Partnership helps restore public services in rural Sri Lanka
By Mervyn Fletcher
TRINCOMALEE, Sri Lanka, 15 May 2012 – It’s the morning rounds of the village mothers’ support group. Today, they’re visiting one of the poorest families in this remote village in eastern Sri Lanka.
Their concern is Sujalan, the youngest of Packiyaluxmi’s three children. He’s 2 years old and recovering from severe acute malnutrition. The women want to monitor his progress, check his medical record and give support. At his home, they find good news: Sujalan’s health is improving.
The mothers’ support group is just one of many important initiatives resulting from a 3-year partnership between the European Union (EU) and UNICEF, in collaboration with the Government of Sri Lanka.
Making all children healthier
This EU project is called Assistance for Conflict-Affected People (ACAP), which focuses on improving access to vital public services such as education, health care, safe water and sanitation for communities that are or have been displaced by conflict.
Thanks to this partnership, there are now more than 100 volunteer mothers’ support groups raising awareness about nutrition and health in villages around Trincomalee. The partnership has enabled these women to receive training in counselling and nutrition.
“Being a member of the mothers’ support group has been so useful for me. I learned many practical things about how to be healthy,” said volunteer Chandrakumar Kavitha. “This is a poor area. Too many children in this village were sick. They weren’t using the health centre, and too many children were not eating healthy diets. This has changed, and I feel I am contributing to making all children here healthier.”
Improved health and water quality
Across the village, midwives are reporting for duty at a new health centre, which was built by the EU-UNICEF partnership and has been handed over to the government for operation. It opened its doors in December 2011, offering critical support to young mothers-to-be like Darshini.
During an antenatal check-up, her baby’s growth was measured and its heartbeat was monitored. Darshini’s blood pressure was checked. Both mother and child were deemed healthy.
Children have also benefited from the new centre. The midwives say that within the last 18 months, local incidence of malnutrition among children under age 5 has dropped markedly.
Nearby, Komathi, a mother of seven, is enjoying the convenience and quality of her new well. Until two weeks ago, she had to walk a kilometre to draw water. The well is shared with another seven families in the area, ensuring their children have access to safe, clean drinking water.
The partnership has also provided Komathi’s family with a new toilet, and construction to supply area households with tap water is currently underway.
Education for all
The Paddilapuram School stands tall amid the village landscape. It, too, was rebuilt by the partnership, in collaboration with the government. The classrooms have enabled the school to serve more students, from around 400 pupils a year ago to nearly 600 now, and more growth is expected.
“This is a village affected by the conflict and tsunami,” said UNICEF Sri Lanka Health and Nutrition Officer Kirupairajah Gowriswaran. “Thanks to UNICEF and the EU, and based on their partnership, we are able to invest in education, public health, nutrition, water and sanitation. As a result, there is an improvement in the lives of mothers and children.”
More than €9 million from the partnership, including 15 per cent contributed by UNICEF, have been invested in the construction of 18 schools, 10 health centres, improved access to water for thousands of families and community mobilization to improve mother and child health