By Nicole Duciaume, Americas Region Sponsorship Manager
A highlight of any trip to the field is the opportunity to cuddle and smile at chubby-cheeked babies. It always renews and refocuses ChildFund staff members from all over the world. There are few things more life-affirming than the innocence and love that spring forth in an infant’s gurgles and giggles.
But the sobering reality in rural Cochabamba, Bolivia, which a ChildFund team recently visited, is that both infant and maternal mortality rates are high. Many mothers never get to hold their babies in their arms, and some even lose their own lives, leaving their other children orphaned.
Yet there are signs of hope in Bolivia. In response to the high rates of infant and maternal mortality, the national government offers mothers small stipends to attend monthly prenatal appointments, screenings and checkups. They also offer incentives for giving birth in government treatment centers with trained health care providers.
ChildFund’s role in this effort is to offer prenatal appointments and tracking through our local partner organizations at zero cost to mothers. But, more than just checking the physical development of the babies and the vital statistics of the mothers, we also support the mother’s attachment to the baby within her — an emotional bond that, the doctor there explained, is as important as physical development.
That’s where a mother’s letter to her unborn child enters the picture, expressing her love, hopes, concerns and excitement in an early-pregnancy activity that ChildFund supports. Later, using life-sized dolls, mothers practice breastfeeding positions, diaper changing and infant massage. Often, they open up about other concerns in their lives.
During our visit, we met two babies born to mothers who had gone through ChildFund’s prenatal program. Nicolas is 4 months old, and Antonio is 18 months. Their mothers shared the letters they had written so many months earlier.
A letter to Nicolas: Dear son, I anxiously await you as my third child, even though I am afraid of the moment when I will give you life. But don’t worry. I will give you everything of me so that everything will be OK, my little love, and I will meet you with all of the same excitement as your older brothers. I only ask the almighty God that you are healthy and strong, because you are the light in our lives and we are all very happy to have you, my baby. Come and fill our home with love. More than anything, your dad will jump for joy when he sees you and has you in his arms.
A letter to Antonio: With much love for the baby that I am anxiously waiting to arrive, so I can know you in person and feel your little body. I hope it will be a great moment when I have you in my arms because I will fill you with kisses.
By Sagita Adesywi, ChildFund Indonesia
In this blog post, we meet Nuren, a woman who worked for REACH, a project in Indonesia run by ChildFund and UNICEF that promoted health care of pregnant women and young children to help lower the infant mortality rate. REACH ended in December 2013, but the health-care training continues to make a big difference in these communities.
Nuren works in East Nusa Tenggara, training community health volunteers (known as cadres) and families about keeping infants and young children healthy and safe. Beginning in 2011, she traveled to homes and clinics in remote villages, where women traditionally have given birth without access to prenatal care or emergency assistance when it’s needed.
Most health cadres come from non-medical backgrounds, so they received regular support and monitoring during the project’s duration. Nuren’s routine visits helped to remind the volunteers how to provide basic health services, and she checked the amount of medical supplies to make sure health posts were fully stocked. Some visits took hours to accomplish.
“When we had two new cadres in Sotual, we went there for a monitoring visit,” Nuren recalls. “We left the city at dawn to reach Nuapin village. We then walked for three hours through the forest from Nuapin village to finally reach Sotual. The return trip was more difficult, because it was uphill. We took a shortcut, and I almost fell off a cliff on the way back.
“The wife of the health cadre gave us pineapples, but unfortunately, none of us carried a knife. We walked all the way up the hill to our car before we saw an old man with a big dagger to help us cut and eat the pineapples. We weren’t even wondering if the dagger was clean or not, we were just so thirsty from the long walk!”
Upon reaching Nuapin, the group stopped by a health center. “The health worker asked where we came from. He was surprised when we told him that we had just visited our health cadres in Sotual, since they had never gone there before,” Nuren says. “With basic medical supplies in such a remote area and limited access, the health cadres are able to provide basic health care for young children. Seeing this is really rewarding for me.”
In 2011, the REACH project covered 40 villages and 14 health centers. By January 2013, it had expanded to 49 villages and 15 health centers, with more than 200 trained health cadres. Since the project ended, Nuren has continued her work with ChildFund in the eastern program areas.
One of the biggest challenges in the project area is the traditional activity called Sei, in which firewood is burned underneath a platform and mattress that a mother and her newborn lie on in a room with very limited ventilation, sometimes as long as a month. It is believed that this practice will make them strong and healthy, but in fact, it contributes to many respiratory problems. Another challenge is that the community’s water source is far away.
Nuren says that although the region continues to face some hardships, “I see the changes happening in the community. People now have a reasonable access to health services. This really helps in obtaining basic health care in critical situations, especially for young children who suffer fevers or stomach aches, as malaria and diarrhea are common in the area.
“I have seen the community is really enthusiastic about the health services they have in their neighborhood. Even though they know the health cadres are trained specifically to help young children, people now choose to go to the health cadres instead of the traditional healer when they are sick,” she adds. “People are also more aware of health issues. They learned not only to be aware of the common symptoms of diseases, but also how to prevent contracting them with healthy living habits.”
“When I finish school, I hope to be a doctor and serve my country and my community,” says 13-year-old Shamila.
“I have always wanted to be a doctor,” says 12-year-old Kubra. “I see the doctor is very respected and saves the lives of people in my community.”
These are the dreams of two children in the war-torn nation of Afghanistan, a country ChildFund has worked in since 2001. As Afghanistan’s citizens have been at the center of conflicts this decade, children there are facing many health issues. The average life expectancy is only 44 years. Infant, children under 5 and maternal mortality rates are among the world’s highest. Twenty-five percent of children die before they turn 5.
Afghanistan also has a disproportionately high percentage of people under the age of 20 – the average age of Afghan residents is 17.7, compared to 36.7 in the U.S.
Nevertheless, we are working hard to improve the lives of children such as Shamila and Kubra. ChildFund has trained parents, community leaders and government staff to recognize and manage child-protection issues. In addition, we are supporting community-based literacy classes for children, training teachers and providing children with recreational areas in which to play. ChildFund is also developing health services and training health workers to diagnose and treat illnesses.
“While many news reports focus on military developments and corruption, we must not forget about the children there,” says ChildFund International President and CEO Anne Lynam Goddard. “Childhood is a one-time opportunity. Now is time for Afghan children to get back on their feet and move in a positive direction. It is the children who will determine Afghanistan’s future – a future in which we all share a stake.”
“If I get to be a doctor, I will make my family very proud as people in my community will look up to me and respect me,” says Kubra.
For more on our work in Afghanistan, click here.
More on Afghanistan
Population: 28.3 million
ChildFund beneficiaries: More than 530,000 children and families
Did You Know?: Afghanistan has never participated in the Winter Olympic Games.
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