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Aer Lingus cabin crew join UNICEF Ireland on emotional visit to Mozambique

© UNICEF Ireland / A. Downes
The Aer Lingus team on a home visit in Gaza province, one of several such visits the team members made during their recent trip to Mozambique.

XAI-XAI, Mozambique, 19 April 2011 – At the end of March this year, four cabin crew from Aer Lingus, an Irish airline, joined UNICEF staff from Ireland and Mozambique on what turned out to be an emotional field trip to Gaza province. The four cabin crew members were Hazel Duggan (based in Cork), Chris Goulder (Gatwick), Geraldine Kane (Dublin) and Angelica Piedra (Washington DC), who had been selected among a large group of applicants to represent the airline for the visit. For more than a decade, UNICEF Ireland and Aer Lingus have been partners in the Change for Good program, in which airline passengers donate spare change in support of UNICEF projects around the world.

Upon arrival at its first stop, at the Xai-Xai Provincial Hospital, the group was given a tour of the child malnutrition ward, which had 10 mothers with very sick babies. Undernutrition is the main underlying factor contributing to the high level of child mortality in Mozambique. Wasting or acute undernutrition, which is defined on the basis of weight for height, is a type of undernutrition that results from an excessive loss of weight due to severe illness or lack of food. Studies show that wasting prevalence is linked to wealth, with children in the poorest households over three times more likely to suffer acute undernutrition than those in the richest households. In Mozambique, wasting rates are highest at six months of age and then progressively decline.

“To kick start a recovery, a child suffering from acute malnutrition will receive a powdered mixture called N75, which is the first therapeutic food intake by a severely undernourished child,” the doctor in charge of the ward told the group.

The visitors had an opportunity to speak with the mothers, who explained their situation and expressed gratitude for the treatment made available to their children. The visitors were shocked when they learnt that one baby, which looked only a couple of months old, was in fact nine months old. The hospital personnel explained their work to support exclusive breastfeeding. In Mozambique, acute malnutrition is usually the result of a combination of inadequate dietary intake and disease. Appropriate infant feeding practices are crucial for child survival and development, and exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a child’s life is considered very important in this regard.

© UNICEF Ireland / A. Downes
Geraldine and Hazel with a child suffering from acute malnutrition. The child was on a path to rapid recovery after having received treatment.

After the hospital, the visitors met with a group of grandmothers from the Kuvumbana volunteer support association, who looked after their grandchildren, whose parents had died. The grandmothers greeted the group with great sincerity and with joyful song and a welcome dance. The group would visit several homes supported by Kuvumbana.

“We were then invited inside, where we were told about the households we would be visiting,” said one of the Aer Lingus staff members.

“It was a very emotional experience for us to be welcomed into these homes.”

In the first home, the group met Maria, a widower taking care of her two sons. Maria told of her daily struggle to make ends meet. She worried about how to feed her children. In the second home, the group met a young man who had contracted HIV and TB while working in South Africa to provide for his family. The third family was a child-headed household, where the children were living without any adult caregiver, as their parents had both passed away. The home had only the barest essentials. With tears in her eyes, one of the younger sisters explained that she was scared to go to school in the evening, which can be dangerous for young girls. The next family consisted of a mother and a son, where the mother was HIV positive and the son possibly suffered from malaria. He was taken to the hospital during the visit. The mother, who was very skinny, was resting in the shade of a tree.

“I feel weak, and the HIV medication has not made me better,” the sick woman told the group.

One afternoon, the group visited Malehice, a remote locality with some 12,000 inhabitants. The area is one of several visited by mobile health brigades. Through the brigades, the same care is given to the mothers and their babies as in the hospitals and health centers: vaccination, weighing, nutritional counseling and demonstrations of how to prepare the most nutritious food for children. The visitors were invited to take part in a food demonstration, which included the crushing of beans – fun, but hard work. While the food was cooking, the group visited with more families.

“My husband works in South Africa and only comes home for Easter and Christmas,” said Linda, the mother of two. This is a very common situation in Gaza province, where many men work in the mining and agriculture industries in South Africa. When they return to their families, they often come infected with HIV, a phenomenon which has contributed to the province’s high prevalence.

The day was concluded with an Aer Lingus flight safety demonstration for hundreds of children at the local school, an event that was caught on video and received standing ovations. It even caused a little girl to cry of joy and excitement. At the school, the cabin crew members distributed gifts they had collected from their home bases, including sports equipment and school materials. Chris got to show off his football skills, and everyone got involved.

The five-day field trip also included visits to schools in Maputo and other health centers and involved presentations by theater groups and mobile video units. At the end of the trip, the group was invited for an evening dinner at the house of the Irish Ambassador to Mozambique, Mr. Ruairi de Burca, and his wife Mary. For the group, it was a welcome opportunity to unwind and relax after a busy and emotional week in the field.

For more information, please contact:

Arild Drivdal, UNICEF Mozambique, tel. (+258) 21 481 100; email: maputo@unicef.org

Gabriel Pereira, UNICEF Mozambique, tel. (+258) 21 481 100; email: maputo@unicef.org

 

 
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