic acid supplements – misinformation and the shadow of COVID-19 had clouded perceptions of anything medicinal. Prior to the pandemic there was already stigma around health services for adolescents related to sexual reproductive health. Through collaboration and sensitization, communities, parents, teachers, the school administration and the students themselves were able to discuss concerns and pave the way for the program’s success. “Today we are in nine regions. With the support of Nutrition International, we can reach all regions of Senegal,” said Dr. Aliou Sow, Head of School Medical Control Division at the Ministry of Education.
Schools serve as an ideal partnership for implementing WIFAS and other adolescent nutrition programs due to their ability to reach a large population of students. Additionally, the school environment facilitates peer influence and education – both key catalysts for driving positive change. “The school [platform] is simply a way to communicate with the whole community,” explains Mégueye Guéye, Education and Training Inspector Head of District Saint-Louis Department. “What is done at school, inevitably will be duplicated at the family level. From the family, we come out to the neighborhood level.”
While the Government of Senegal has long championed health in schools, the partnership with Nutrition International paints a brighter future, one student at a time. “An adolescent who is supplemented with iron and folic acid, who succeeds in filling in what is lacking on the nutritional level manages to be in good health. They therefore succeed in following their studies and do not lose days of work,” Guéye elaborates. “The impact can only be positive compared to someone else who is not supplemented and who falls ill very often.”
As Nagnima shares: “If I have good nutrition, as a result I will have good health and I will be mentally and physically ready to achieve my dreams I feel more confident to accomplish my goals.”
Nutrition International works to deliver proven nutrition interventions, provide nutrition education and integrate nutrition into new platforms to improve the wellbeing of adolescents, particularly girls to reduce the gender inequities in nutrition.
Learn more about our work to improve nutrition for adolescent girls in Africa and Asia.