Against undernutrition and for education

by Ruth Bücker, 2011/09/09

Last September I spent almost one week in Sukkur, in the south of Pakistan. Never before have I encountered the kind of living conditions, health situation and disease patterns I came face to face with there; and it was all the worse, since poverty and overall conditions cannot only be attributed to the floods alone, but because living conditions were dismal to start with above all in the rural areas in the southern provinces.

Even back then the fact that we could help individual persons and relief them from acute problems at least brought some consolation. However, the improvements that have been achieved since then thanks to the active support of numerous local partners, and the experiences I gained during visit exceeded my expectations.

From medical emergency aid to an undernutrition programme

When I arrived in Sukkur together with a humedica doctor team that was active in the south of Pakistan, the people's situation was alarming. Above all young children were severely undernourished and in danger of starving to death. The number of patients who needed treatment was high, due to the poor living conditions, polluted drinking water and the lack of sanitary installations.

Coordinator Heidi Nicklin took care of the undernourished children and organised the nutrition programme. Photo: humedica

They suffered from festering abscesses the size of tennis balls in their faces, at heads or limbs. And from eye infections that were doubtlessly caused by the dirty water of the Indus River where the children in particular went to to take a bath - between makeshift latrines and water buffaloes that also contributed to the river being the ideal breeding ground for bacteria. Patients needing basic medical treatment. Almost every child, every woman and every man I met suffered from some kind of disease.

For a start, the humedica doctor teams could relief these people from their acute misery by means of offering medical treatment. Furthermore, together with the local partner Riverside Slum Children Project, humedica initiated a programme for recognising, treating and feeding up undernourished children.

At five different mission locations, where a total of 400 families, among them about 880 children below the age of five, had found shelter at emergency accommodations, the poorly nourished children were examined at specifically set up centres, their body height and weight was measured and the level of undernutrition determined. Then they were given special, high-calorie additional food in rations appropriate to their age.

Thanks to this programme, more than one hundred infants regained their strength and furthermore, students were offered lunch at the so-called "Child Friendly Spaces" of the Riverside Slum Children Project and Kindernothilfe, in order to prevent them from sliding into undernutrition.

Lunch at school - dual benefit

Not even one year has passed since about 50 girls and boys of the nearby slum area at the Indus River assembled in the inner yard of our partner organisation Riverside Slum Children Project every morning. The only thing the teachers had was a large board and every child was provided with a small slate to write on.

Thanks to our common relief efforts, up to 1000 children can attend lessons at different places and are provided one assured meal per day. Photo: humedica/Wolfgang Groß

The fact that lessons were offered at all meant an immense future prospect to all the little students. However, what has been achieved in this field since past autumn, is even far more impressive than the education programme of last year.

In the meantime, up to 1000 children of various different age groups are taught at the "Child Friendly Spaces", where victims of a disaster are offered a safe environment and the possibility of overcoming their trauma by playing and talking to support staff, and where children are furthermore provided with a child-appropriate atmosphere for learning.

The small slates have been exchanged for paper notebooks the girls and boys now use to make notes, so that they can repeat and look up everything they have learned. All the students have been provided with a school uniform that furthermore facilitates potential changes to public schools.

The girls and boys are taught in groups according to their age and hence teaching methods and efforts can be adjusted and implemented according to the learning capacities of the respective age groups. Above all the youngest students also have several breaks during which they can play before their lessons end with the common lunch.

Health, nutrition and education: It has been a motivating and impressive experience to see how much has been achieved in these three fields that are essential for future chances and perspectives. Thanks to your support, dear friends and sponsors, and thanks to Sternstunden e.V., we could lay the foundations for future in these fields.

And how we did this in the literal sense, you will be able to read soon in the third part of our series "Trip back".

Pakistan one year after the floods

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