In Indonesia, building new traditions for a healthier future
STORIES FROM THE FIELD
By Michael Klaus
In remote areas of Indonesia, UNICEF is helping to address malnutrition â€“ and the practices that contribute to it â€“ through support for health services and counselling for mothers with newborn children.
BANGGANG, Indonesia, 19 June 2014 - In the village of Banggang, Central Java, located in the shadows of the active volcano Mount Merapi, mothers are learning a new way to feed their babies.
Mothers here tend to stop breastfeeding their newborns after a few months, and nutrition is a major problem across all of Indonesia. One in three children under the age of five suffers from stunted growth. Stunting has long-term impacts on a child's ability to learn and weakens their immune system.
Rita Iriyanti, mother of Novalia Citra, has been a regular visitor at the local posyandu (community health post) to have her baby checked and to learn about the benefits of breastfeeding.
"It is the belief here that when a newborn is crying, that means sheâ€™s hungry, and everyone would ask you to give the baby some bananas or porridge," she says. "But I refused to follow that. I have learned that if you do that, your baby will not grow smart."
Many Indonesian women hold misconceptions about breastfeeding - most commonly that it is only for the poor and those unable to buy formula milk, which is seen by many as a superior product for their child.
Cadres, or local community workers, organize monthly gathering at the posyandu to help provide health services. The cadres also act as advisers, counselling mothers on nutrition, as well as on breastfeeding and immunization.
"The problem we find in many communities throughout Indonesia is that women and other family members just don't have the access to the right information, the advice and support they need to feed their children in the best way possible," says UNICEF Nutrition Specialist Harriet Torlesse.
"Many are heavily influenced by traditional practices and beliefs that are passed on by elder family relatives, and discouraged from good feeding practices," she says.
UNICEF, in partnership with the European Union, is supporting programmes that provide counselling on exclusive breastfeeding, complementary feeding practices, and maternal nutrition. They also distribute micronutrients for pregnant women and for children 6 to 23 months old, provide deworming tablets and take height measurements.
"The projects are about reaching out to some of the remote areas in Indonesia, where there is a big problem with malnutrition, working with UNICEF to make sure that we educate and give the right kind of nutrition to mothers and children," says Olof Skoog, Head of Delegation for the EU in Indonesia. "We hope now that this will also have an influence on the planning and policies of the Government of this country, so that all children can benefit."
The programme is currently being supported in three districts in the provinces of Central Java, East Nusa Tenggara and Papua, but will ultimately be scaled up by the Indonesian Government to a total of 64 districts in 11 provinces.