From Bollywood to Breastfeeding: All in a Day’s Work

by Because I am a Girl

Sixteen-year-old Aulia and I bonded over Bollywood. She squealed with glee when she found out I was from India and rattled off her favorite Bollywood stars in one breath while pumping my arm in excitement.

Aulia is one of the 12 Because I Am a Girl ambassadors in Indonesia and she captivated my attention with her vivacious personality and infectious smile. She dreams of visiting India and readily launched into a popular Bollywood song with little persuasion on our part. Her energy and warmth were contagious and she soon had me laughing as I sat in her living room with a few other Because I am a Girl ambassadors. We clapped along to Aulia’s song while her mom hovered in the background, proud and smiling.

Aulia’s bubbly nature helped draw out the girls into a lively discussion about their hobbies, passions, and dreams. As an ambassador, each girl develops an action plan based on what she feels is a barrier for girls in her community.

Aulia takes her responsibilities as a Because I am a Girl ambassador quite seriously and holds weekly meetings in her home called “Gossip Time” – she explained that these meetings are very informal, during which girls and boys in her community discuss just about everything. She shared that the meetings have become a forum to discuss topics such as the right age for marriage and other similar issues since early marriage among girls is common in her village.

Like Aulia, Nurahmania is also 16 years old, and her Because I am a Girl action plan focuses on child protection issues, specifically focusing on ending child labor. Yayu, 17, is working on promoting the importance of savings among her peers. Nurhasana, 17, is passionate about prevention of early child marriage and talks to her friends in school about the importance of delaying marriage; she also leads one of the youth centers in her village.

Anissah, 19, is the oldest of the girls, having recently graduated from high school, and she serves as an Infant and Young Childhood Feeding (IYCF) motivator in her village. She has been trained by Plan under the Community Action to Improve Maternal and Child Nutrition (CAIMCN) project that focuses on the reduction of under-nutrition among children under 5 through the improvement of IYCF practices.

The CAIMCN project is wrapping up its first year of implementation, and I had the opportunity to visit villages in both Dompu and Sikka districts to observe project activities. The project uses Mother Support Groups (MSG) as the entry point to reach pregnant women and mothers of children under 5 and raises awareness about pregnancy, early initiation of exclusive breastfeeding, and complimentary feeding.

The MSGs are facilitated by the village midwife or health cadre worker trained on IYCF. The project also encourages newly pregnant women or mothers of children under 5 to participate in the IYCF training so that they can serve as motivators during the MSG meetings for other women in their village.

According to midwives who we met during our visit, the MSGs have been beneficial in impacting their daily responsibilities, as they have helped to increase cases of mothers bringing their young children for well-child visits on posayandu days to get weighed, have the potential to increase the number of ANC visits among pregnant women, and improved the coverage for early initiation of exclusive breastfeeding.

It was a pleasure to meet these girls and be inspired by their stories! Their roles as Because I am a Girl ambassadors have been instrumental in empowering recent graduates like Anissah to pursue a career in nutrition through the exposure she has received and her involvement with the nutrition project.

Harpreet Anand is the Program Manager for Health at Plan International USA. She is based in Washington, D.C.