How UNICEF supports better nutrition in the Estate Sector
by Renee Paxton
It is a late rainy afternoon on Somerset Estate, the tea pluckers slowly filter in to their homes, after a long day’s work. Smoke rises from the chimneys of the small houses of the Estate workers as the smell of home cooked meals waft through the air.
21 year old Punida Malar, a community facilitator, leads the visitors to a small house to meet the Kamaleswary family. B. Kamaleswary, is a tea plucker and a 21-year-old mother. Her two daughters, Divani and Dinoka, are 4 and 21 months old respectively. B Kamalaswary is preparing dinner for her family, while her husband reads a story to their eldest child.
The Kamaleswary family are supported by UNICEF’s Early Childhood Care and Development Programme. The main aim is to encourage caretakers to take on board new ways of helping their children thrive. This includes exclusive breastfeeding, good hygiene, and the need to provide a stimulating environment for their growing children. Facilitators also hope to encourage fathers to become more involved.
UNICEF supports The Plantation Human Development Trust to carry out the programme in Sri Lanka’s Estate Sector. Facilitators hold monthly meetings with parents and make home visits. One idea they bring up is how parents can make their own toys for children.
“Earlier, parents did not make their own play materials, were not aware of nutritious foods and fed their children biscuits. Today we see them feeding their children fruits, and making low cost toys using scrap materials”, explains Punida Malar.
Having grown up on Somerset Estate her whole life, B. Kamaleswary has witnessed the changes that have taken place not only in the community, but within her own family.
“It was the community facilitators that made me aware of the risk of home deliveries. Not only were my children born in government institutions but both were born with healthy birth weights”, B. Kamaleswary says.
Somerset Estate was among the first 10 estates to launch the programme in Nuwara Eliya district in 2002. By the end of 2006 the Early Childhood programme will have expanded to 100 Estates in Sri Lanka. 312 community facilitators have been trained in the Estate Sector.
In Somerset Estate mild undernutrition among children aged under five reduced between 2002 and 2005, and now 100% of babies are delivered in government institutions.
“I have learnt a lot from the community facilitators, particularly how important it is to talk to my children and take them outside to see the surroundings,” Mr Kamaleswary says. “I also help my wife with the housework and children while she is working in the fields. I am grateful for this knowledge.”