Little growing bodies need tender love and care. They need health education and safe environments. They need access to medical care and nutritional food. They need exercise and empowerment. And in the developing world, these ingredients for raising healthy kids can be hard to come by.
Our holistic child development model focuses on four areas of development for the kids in our programs: social, spiritual, economic and physical.
There’s no one way to approach physical needs in the diverse landscape and communities in the countries in which we work. Each child, family, community and environment faces different health challenges. That’s why our local church partners are empowered to address health and physical wellness the best way they see fit with health education curriculum and your and our support.
Here are some of the diverse ways in which we approach the physical wellness and development of healthy kids around the world.
Healthy Meals = Healthy Kids in India
Children in our Child Sponsorship Development Program often receive healthy meals when they attend the program at their local church. In this community in Southern India*, sickle cell anemia is common. To help prevent it and other diseases caused by nutrition deficiency, meals rich in calcium, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals are given to the children.
“We serve healthy, simple and delicious food – food that kids would love. Once a week, we give steamed or boiled bananas, which are highly nutritious,” said Edwin, the center manager.
Chips and Soda Does Not a Healthy Kid Make
Sometimes nutritional food at the student centers isn’t enough. Fighting malnourishment really begins at home. Such was the case with 8-yr-old Nayeli.
Nayeli used to sleep most of the day and didn’t like to relate with other children. A diet of chips and soda left her malnourished and sluggish until Compassion El Salvador implemented a Nutritional Complementary Intervention to lower the number of children with malnutrition in their community.
Parents of the children, including Nayeli’s, were provided with nutritional staples like soy protein, nutritional supplements, milk, rice, beans and oil to teach them how to make nourishing meals.
A Sporting Chance at Health
Now that they’re well-fed, those growing bodies need exercise. That’s why sporting events and physical fitness are staple activities among child development centers. In the Philippines in 2015, a group of 15 church partners organized a cluster-wide “sportsfest” with 500 teenagers that lasted 8 days.
Jeffrey Bello, a 15-year-old student at the center said, “We have sportsfest so we can learn how to better take care of ourselves and improve our physical wellbeing and health.”
The event was also to encourage fun, promote sportsmanship and self-confidence, and provide an opportunity for discipleship. For eight Saturdays, the first few hours of the sportsfest were dedicated to studying Scriptures.
The Safety of Clean Water
Thirteen-year-old Eric kneels down by the river near the Mimponi village in Kenya to fill his jerry can. The contents of that can caused him to suffer from stomach cramps, fever, vomiting, and typhoid due to contaminates. He lacked the energy and ability to go to school, do his chores and play with friends.
When safe and sustainable water sources can’t be provided, our Water of Life in-home filtration system helps Eric and his family enjoy the health benefits of a lifetime of safe water, allowing Eric to become the healthy and energetic young boy he is today.
When Safe Water Isn’t Enough
Healthy hygiene and sanitation practices go hand in hand with safe water.
The indigenous people in a small village in Gahini, Rwanda are uneducated when it comes to proper hygiene and often practice open defecation. Clean, safe water is difficult to come by. Cases of worms, dysentery and cholera are common amongst the children at the child development center and in the community.
That is until the center received funds for new toilets, as well as water tanks for safe water. These changes coupled with hygiene education have tremendously helped the lives of the 294 students. Girls are now able to continue their studies even in times of menstruation and there have been no cases of worms, dysentery or cholera.
Child Survival Begins with Mom’s Health
Angelique’s husband abandoned her with two children, an early pregnancy and with no means for money. When her children became malnourished she sought the help of her local church and was quickly enrolled in the Child Survival Program (CSP) where she received regular medical checkups, nutritional support and education.
When Agasaro was born with a cleft palate, Angelique was shocked. “I feared my own child. The doctors told me that if she did not get quick treatment she might die.”
