‘When I Met Irene, I Knew …’

Reporting by ChildFund Bolivia

Snapshot of a struggling family in Bolivia: The father works on faraway farms and returns home only occasionally. The mother sells vegetables in the local market during the morning and part of the afternoon, leaving her children in the care of the eldest, who is 10. The youngest, Irene, is 5 months.

In 2006, the government of Bolivia instituted a new program, called Zero Malnutrition, with the goal of eradicating malnutrition in children under age 5. Knowing of ChildFund’s vast experience in child development, the Bolivian Ministry of Health and Sports invited ChildFund to implement a child development component through Zero Malnutrition in rural Oruro, the region where Irene’s family lives.

ChildFund’s contribution was to train “guide mothers,” volunteers who monitor and support the development of the children in their communities. ChildFund taught the guide mothers how to use our child development scale to screen children and identify specific developmental needs. They also received training in ways to work with parents to help them support their children’s development.

Maria was one of those guide mothers. She visited Irene.

Four children standing

Irene and some of her siblings.

“When I met Irene, I understood my mission,” she says.

On that first evaluation, Maria found that Irene had diarrhea, an acute respiratory infection, acute malnutrition, anemia and visible signs of emaciation, and that she was under both height and weight for her age.

Trained to recognize danger signs, Maria reported the case to the local health center, and staff from there soon performed a field visit. They provided Irene’s mother with medicine as well as an orientation on how to treat Irene.

Maria also evaluated Irene’s development and found she was not progressing in all areas as she should.

Toddler seatedWithin a year, after continued visits from Maria and with appropriate care, Irene was a healthy 18-month-old. She was still small for her age, but her weight was appropriate for her size. She also had caught up with her peers in three of five developmental areas.

Maria says the work is hard, but when she sees families in her community who have so little, she’s inspired to give her best efforts to teaching them what she’s learned about how to keep children on track and healthy.

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