Supporting Mothers and Children in Liberia through the HELINA Project

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Ayele D'Almeida, in Monrovia, Liberia, was just 16 years old when she lost her mother to illness. As the eldest of three children, she had to become the breadwinner of her family at a very young age. Around this time, she also became pregnant. With limited support and no options for work, Ayele was barely able to meet her family’s daily needs. “I struggled to provide proper nutrition for my child. I sold donuts for people before I could get food for my child,” she says. Her newborn’s health declined and he began to experience developmental delays.

Liberian woman holding hairdresser's kit

Ayele receives a startup kit providing tools to establish her hairdressing business. She received training through the Healthy Living Through Integrated Nutrition Activities project implemented by CRS in Monrovia, Liberia. Photo by Boakai Koilor/CRS

Then Ayele found the Healthy Living Through Integrated Nutrition Activities project. Implemented by Catholic Relief Services with funding from the Latter-day Saint Charities, the HELINA project focuses on improving the nutrition of adolescent girls and young women in Monrovia who have children under age 2.

Through HELINA, CRS provided Ayele with the support she needs to improve her and her family’s emotional and physical well-being. Ayele participated in our nutrition curriculum, which includes infant and young-child feeding, and water, sanitation and hygiene best-practices. She received home visits from health promoters who were selected from the community and trained by the Liberian government’s Ministry of Health to provide personalized counseling to participants like Ayele. During home visits, they met with young mothers and discussed topics including exclusive breastfeeding, and complementary feeding and hygiene.

Ayele says she noticed a difference when she began applying what she learned from the community health promoters. “I started to observe that my son was not getting sick often again. And whenever I take him for growth monitoring at the Star of the Sea Clinic, the doctor usually tells me that he is growing well. I feel happy about my son’s health because once a child is sick, you cannot be at peace,” she says, adding, “The HELINA project changed my life.”

In addition to health and nutrition education, Ayele received vocational training and a start-up kit with tools to become a hairdresser. She has since been able to improve her family’s well-being. “The project not only taught me about good hygienic practices, but also provided me with the skills to earn a living,” she says. Today Ayele has plans to start her own hairdressing business.

“Now, I am confident in my ability to provide nutritious meals and give my child the best care in life. I am so grateful to CRS and the Latter-day Saint Charities who made this possible,” says Ayele.

Ayele’s story is just one example of the incredible impact that projects like this can have on the lives of thousands of young mothers in Liberia, who strive daily to provide nutritious meals for their children. With continued support, together we can ensure that more children have access to proper nutrition and that more mothers like Ayele provide for themselves and their families.