The CSP was able to cover the hospital bills for Agasaro’s surgeries and baby formula. Three surgeries later Agasaro is happy and healthy and being raised by a mother who is now able to provide for her family through the assistance of income-generation programs.
In the remote village of Muang Khong in Thailand there is no hospital so it’s not often that anyone sees a doctor. The Khlon Muang Church and child development center set up a one day medical clinic with the help of some doctors for all the village residents.
People flooded the school and were able to see a doctor as well as receive hair cuts and lice treatment, education on hygiene and breast cancer examinations, and prayer. All the children received physicals at this one-day clinic, which will be one of two that the center will perform every year for the children enrolled in the program.
The Stigma of HIV/Aids
Veronica, a caregiver of a child who is sponsored in the Somanya Cluster in Ghana, had witnessed an HIV/AIDS patient get kicked out of her mother’s home and eventually died alone. She thought that there was no treatment and even if she knew her status, there was nothing for her to do but to wait to die.
Today Veronica’s stance has changed because of the HIV and AIDS education and screening held for beneficiaries, caregivers and siblings at the church. The screenings held twice a year aim to reduce HIV transmission and improve the quality of life for people affected by HIV by giving them counseling and access to medical assistance and medication if necessary.
“I have been informed that people infected with HIV/AIDS need the love and support of all, not rejection and stigmatization,” Veronica said.
Mosquitos: A Small but Dangerous Threat to Health
From malaria to dengue to West Nile to the Zika virus, mosquitos carry some serious threats to the well-being of the communities in which we work. That’s why mosquito nets and education on how to guard against the insect are important to us.
Child development center staff in Brazil asked city hall staff members to educate the children about the Aedes Aegypti mosquito. During the lecture, they used visual materials to teach 198 children about the development of the mosquito and how to combat it. Children pledged to talk to their parents about what they learned and clean their homes to avoid the Zika virus.
A Life with Diabetes
11-year-old Trish, a sponsored child in the Philippines, was diagnosed her with Type 1 diabetes after being rushed to the hospital after she went into cardiac arrest. Her sugar level was four times higher than normal. After being revived at the hospital, she slipped into a coma.
“That was when I screamed and said, ‘I give up’,” confessed Evelyn, Trish’s mother. “Joel [the student center director] came to the hospital and convinced me to hang on and to put my hope in God. I know that if Trish was not a sponsored child, I would have left that day from the hospital and given up.”
Trish woke up weeks later but to incredible pain and loss of eyesight. Her recovery is slow going and costly but through life-saving surgery funds, Trish’s medical costs were covered and she can continue with her physical therapy. Even though she can’t attend the activities at the child development center, the staff and her friends visit her regularly.
Evelyn wrote to Trish’s sponsor:
“I never show her that I am sad and depressed because of her present health situation. We are not hopeless. We put our hope in God.”
Seeds of Healthy Change
One child development center in India* is teaching children the importance of including healthy foods into their diet by cultivating a vegetable garden in partnership with the local government.
Each child who participates has a row of garden beds assigned to them. They water the seeds, clean and maintain the plants and even use techniques of vermicomposting that converts vegetable waste to nutrient-rich humus that can be used as fertilizer.
The vegetables are not only used to prepare nutritious meals at the center, but the leftovers are sent home to help feed the children’s families. Helping out with the garden has motivated the children to create gardens of their own at home.
“Our next aim is to build a healthy village; we want a vegetable garden in every house,” says one child at the center.
Original stories and photos by: Edwin Estioko, Jayaseelan Enos, Nora Díaz, Silas Irungu, Vera Mensah-Bediako, Jonathan L Suwaratana, Ana Santos, and Rosette Mutoni.
*NOTE FROM EDITOR: This content honors Compassion’s historical work in India. While we no longer have an India sponsorship program, we are grateful for the lives changed and meaningful work achieved through our sponsors and donors in our nearly 50 years there. For a detailed explanation of the end of our sponsorship program in India, please visit: compassion.com/india-update.