"It changed the life of my community"

How Peru's Good Start programme helped decrease malnutrition levels by over 20 per cent.

By Elsa Úrsula
A family sits outside their home, Peru
UNICEF Perú/2018/Vilca J.
14 November 2019

HANAQ, Cusco, Peru – Igidio and Antonia met in their countryside village of Hanaq, surrounded by blue skies, green mountains and the smell of wet soil. They loved each other from the start. They grew even closer after becoming parents to the three daughters they had always wanted. But their story was only just getting started.

One day, Antonia fell ill and went to the doctor. After a check-up, the doctor told Igidio, “Congratulations, sir, you are going to be a father. And, this time, it’s twins.”

Two parents with twin newborn boys, Peru
Igidio and Antonia hold their sons shortly after they were born in 2000. The two boys were underweight at birth, but with the help of the Good Start programme, were able to grow up healthy.

The Good Start programme

It was fortuitous that around this time, Igidio found out that UNICEF was coming to work with the village to promote development. "To me, development meant cement – I thought they had come to build a road. Later I learned that nobody was going to bring cement to my village; instead they were going to help our children grow well.”

Soon after, the village welcomed a group of people from UNICEF and the Ministry of Health in their community centre, where the group presented a programme called Good Start.

“It changed the life of my community," Igidio says. "First, we made a community registry. We recorded how many children there were, where they lived, how many pregnant women, how many newborns. That’s how our development started: getting to know ourselves, organizing ourselves.”

The UNICEF-supported talks with families in the community began by explaining the importance of prenatal check-ups, to make sure the mother is well nourished. “They told us that the best pieces of meat should be given to pregnant woman. Because in her belly there is a little creature who is also expecting food. No one had told us that before.”

Raising healthy babies

Antonia soon discovered she wasn't getting enough nutrients during pregnancy. This, combined with the harshness of the field work, caused the twins to be born underweight.

“But in Good Start they advised us to breastfeed them. And very quickly, my sons got healthier. When they were 6 months old, we were taught that they needed five meals a day. My wife prepared the porridge: peas, corn, quinoa, barley… we toasted and grinded them before feeding the twins. And when they could chew, Antonia gave them cow lungs, chicken, guinea pig – ideal to prevent anemia.”

“Every month, the nurses from the closest health posts came to our community and talked to us parents. If one of us could not attend, the leader of the community would go to the house to find out why.”

Two teenage boys sit outside their home, Peru
UNICEF Perú/2018/Vilca J.
Twin brothers Josué Abraham and Josué Abdías are now healthy 18 year olds, pursuing studies in electricity and computing.

Igidio recalls one meeting that deeply affected him. They were taught about the importance of playing with their children, of hugging them, telling them they were loved, listening to them, asking for their opinion.

“Before this, children were just there. No talking, let alone asking their opinions. That was impossible. I always provided love, but now I told them, ‘I love you, kids, I will always love you’. We needed to play with them, help them with their studies, even when we didn’t know how to read and write. It didn’t matter. That made all the difference for my community.”

A better future for Peru’s children

Eighteen years have passed since then. Josué Abraham and Josué Abdías – the twins – grew up with the best their parents could provide: love, food, education, security. They are now happy, sensitive, confident boys, pursuing an education in electricity and computing.

Thanks to interventions such as Good Start, chronic malnutrition in Peru has decreased by 21 per cent in the last 20 years. Community participation and coordination between sectors and local and regional governments paved the way for public policies that now prioritize child growth and development. 

“To me, this is development: seeing my children grown, healthy and studying. They can achieve anything if they set their mind to it. Having given them a good start in life, knowing their parents love them, watching them grow happy and confident, that’s the good seed. That’s development. If all families do the same, Peru will thrive.”