Children need more than just food or education to break free from poverty—they need to develop in all areas of life. That’s why Compassion focuses on holistic child development. We want to help children grow up to be adults who are empowered to escape poverty. In this four-part series, we’ll talk about the four key areas of a child’s development—physical, emotional, cognitive and spiritual—and how our church partners are meeting these needs in the lives of the children they care for.
“Being healthy” probably evokes different images for everyone. Some of us may be trying to remember the last time we hit the gym or are instantly reminded of that triple-fudge brownie we shouldn’t have eaten at lunchtime.
But for families living in poverty, being healthy has a wholly different meaning. It means access to safe water and latrines, so a child no longer gets sick with diarrhea, typhoid or cholera. It means prevention, education and access to treatment of mosquito-borne diseases like malaria, zika or chikungunya. It means making sure pregnant moms are healthy, have access to medical care and know how to ensure their babies grow up healthy, too.
That’s why every child in Compassion’s programs receives regular health screenings, dental checkups and access to immunizations. They also receive nutritious food each time they visit the Compassion centre, either a full meal or a healthy snack, depending on the needs and resources in that particular community. When a child is at risk of or suffering from malnutrition—like six-year-old Danna, in Colombia was—they are provided with the care and extra food supplies they need.
When Danna was registered at just three years old, doctors diagnosed her with severe malnutrition. She was thin, frail and had a weak immune system. Her mom couldn’t afford more than bread and potatoes, and Danna wasn’t getting the quantity of food nor the nutrients her body needed.
Centre staff began providing Danna with fortified snacks to help her build her strength. It was a difficult transition; Danna was used to eating so little at home that she struggled to finish her snacks at the centre. But her tutor, Luz Dary, would (and still does) sit with and encourage her during meal times, slowly building up her tolerance to food. Luz also continues to track Danna’s height and weight every month, and is encouraged to see that she is now close to being at a healthy height and weight for her age!
Not all health issues are found during medical checkups. When a child’s health appears to be at risk, staff make sure that issue is addressed immediately, as early intervention can be the difference between life and death. Mackline from Kenya knows this firsthand. She was 12 years old when she began experiencing sharp abdominal pain—the same pain her older sister, Totti, experienced several years prior. Totti’s health had declined rapidly, and despite her parents’ exhaustive search for a diagnosis and treatment, she passed away just months later.
But this time, the family wasn’t alone. With the help of the church, Mackline was referred to a hospital in the city. After an exhausting series of scans and tests, the doctors had a diagnosis: liver cancer.
Mackline was able to start chemotherapy immediately with the combined help of Compassion and a family support program at the hospital. It was a difficult and terrifying fight, but Mackline responded well to the chemotherapy and has had a strong recovery.
Education also ties into physical development, as our church partners teach children about good hygiene and proper sanitation. Things like hand washing, proper washroom habits and dental care are taught and reinforced at the Compassion centre, and encouraged at home. Parents are also educated on the cause, prevention and treatment of illnesses like HIV and hepatitis, as well as mosquito-borne diseases like malaria and zika, and water-borne diseases like cholera and diarrhea.
A child’s physical health is so important, and our church partners do everything in their power to address the physical needs of each child through medical care and regular checkups, disease prevention initiatives and ongoing education. But being healthy is just one aspect of a child’s growth. Join us for our next post, as we take a look at the critical role emotional development plays in a child’s life.