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A Quiet Child Learns to Speak in Sri Lanka

Nilusha with her daugher Kavisha
Nilusha with her daugher Kavisha
Public health midwife facilitating a health discussion with group of mothers.
Public health midwife facilitating a health discussion with group of mothers.
February 7, 2013

When Nilusha’s daughter was 2 years old, she could only speak a few words –and Nilusha blamed herself. Her family believed that baby Kavisha could not talk because they had neglected some of their traditional rituals.

“We couldn’t observe her first meal of rice and her first haircut, according to our traditions," says Nulisha, who lives in the village of Veherayaya, in southern Sri Lanka. "I was feeling guilty as well. Things between me and my husband got bitter. He was angry and often shouted at me.”

But family traditions were not the cause of Kavisha’s learning problems, which are common in Veherayaya. A recent study has shown that 24 out of the 80 village children - 30 percent - had growth and development problems.

The main factors that are holding children back are a lack of nourishing foods and parents not spending enough time with their children. A lack of playgrounds, toys, books, and a limited understanding of child development are also factors.

Relating Theories to Everyday Life


Plan Sri Lanka and its local partners are supporting training for health workers in the region where Midwife Karunwathi helps mothers better understand how children learn and grow.

“We started to tailor our working hours to suit the needs of the community,” says Karunawathi. “We simplified our messages to be easily understood and related theory to everyday lives, to make it easier to adopt these things as daily practices.”

Feeding the Senses


Nilusha was doubtful, but Karunawathi invited her to the next village, where other mothers showed her their houses decorated with colors and shapes to “feed their child’s eye” and other senses.

Nilusha enthusiastically started doing the same for Kavisha, and her improvement was dramatic. “Within 3 months, she could speak about 250 words,” Nilusha says proudly. Kavisha’s health has also improved.

With Karunwathi’s encouragement, Nilusha shares her experience with other mothers. She has founded a “baby room” in the village, now hosted by about 90 mothers in rotation. The “baby room” also has shared meals for children and activities like clay work, painting, and playing with paper and bottles. The ideas have now spread to other villages, with mothers passing on what they have learned to new mothers creating an informal knowledge network.

Nilusha's work has also inspired her husband to get involved: “He helps me buy stationary to prepare learning materials for the others,” Nilusha says.


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