Kodaikanal is a beautiful hill station city in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nandu. The city earned its name as “gift of the forest” in Tamil, from its lush nature and mountainous terrain. Despite its natural beauty, health systems have struggled to make progress in serving this community. Malnutrition in children is common, and can lead to many problems for children's health. These issues have led FIMRC to focus on nutrition and medical care in local crèches, a child care center that also incorporate schooling and health services.
FIMRC's Ambassador Program offers the unique opportunity for participants to develop and implement health programs internationally. When Ambassadors arrive on site, they are able to observe the health obstacles many populations face in the developing world. They are able to work closely with community members and FIMRC staff to plan a project to address health concerns in the community. Our Ambassador at Project Kodaikanal, Amy Patel, has been on site since early February. Working in the community, she realized that many children were not getting adequate nutrition when they were on breaks from school. Below, you will find Amy's project on keeping the children of the crèches healthy year-round.
During my stay in India, I had the opportunity to participate in a variety of activities, such as helping out at local hospitals and in FIMRC’s own rural clinic. The project that I decided to initiate, though, centered on the crèches (preschools) that FIMRC had partnered with. FIMRC had already organized weekly health check-ups at each of three crèches (Nathanael, Joshua, and Mabel Crèches), but the critical issue was the drop in weight of the crèche children that had been noted over the summer break. Also, there was a lack of knowledge about nutrition and the components of a healthy diet for children, such as the number of servings of different food groups required for proper growth and essential vitamins and nutrients. This lack of knowledge on the part of the parents exacerbated the under-nutrition of their children.
To improve the drop in weight seen in the crèche children over their vacation, I designed nutrition education lectures that could be repeated yearly in the months preceding the summer break. In this way, it would improve the drop in weight seen in the crèche children over their vacation.
We wanted to teach about nutrition to the teachers first, who would then present the information to the parents in the monthly parents’ meetings. To teach about food groups and proper nutrition for the kids in the crèches, who are all aged 3 to 5 years, we created a large food pyramid poster that could be relatively easily carried from crèche to crèche.
Through two meetings with the teachers of each of the three crèches, we covered the basics of the food pyramid and the details of each food group. We went over examples, number and size of servings, subgroupings within the overarching food group, the health benefits, and health complications arising from deficiencies in the food group for grains, vegetables, fruits, dairy, protein rich foods, and fats and oils.
At the end of both of these meetings, we answered any questions the teachers had and briefly quizzed them to make sure that they had noted down all of the important points. Also, after the teachers’ meeting, I quizzed the children on where different foods were in the food pyramid so that they were somewhat familiar with it, too.
The teachers chose to present the material about the food pyramid through different creative ways. The teachers at Nathanael Crèche’s did so through a comedic skit and those at both Joshua and Mabel Crèches did so by personifying each of the food groups.
Before and after each of the parents’ meetings, we distributed pre- and post-questionnaires that consisted of the same 15 questions to the parents to gauge their comprehension and retention of the material being presented. Then, we opened the floor up to any questions that the parents had.
After each of these meetings, we introduced the teachers of each crèche to the food log that I had created. On this food log, the parents would be able to record what food groups their children consumed for the duration of a day for a total of four days during the summer break. In this way, FIMRC would be able to keep some track of the children’s diet when they were not at school.
We are also planning a summer nutrition camp for each of the crèches in mid-May. FIMRC’s doctor will be present for routine examinations of the children and will distribute medicine and multivitamins. In this way, FIMRC does not lose track of the children for an extended period of time. We noted down the names of those children that were either moderately or severely underweight so that they could be provided with extra nutrients during our weekly medical visits to the crèches to help boost their weight before the upcoming vacation.
So far, the nutrition education that we are teaching about has been taken very well by both the crèche teachers and parents. Already, we have started noticing that the teachers have begun incorporating a greater variety of nutritious alternatives in the evening snacks that they provide to the children during school hours. This is a good sign and, hopefully, the parents have changed their habits accordingly, too. I am very optimistic that this, in combination with the summer nutrition camp, will turn the tides and cause a decrease in the number of underweight and undernourished children seen returning from their summer vacation.