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At a glance: Peru

Promoting healthier child care practices through photography in Peru’s Amazon

© UNICEF video
One of the images used in UNICEF’s Good Start Project to promote early growth and development of children in the Amazon using photography.

By Christian Mejía and Jane O’Brien

NEW YORK, USA, 13 January 2006 – It’s said that a picture is worth a thousand words. But in the Peruvian Amazon, where the majority of the population cannot read or write, a picture can be worth far more than that. In a unique initiative UNICEF has launched the Good Start Project which uses photography to convey potentially life saving information to mothers and pregnant women.

Despite Peru’s significant progress in the areas of health and nutrition in recent decades, seven of every 10 Peruvians live in poverty in the Andean and Amazon areas of the country, including some 11 million children. Every year 1,200 mothers die during childbirth and 3,600 are permanently disabled.  Of the 20,000 infant deaths that occur in the country each year, around half take place in the first month of life, most of them from preventable causes.  Chronic malnutrition surpasses 30 per cent in children under 2 – figures that increase significantly in the remote Andean and Amazon regions.

The Good Start Project is an initiative for promoting optimal early growth and development of children in the Amazon by using photographic images. The photographs encourage better child care practices in nutrition, health, and hygiene at the community level.

The community of Lagunillas deep in the Amazon jungle is one case in point. There are no roads to this rural village and communications are extremely limited. The villagers had no formal way of sharing information or discussing their concerns surrounding childcare until UNICEF staff began using photography.

© UNICEF video
Images depicting fathers are an integral part of the Good Start Project and play a key role in highlighting the importance of the family.

A series of photographs are taken to illustrate a topic such as health, hygiene or nutrition. The images demonstrate a wide range of specific messages – how to breast feed correctly, the importance of rest during pregnancy or taking vitamins – that will help and support women during pregnancy, birth and their first years as mothers.

“The photographs have become something very valuable here,” says health promoter José Galvez Ricopa. “They have opened the space for conversation and questions, improving communication between mothers and community workers. This is very important in the process of working towards good growth and development for children.”

Photographs with direct and easily understood messages are shown to the entire community. Images involving the father are vital to highlighting the importance of the family. Mothers, fathers and adolescents discuss what they see in the photographs and then use them to suggest new and better ways of caring for children.

UNICEF has already trained 20 community workers to use photography in their child development work. The medium has also proved useful in analysing different cultural habits surrounding birth and childcare and explaining how improvements can be made, says Josefina Vasquez Awad, a UNICEF communications and information assistant.

“For many of those who had been photographed for the first time in their lives, this experience was much more than capturing a simple memory,” she says. “It was significant that they saw the emotion in their faces when they embraced their children or the emotion of a man when he caressed his wife’s pregnant belly.”

Such behaviour, which is vital to stimulating children and developing important bonds, does not come naturally to many parents, who require visual help to develop the skill.

The Good Start Project ensures that this community in the Amazon has access to the best information on caring for children in infancy. And getting the best start in life determines the future well-being of every human being.

Marilu Wiegold also contributed to this report.




13 January 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Caroline Ramirez reports on how photographs help Peru’s parents learn about child care. (Video shot and produced by Christian Mejía.)

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