In a small alleyway near the main market square in Diego town, three children play hide and seek. The boy has to count while the two girls lift their ankle-long dresses and run into hiding. The playful shrieks of the girls melt into the cooing and mooing of the animals around them. On the blow of a whistle, the game stops and all three of them start running inside a compound not bigger than 25 square metres. They enter and gather around their mother Abeba Gebrihanes who prepares breakfast on the open fire stove. On her arm is the youngest of her four children waiting impatiently for the porridge-like consistency bubbling in the aluminium pot.

“I started preparing complementary food in 2012, when there weren’t any women groups doing so. The health workers taught me how to mix different types of grains and pulses,” she says modestly. Every morning and evening during her four pregnancies, she used to eat the nutritious blend of teff, wheat and broad bean (vicia faba) herself. The family owns a small plot of land where Abeba’s husband grows the grains needed to prepare complementary food as well as barley. The baby starts crying and her husband takes over the cooking. “He is better at preparing complementary food than I am,” she says jokingly. As the producer of the ingredients, he takes a special interest in the processing of his agricultural output.


The main circular kitchen of the family is located outside next to the toilet block. “One year ago, I constructed a toilet in my home and I wanted to share the experience with others,” she says. Soon afterwards, all of the households in Abeba’s network had followed her example. She was selected a model in the government’s health extension system and received an award by the Bureau of Health in Tigray region for her efforts of increasing hygiene and thus nutrition standards in her neighbourhood. Once a month, she also helps to bring together the community for six hours to promote safety and hygiene practices as well as immunisation for children.

“There has been a big change in food safety and hygiene. The number of malnourished children also went down as mothers in my network properly prepare the complementary food,” she says. All of her children look healthy. The girls have braided hair like her mother and the boy is out again chasing the chickens. “We generate income from selling our animals and their products like sheep, chicken and eggs,” she explains. The food is ready and the kids line up with their aluminium bowls for their portion. They crouch together on the built-in wall seats in their small home and start spooning away.