Four-year-old Sithusi is full of energy and smiles. Until a year ago, she was anything but.
For the first years of her life, Sithusi hovered at the edge of severe malnutrition, and she was lethargic, sick and small for her age. Her mother, Chathurangani, had no idea how to help her.
In rural areas in Sri Lanka, where Sithusi and Chathurangani live, families are too often without resources — time, money, knowledge — to provide what their young children need.
The quality of children's first years plays a strong role in their future physical, cognitive, communicative, social and emotional development. With funding from Fonterra, ChildFund is working in Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka, to help families fill those gaps through the ENHANCE (Ensure Nutrition, Health and Children's Education) project, which also has programs in the Philippines and Indonesia.
I didn't give my child even the nutritious things that I can easily find in our own garden, because I didn't know their nutritious value.— Chathurangani, Sithusi's mother
A central purpose of the ENHANCE program is to enhance the knowledge, attitudes and practices of parents and caregivers about the needs of children ages 0 to 5. So, to improve child nutrition in the area, the project approaches the problem from multiple angles — through teaching parents malnutrition awareness and how to prepare healthy meals, through training and support to plant home gardens and make and use their own compost and by providing nutritious midday meals at its Early Childhood Development centers.
“I didn't give my child even the nutritious things that I can easily find in our own garden, because I didn't know their nutritious value,” says Chathurangani. “Now I know it well.” She fortifies Sithusi's meals with greens and grains, and she meets weekly with her malnutrition awareness group to learn more. “Sithusi is happier, healthier and plays more often,” she says.
Nourishment for children takes a variety of shapes — and includes much more than food.
As an only child, 4-year-old Kavindu had no one to play with at home. He loved to cut, color and paste paper to make little sculptures, and he pleaded with his mother to join him, but 23-year-old Dhammika had other things to do, so Kavindu played alone. Now and then, Dhammika would spank him for leaving a trail of paper scraps throughout the house, which left him a little scared about this favorite activity.
Then Dhammika began attending some of the ENHANCE project's trainings about child care. She and other parents learned about children's brain development, and about the importance of stimulation and of showing love and affection.
Dhammika began to understand that she needed to carve time from her day-to-day work to spend with Kavindu, and that she needed to listen to him more. So she did.
One day, when Kavindu was working with his bits of paper, Dhammika joined him. She spoke to him lovingly, and she helped him when he struggled with his creations. After a little while, Kavindu threw his arms wide and said, “I love you SO much!” Dhammika was overwhelmed.
Now mother and son prepare food together. They work side by side in the garden, and they go to market. “It gives me a chance to teach him about food, colors and numbers at the same time,” says Dhammika. Before, she had been missing these opportunities to support Kavindu's development. Now they are built into mother's and son's day together.
Parents everywhere want to give their children what they need to thrive. When they understand those needs and have the support to meet them, the rewards come quickly and last long. And children get a great start toward achieving their potential.