Since the beginning of 2012, four separate Mother and Child Programs have been conducted by Rose Charities Sri Lanka. In order to address the most marginalized communities in the Eastern Province, Rose Charities has extended its operations northward, into the Porathivupattu D.S. Division which comprises the border areas between Ampara and Batticaloa Districts. Government services in these areas are almost nonexistent and Rose Charities has been working closely with the Office of the Divisional Secretary and the Office of the District Health Officer to ensure that the young and expectant mothers in these villages have the tools and knowledge which they need to improve the health and nutrition of their infants.
The first meeting of the year was held in January in the village of Sinnawattai. Over one hundred women were in attendance, many of them accompanied by their young children. There were a large number of widows in the audience. Sinnawattai has a mixed Sinhalese and Tamil population and both communities participated equally in the day’s program. There has been little reconciliation between the Sinhalese and Tamils following the conclusion of the Sri Lankan Civil War but hopeful signs are emerging. At this meeting, one of the women present asked for an English language preschool to be established in the village so that children from both lingual groups could “learn together.”
In February, the second meeting of the year was held in Ganeshapuram. This meeting drew together mothers from two separate villages; Ganeshapuram and the 14th Village. During the colonial period the British established new villages, or ‘colonies’ throughout this area and these were given numbers instead of names. Over time, most of these communities have discarded their numerical designations but some of the most rural communities still retain their same old number. These are generally the most isolated and impoverished communities in a given area and, therefore, the ones most in need of assistance. In April, The Mother and Child Program moved to the village of Mavetkudah, a very poor village which is situated within a reasonably well-developed area. There were 90 women present.
The most recent program was held at the beginning of April in Vivekanandapuram, another of the border communities. 95 women came from the surrounding area and the program was similar to what had been offered at previous events. First, Mr. N. Parasuraman, the Administrative Officer of Rose Charities Sri Lanka and a retired nursing officer, spoke to the women about the value of Early Childhood Education and the responsibilities of parenthood. The other speakers included the District Medical Office, the Divisional Secretary, and a senior Nursing Sister. The Health Officer informed the women about infectious diseases affecting small children and how to prevent them. Dengue fever is a serious hazard in this part of the country, particularly during the rainy season. He then spoke about the necessary course of vaccinations which every child needs to begin soon after being born. He also spoke about the dangers posed by dysentery and explained some simple remedies for dehydration, like young cocoanut, which can be given to a child suffering from diarrhea.
The Nursing Sister moderated a lively discussion among the women about breastfeeding and added a great deal of advice of her own about the correct feeding position, how to hold the child, how to get infants to latch on and other common problems. She also outlined the science of brain development in young children and the importance of breast milk as a source of nutrients for children at this formative stage of life. She frequently used simple call-an-response exercises to emphasize important points and questions from the audience were encouraged throughout.
Following this discussion, another doctor took the floor and expanded upon some of the issues raised so far and also gave important information to the women about their own health and how to ensure that they are physically well enough to conceive. He spoke about the complications which arise when women have babies too early or too frequently. The Divisional Secretary closed the meeting with a few remarks of his own to the assembled women.
This village, like the rest of Sri Lanka, is suffering badly from the daily increase in the cost of basic necessities. One woman reported that now she is cooking only a half kilo of rice for her family’s evening meal as opposed to the whole kilo which she used to be able to afford. This village produces an abundance of nutritious produce, including maize and vegetables, but these are all sent to the market and some of the profits from their sale used to buy cheaper food from the city. The village is, in fact, exporting nutritious food and importing inferior stuff. The women were advised to hold back some of their own produce to feed to their families.
All of the women and children who attend these events are given a nutritious snack and a high-protein drink. In addition, they receive some kind of useful gift, like an umbrella, a child’s mosquito net, or a set of bed sheets. In the coming months, 6 more workshops like these are already being planned in order to continue raising awareness about health and nutrition in the more impoverished villages of the area.