“How can we make home-made saline to treat diarrhoea?”
Before the speaker could even complete his question, eager hands shot up in to the air, excited faces barely able to contain the enthusiasm of being picked and getting a chance at revealing the answer. The class teacher of Grade 2 at Maheshkhali Primary School finally pointed at Nishat. Just around 10 years of age, Nishat immediately said, “Mix together half a litre of boiled and purified water, a pinch of salt, a fistful of jaggery or sugar.” As she spoke, she used her hands to demonstrate what she meant by ‘pinch’ and ‘fistful’ for everyone to see. Her classmates erupted in applause almost as soon as she was done, and showered her with encouraging pats on the back as she took her seat again. The teacher and his assistant almost struggled with the attempts at keeping their overtly enthusiastic students calm enough for him to yell out the next question over all the excited banter.
The quiz competition on health and hygiene held at Maheshkhali Model Government Primary School is clearly a fun and engaging event for the students there. Organised as part of the World Food Programme’s (WFP) School Feeding Programme in collaboration with the Bangladesh Government, and implemented by local NGO partner Resource Integration Centre (RIC), the competition is designed to get students to engage in fun, learning activities that focus on essential topics such as health, hygiene, nutrition, etc.
Since its initiation in Maheshkhali in 2015, WFP’s School Feeding (SF) program has been providing micronutrient-fortified biscuits to pre-primary and primary school children for each day of school attendance
This is part of a wider program under WFP in the Cox’s Bazar area, which covers a total of 1,44,022 children in Teknaf, Ukhiya, Maheshkhali, Pekua and Kutubdia. In Maheshkhali alone, WFP provides 45,387 school children, among them 23,456 girls, with a daily school meal consisting of vitamin and mineral fortified biscuits.
Maheshkhali upazila is situated in the south eastern part of Bangladesh, under Cox’s Bazar District. With an area of 362.18 sq km, it is surrounded by Chakaria upazila in the north, Cox’s Bazar Sadar upazila and the Bay of Bengal in the south, Chakaria and Cox's Bazar Sadar upazila in the east, and Kutubdia upazila and the Bay of Bengal in the west.
Since its initiation in Maheshkhali in 2015, WFP’s School Feeding (SF) program has been providing micronutrient-fortified biscuits to pre-primary and primary school children for each day of school attendance. The program also includes an ‘Essential learning package’ for children, parents and other community members and training sessions for teachers on vegetable gardening, health, nutrition and hygiene, disaster preparedness, and other social issues.
Empowering rural women
The Shonali Independent Women’s Group in Modhuwardail of Ward 5 in Maheshkhali is one of theprime examples of a women’s self help group (SHG) under the Enhancing Food Security and Nutrition (EFSN) Project managed by WFP, jointly funded by UKAid and Australian Aid and implemented by RIC. The SHG was established in December 2015, and its members have been meeting regularly since then together to receive capacity strengthening activities like skill development trainings, behavioural change communication sessions, life skills and nutritional education.
[caption id="attachment_260027" align="alignleft" width="300"] Ayesha Begum, a participant under the EFSN program and recipient of the WFP cash grant, feeds her poultry birds just outside her home in Lomba Bill , Teknaf
Each member of the group receives a monthly allowance of TK 1,050, for 21 months to cover essential household needs, as well as a one-time cash grant of Tk15,000 for investing in income generating purposes. In addition, the trainings on entrepreneurship development, business plan, required skills, market linkage etc all help the women and their families towards economic liberation. Gradually, through regular meetings, the women are encouraged to support each other, share ideas, voice opinions that can be helpful for others as well as create a platform for savings. Livelihoods combined with social empowerment have led to sustained changes. The aim of creating these women’s groups as part of the EFSN project is to bring about positive behavioural changes, improve nutrition practices, facilitate women’s empowerment and improve community disaster management.
