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UNICEF helps families in Uzbekistan improve child rearing skills

© UNICEF / Uzbekistan / 2009
UNICEF outreach has helped more mothers understand the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding their newborns

By Nigina Baykabulova

Buka, Uzbekistan, 11 September 2009. -  At first glance, Rasulov’s family from Dustlik mahalla (community) is an average one.  Both old and young generations of the family live under one roof, run one household and share their joys and sorrows.

Yet one thing makes Rasulov’s family stand out. The two youngest members of the family, nine and three months old, have been exclusively breastfed from birth. They have also enjoyed the best home care possible, virtually round the clock.  

“Our neighbours are amazed by how well my grandchildren are doing. Without formula milk, tea or other foods that we used to give babies during their first months,” says Muhabbat Rasulova.  “In our youth the approach was different.”    

Her husband Ilhom, head of the family, was concerned and went to the district hospital to consult doctors. He came back reassured that infants get everything they need from breast milk.

The rest of the family have given more support to the nursing mothers, Feruza (19) and Shoira (21). They are helping them with household chores and making sure they have proper food and rest.

“Caring for the little ones is their main task now,” says Muhabbat.

Changing minds, changing attitudes

Rasulov’s family is one of more than half a million beneficiaries of the Family Education Project that started in Uzbekistan six years ago with UNICEF support. It was initiated by the Uzbek Government to help families tackle problems that affect children’s health, growth and development, especially in their early years.

The task was not easy given the Soviet legacy when the state assumed state responsibility for the care of children. During Soviet times families were an important labour force. To get mothers and fathers working, an extensive network of childcare was created. This included childcare centres, pre- and after-school programmes with teachers and child health care providers playing a dominant role.

Given this, it is not surprising then that many Uzbek families, particularly in rural areas, became passive and now lack adequate knowledge and skills required for childcare. Over-reliance on institutional caregivers is often combined with low awareness of the services available.The UNICEF supported project was originally piloted in 13 districts in Bukhara, Kashkaradya, Ferghana, Khorezm and Tashkent regions, and Karakalpakstan. Now it covers 29 districts. 

5,000 volunteers have received training on child health and hygiene issues. Among them are mahalla (community) advisors, health workers and preschool teachers. They use every opportunity – family visits, community gatherings or occasional meetings – to share their newly  acquired knowledge to help keep mothers and their children healthy.

UNICEF trained volunteers teach parents how to recognize health warning signs in children to facilitate swift treatment. Parents also learn why it is important to use iodised salt when preparing meals. Outreach workers also actively promote exclusive breastfeeding and can now rely on young mothers like Feruza and Shoira to spread the word.   

“These are the basics that every family should know to better care for their children,” says Feruza. She already completed a two-month course for nurses when she learned about the training taking place in their mahalla (community). “It turned out to be more useful than I expected. It taught me new skills that I needed at that time.”

The training also inspired Feruza to spare more time for early learning of her little son. The father, Jamshid (21), works all day long and joins her later in the evening. The couple helps their son discover the world through play and toys. “We are happy to be our child’s playmates as we want him to grow up healthy and happy,” says Feruza. 

Sustaining success

The project has so far reached one sixth of the population, by working with both local administrations and communities. Its interventions show that ordinary people can take charge of their lives once they are empowered. A supportive environment is another contributing factor.  

According to a recent independent impact assessment commissioned by UNICEF, behaviour of families in the pilot areas is changing,

Twice as many mothers now exclusively breastfeed their babies. Two thirds of the targeted population know how to prevent HIV transmission, as compared with one third at the start of the project.

Almost all targeted households are now aware that iodine is essential for health and consume iodised salt. More families are now able to spot health problems quickly and seek medical help from professionals.

UNICEF has been behind these successes and will support the scaling up of the project nationwide so that more families can ensure a better start for their children. 










Building best child rearing practices in families and communities

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