In our previous posts, we focused on how our programs are developmental and contextual, and not simply a meal program. While our programs are focused on development, we still realize that nutrition is absolutely vital in a child’s life.
Part Three: Nutrition is important
Terry Laura, Compassion’s Health Advisor, has worked in public health for decades with organizations such as World Vision and Food for the Hungry in countries such as Myanmar, Indonesia and Sudan. Responding to crisis situations, she has seen how malnutrition can damage a child’s long-term well being.
“Malnourished children won’t do as well in school, they’ll get ill more often and due to their malnourished state, more will die,” says Laura. “Even as adults, studies show they won’t earn as much, have as high of an IQ and won’t have as much physical stamina as their well nourished counterparts. Nutrition is everything. You have to ensure they are well nourished at the beginning of their lives and follow that throughout their life.”
That’s why Compassion’s Child Survival Program, which ministers to pregnant moms and babies from 0 to 1 year old, provides them with vital nutritional support. We also monitor these children’s height and weight every month—we want to detect the first signs of malnutrition and equip the mothers to provide for their babies to head off the life-long effects of malnutrition before they start.
Children in the sponsorship program have health check-ups once or twice a year and are checked for signs of malnutrition in accordance with the World Health Organization’s guidelines. If a child is found to be malnourished, then we create a plan to respond to that’s child’s need through Compassion’s Response funds. If the child is severely malnourished, we respond with therapeutic feeding, which may include medical intervention, vitamin supplements and nutritional support.
We’ve all seen the pictures of extremely malnourished children in the news. Often times, these extreme cases are due to crisis situations such as war, famine and natural disasters. But because of the preventative care children assisted by Compassion have already received, few children within Compassion’s programs are found to be in such a severely malnourished state. More often, children who are found to be malnourished within Compassion’s programs are mildly or moderately malnourished.
In these cases, we work with the children’s families to identify the problem—is it a lack of resources or a lack of knowledge? We also offer vitamin supplements and additional nutritional support based on need and context. We monitor their progress monthly and offer continued support until the child’s health has become stable.
Sometimes a crisis situation such as a drought, price hike or a natural disaster will increase a child’s risk of malnutrition. In these cases, Compassion also responds with additional support to come alongside the family until their situation is stable through our Response Programs.
At Compassion, we want to continue to improve, so part of Laura’s work is to advise our area and field offices on better approaches to improving children’s health. For example, in the use of nutritious supplements like Plumpy Nut, a high-calorie, nutritional supplement used in therapeutic feeding to boost children’s health and nutrition.
Finally, an important thing to remember is how much Compassion’s workers around the world care about these children, even against hard-to-believe odds. The children’s lives are complicated. In one case, a little girl in El Salvador was malnourished. Her mother, who was a prostitute, wasn’t concerned with her welfare. The child’s grandmother looked after her, but she didn’t earn any income to help feed the child. How do you educate a mother to nourish her child when she isn’t interested? How do you teach a grandmother, who has no income, to feed her grandchild? There aren’t easy answers in these situations, but Compassion’s workers are dedicated to doing all they can to help these children long-term.
“Our church partners really have the best interest of the children at heart,” says Laura. “As soon as they notice something is going on, they do all they can to get that child the help they need. The church workers bend over backwards. When you see the circumstances they’re working in, the work they do is so impressive.”