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At a glance: Peru

Real lives

Fighting poverty in the Amazon jungle

© UNICEF/Peru/Perez/2000

A good start for Becky

SANTA RITA DE CASTILLA, July 2003 - Bella Margarita is a 28-year-old mother living in Santa Rita de Castilla, a tiny rural district located along the Marañon river in the province of Parinary in the Peruvian Amazon. Bella, like most people in the region, lives in extreme poverty with no access to electricity, health care, clean water or sanitation services.

Bella moved to Santa Rita when she became pregnant, to be with Jaime, her boyfriend and father of her baby. He is 21 years old and lives with his parents and their two grandchildren. However, living with Jaime's family was a nightmare for Bella.

"The family had a kitchen but not a house," she says, "it was a small open area that had a basin to gather rain water which was usually full of dirt and mosquitoes." The kitchen was made of rough unhewn wood, and a covered space with hammocks served as a sleeping area. Every day, Bella went to the river to fish, to hunt any wild animal she could find and to get water for the family.

The hard physical work, poor diet, low in essential nutrients, and lack of support from her boyfriend's family or any prenatal care was tough on the pregnant Bella. Jaime did not have a stable job and was often away from home. When he was home, he accused her of being unfaithful while she was down by the river and frequently beat her.

© UNICEF/Peru/Perez/2000
Help for Bella

Seven months into her pregnancy, Bella's life changed: she met Sister Rosa from Buen Inicio (Good Start), a local church organization. Sister Rosa is part of a team, made up of another nurse and a health technician, who were trained by Buen Inicio to work with mothers, fathers and their families, with additional support from health promoters and community mobilizers. UNICEF supports the training and provides funding as part of a new programme promoting early growth and development for children from zero to three years.

The Buen Inicio team provides an integrated package of services including health, nutrition, hygiene and stimulation for young children. They are specifically responsible for: locating and identifying pregnant women and children under three, so that they can be provided with services such as iron and vitamin A supplementation and oral rehydration salts; visiting families considered high risk; and providing one-on-one advice and psychosocial counselling. They also develop local information campaigns, using radio programmes and a community newspaper.

The services provided by Buen Inicio are helping approximately 500 families in the area. A further 1,000 families, who live in remoter areas, are targeted with communication and information activities.

When Bella was told that the baby hadn't turned, she told the nurses about her frequent headaches and inadequate diet. "There were days that there was almost nothing to eat," she recalls. Sister Rosa urged Bella to go for prenatal check-ups, but she was afraid that the nurse would scold her for not having a sol (2 US cents) to pay for the service. However, all went well on the visits and she received counselling, health advice and iron supplements. As a result, her headaches disappeared and her self-esteem improved.

On the morning of 1 January 2001, Bella went into labour and was promptly taken to the health post by Sister Rosa. A baby girl, Becky, was born hours later weighing 2.8 kg. Despite the relatively low birthweight, Becky has grown well by being breastfed exclusively for six months and receiving all her scheduled check-ups at the health post. "Every recommendation I receive is put into practice," Bella says.

Bella is concerned about Becky's future. Jaime is still unemployed and there is no money to buy anything for Becky. All the baby's clothes are gifts from Buen Inicio. "The advantage of living in the jungle is that only a few clothes are needed," Bella says.

Bella now dreams about building a home and giving Becky a good education so that she can be respected and express herself with confidence. Bella and Jaime didn't complete their primary education. "I would like to see her become an important person," Bella says.

Sadly, Bella's dreams will probably remain just that, due to the harsh poverty that afflicts the region. What is certain though, is that Buen Inicio is giving Becky a better start in life and this will strengthen her capacity to think and learn and improve her ability to cope with the poverty and exclusion of the jungle.




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