“I’ve learnt many things as a member of this group. We collectively save up money so that we can help a member and her family or if anybody becomes ill or is in urgent need of cash. We also counsel each other on allowing our daughters to keep studying and discourage others from getting a young girl married off. Even my husband has learned a lot and he now respects me and seeks my counsel regarding household and financial decisions,” says Saleha Begum. Saleha used her cash grant from WFP to buy a cow for Tk17,000, which she later sold for Tk30,000. She then invested part of this money in salt farms, which is a lucrative business in this region of the country.
I’ve learnt many things as a member of this group. We collectively save up money so that we can help a member and her family or if anybody becomes ill or is in urgent need of cash
Thanks to SHGs such as this, women in the area are finally coming out of their otherwise reclusive lives, dependant solely on their husbands and immediate family members, and are now becoming comfortable at having their voices heard and gaining confidence through increased mobility and earning capacity as they become important financial providers and contributors to their households. Between August 2015 and August 2017, almost 5000 families, with the women as primary participants, were supported through WFP’s EFSN Program.
[caption id="attachment_260028" align="alignright" width="225"] Students of Class 2 of Maheshkhali Government Primary School participate in a quiz competition on health and hygiene. Photo: Farina Noireet
Healthier children, happier mothers
The Lombaghona Community Clinic was a bustling scene of young mothers, waiting patiently in line keeping a watchful eye on their toddlers sitting or crawling about on the floor. The tiny clinic was set up in three sections, which is the norm on nutrition screening and supplement distribution days, that are carried out on a fortnightly basis under WFP’s Nutrition Operations. At the first section, each mother is called up to bring her child to the desk where a trained volunteer measures the child’s upper arm circumference for signs of under-nutrition. Once the child has been screened, and the health information updated in the ID cards that are given to the selected mothers at the start of the project, the mothers then take part in a behavioural change communication session where they receive training on nutrition and infant and young child feeding, cooking demonstrations, and hygienic sanitation practices. This session is open for not only mothers, but also other caregivers of undernourished children as well as other household and community members.
Beneficiaries are regularly monitored though screening and distribution days, where they are provided with monthly rations of 200gm of fortified wheat soya blend (WSB++) for children and 225gm of WSB+ mixed with vegetable oil for pregnant and nursing women.
WFP undertakes screening and referral to appropriate treatment of children with acute malnutrition in the community and at sites, through partners and community nutrition volunteers. Moderate acute malnutrition (MAM) cases are admitted for targeted supplementary feeding, following standard medical protocol and individual counselling. In cases of Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM), the patients are referred to the upazila hospital for immediate intensive treatment in the hope of avoiding negative impacts on their lifelong health and development. Once these children are cured of SAM and “upgraded” to MAM, they are required to regularly come for health check-ups to the community clinics, where they are carefully monitored until they reach the desired body weight and are out of danger of nutrition deficiency induced illnesses.
[caption id="attachment_260029" align="alignleft" width="300"] Students of Maheshkhali Government Primary School receive micro-nutrient fortified biscuits under the WFP School Feeding program. Photo: Farina Noireet
Most of the mothers of children with under-nutrition are practically children themselves, having been married off at a very young age and consequently becoming mothers to infants they hardly know how to take care of. Through the guidance and training they receive at the behavioural change communication sessions, they are better able to take care of themselves and their children.
Since the start of the Nutrition Project in 2015, WFP has provided supplementary food to malnourished pregnant and nursing women and children less than 2 years of age. On an average, every month WFP supports 1,962 pregnant and nursing women and 2,904 children with10 MT WSB+, 1 MT of vegetable oil, and 14 MT of WSB++.
By providing necessary assistance in the forms of nutrition supplements, essential life skills, as well as income generation support through its SF, EFSN and Nutrition operations, WFP’s humanitarian efforts seek to lay out the groundwork for building a sustainable future by helping to create self-sufficient communities that can support themselves as well as contribute to the nation.