Plan International Supports Healthy Minds and Bodies for Mothers and Children in Sri Lanka
Mothers in Sri Lanka who said they were worried about child malnutrition are learning new ways to improve their lives and health, as well as those of their children.
Plan is working with the Foundation for Health Promotion and Rajarata University to train local health officials on how to best work with villagers to create an environment where they feel comfortable raising concerns and coming up with their own solutions.
The program is working.
Mothers have started group exercise sessions and play sessions. They’re pooling their limited food supplies so that every child gets a more balanced diet. As a result, fewer children are now underweight, and the mothers are in better shape too.
“We gave our children chances to get together and play and the results were very positive,” said Inomalee Madhushani, one of the mothers involved. “They know each other well now. They even exchange their toys.”
The main aim is to reduce rates of malnutrition for children under 5, which can be as high as 50 percent in some villages. The program also addresses young children's intellectual development and general family well-being.
In the Weerawewa community in Anuradhapura, the prevalence of underweight children below 5 years old reduced from 47 percent in 2009 to 23 percent in 2011. In the Thenagallanda community in Moneragala, the rate reduced from 38 percent to 21 percent during that same time period.
Intellectual stimulation is also an important part of the program. Each village created its own baby room. The rooms are filled with colorful posters, hanging mobiles, illustrated alphabets, and other simple designs that individual mothers can adapt in their own homes.
The role of the father is emphasized as well. Fathers are spending more time with their children than before and charged with creating a happy environment at home. “Happiness calendars” have been set up so parents and children alike can recognize their own behavior and its impact on others.
Since the project began, women say their husbands consume less alcohol, have less fights, and there are more smiley faces on the calendars. The program’s success has attracted interest from other organizations in Sri Lanka, which plan to replicate Plan’s methods in other areas.
"For our birthdays we decided to give a gift to our parents in appreciation of their efforts,” said one happy child.