Remarkable Change for Children: Sharing a video about ChildFund’s early childhood development programs (ECD) in Sri Lanka. Malnutrition, poor water quality, lack of sanitation and a shortage of schools are among the country’s problems. ChildFund, through its ECD programs, is working with communities to address those challenges; remarkable change is taking place.
Last week I traveled to Central Java, Indonesia, with ChildFund International’s Board to take a firsthand look at our programs. Yesterday, I posted about our visit to an Early Childhood Development center.
Our next stop in Indonesia took us to a posyandu, or village health services post. In this remote rural area and in the absence of medical facilities, the posyandu is set up in a community member’s house twice a month (opening times are announced at the village mosque the previous day) and provides health services to the local community. ChildFund provides training to community health volunteers. We focus on maternal and child health, pre- and post-natal care, breastfeeding and developmental stimulation for infants and young children. ChildFund also provides food supplements and medicine.
On this day, the posyandu is bustling with activity, providing birth registration, growth monitoring (height and weight), immunization, counseling and supplementary feeding for children. There’s also parenting education for mothers as well as hygiene training.
Clearly, there’s a malnutrition issue in this area, which was severely affected by the 2010 Merapi eruption. The entire village was evacuated and it took a year for the community to return to normal life. Water sources were polluted and all crops were completely destroyed by volcanic ash.
As I weigh Tegar, a 3-year-old boy, I note that he is smaller than he should be. The village midwife tracks his height and weight monthly; the chart shows he is below average. For cases like this, we routinely offer nutrition counseling on site and provide supplemental food. And we keep close check on the children who are underweight. If a child misses two appointments at the health post, we follow up with a home visit.
As we prepare to serve children a nutritious meal of rice, egg and vegetables, community volunteers first remind mothers and children to wash their hands. “Now we understand it is important to wash our hands before and after preparing food and eating,” Murjilah, a young mother, tells me.
As our group prepares to depart, menacing dark clouds move in. The weather can change quickly on the slopes of Merapi. And then the heavens open. We hit the winding roads again, surrounded by lush vegetation; this part of Java certainly gets its fair share of rain.
Our final stop for the day is to visit a sponsored child. Visiting a family dwelling always brings home the fact that ChildFund really does serve the most deprived people.
When we can go no farther on the road, we get out of the car and walk the rest of the way in the pouring rain to the house, which sits at the bottom of a steep path. As we enter the home, it is dark and damp. The father rushes to turn on the lights and greets us with a warm smile and a soft handshake. The floor is an uneven surface of stones and dirt. The living room has three chairs. A little girl, Sidi, emerges from the kitchen area. She has been sponsored for one year through ChildFund.
Once we get acquainted, she becomes talkative. “I dream of becoming a doctor to help my parents stay healthy,” she tells me confidently. Sidi is in school and doing well. She says she enjoys learning and being with her friends. She wants to make her parents proud.
We go through to the kitchen area, which consists of nothing more than an open fire pit and a rack on which to store plates and utensils. The mother starts a fire. She tells me the family will eat rice and vegetables for dinner, like every night.
A tiny bedroom sleeps five and I notice a ChildFund-provided mosquito net. Good to see the children have some protection against malaria.
An unusual family member lives in the next room. As I go through the door, a large cow, chomping grass, stares at me. I learn that the family received the cow as a gift through ChildFund’s Gifts of Love & Hope catalog. The cow is providing a steady source of milk and is making a real difference in Sidi’s family’s life.
Although conditions remain challenging for many families in Indonesia, I am happy to see children like Sidi moving forward with their education and their dreams.
Sithusi, 4, is energetic and full of smiles today, a complete contrast from the child she was one year ago. Last year, she was suffering from a serious malnutrition problem and got sick often. ChildFund Sri Lanka enrolled the child and her family in the ENHANCE (Ensure Nutrition, Health and Children’s Education) project in Polonnaruwa, a project made possible with funding from Fonterra. Lack of knowledge about nutrition among mothers and poor eating patterns are main causes of malnutrition in this area. “I didn’t give my child even the nutritious things, which I can easily find in our own garden, because I didn’t know their nutritious value,” says Sithusi’s mother, Chathurangani. “Now I know it well,” she says, “Sithusi is happier, healthier and plays more often.”
I am a regular gym goer – about three times a week. Working out regularly helps me feel stronger physically, which helps me feel stronger mentally. As a leader, I need that feeling of strength – both physically and mentally.
My gym – like similar ones around the U.S. – is full of people trying to lose weight. We all know we have a huge and serious obesity problem in our country. But it stands in sharp contrast to the poor communities worldwide where ChildFund works – malnutrition is their problem, and trying to get enough food at times is their challenge. Sometimes I think if I ever explained to families I meet during overseas visits that I pay money to join a place where I run and lift weights to lose the calories I just gained from eating – they would think I was crazy.
These two worlds always collide for me after I finish my workout. I take off my sneakers and put on a pair of sandals I keep in my gym bag. I always pause for a second when I see those sandals. They were a gift given to me by a youth in one of our employment projects in Senegal when I visited a few years ago. Like his father before him, this young man – tall, slender and shy - was becoming a shoemaker, and our project was helping him turn his skill into a profitable business.
I think of the other feet his handmade shoes would protect. The wearers would most likely be walking down dirt roads or across muddy fields – focused on making a better life for themselves – not coming back from the gym working off last night’s dessert. The sandals are really a bit too small for my feet. But I don’t mind. They make me feel very grounded and very strong.
|—||a 12-year-old in ChildFund’s programs in Ethiopia|