|© UNICEF video|
|Integrated child nutrition centres, like this one in the region of Sistan and Baluchistan, improve the quality of children’s lives in Iran.|
By Bahareh Yeganehfar
CHABAHAR, Iran, 10 January 2007 – Hessam, a nine-month-old baby, gurgles in appreciation of the soup that his mother is feeding him. So does Nazanin, 3, and other young children in the room.
This love-fest is taking place at a health centre in Chabahar, located in the southeastern province of Sistan and Baluchistan – Iran’s poorest region, on the border with Pakistan. Here, twice a week, mothers get nutrition tips and their children eat healthy food.
The goal of this community-based nutrition project, a collaboration between the Ministry of Health and UNICEF’s Integrated Early Childhood Development Programme, is to promote health and nutrition for young children living in poor regions.
Indeed, poverty is one reason why nearly 20 per cent of children in this area are underweight.
“When I came to this health centre to vaccinate my son, they told me I could use nutrition classes on Mondays and Wednesdays,” said Hessam’s mother, Sa’emeh, 18. “I find it very useful. We also have practical sessions in which we learn how to cook healthy and nutritionally strong food for our children.”
|© UNICEF video|
|Children play at a child centre in rural Iran. Such centres provide integrated services for the physical, mental and nutritional development of children in their critical early years.|
Rural kindergartens established
A few miles from the town, in a small village where signs of seven years of drought remain visible, children in colourful traditional clothes sit in a room, singing and working on puzzles.
These children, mostly between the ages of three and five, could have been out playing or following their goats, or even at home babysitting younger brothers and sisters. But thanks to joint efforts by UNICEF and the State Welfare Organization, they can spend their day in the Rural Child Care Centre (RCCC) and get access to socialization and pre-school education.
“We’re so happy our children are here,” said Fatemeh, a mother whose three-year-old daughter is at the centre. “Before these rural kindergartens were set up here, our children would be home until the age of seven, when they would go to primary school and many faced problems understanding Farsi. But now they learn quite a lot.”
Added UNICEF’s Project Officer Saeed Asaei: “The early years of a child’s life are quite important and determining. That’s why an integrated plan for the physical, mental and nutritional development of children is regarded as vital.”
Access for all children
UNICEF helped the government to establish RCCCs in four districts of Sistan and Baluchistan – Nikshahr, Sarbaz, Khash and Chabahar.
Local religious leaders have been effective in spreading messages about the importance of improved child health, nutrition and development at the centres. These leaders have been especially helpful in small towns and villages, where they enjoy community members’ trust and support.
Iran’s Government operates 5,000 RCCCs throughout the country. But Iran has more than 70,000 villages, so more centres are needed. UNICEF’s goal is for all Iranian children – including those in the most out-of-reach rural areas – to have access to basic early childhood services.