Child health and nutrition are among the biggest challenges facing East Timor today. Almost half of the nation's children are underweight or malnourished. This is one of the highest national rates in the world.*
At 8am, Alexandrina and Joanna are starting their day's work as midwives at a clinic in East Timor's rural Baucau district. Both women are Timorese born. They received their qualifications abroad but they've returned to East Timor to work at World Vision's Caisido Early Childhood Clinic.
"I have a real desire to help people in this community," says Alexandrina looking from the verandah at the village, "and I feel that is what I'm doing."
Before the clinic opened, mothers would have to catch a public bus into Baucau town to the local hospital. The distance and cost meant many children went without immunisations or treatment, and common childhood illnesses could be life-threatening.
Joanna spends most of her time doing home visits, especially to new and expecting mothers. When she meets a parent struggling with nutrition her advice is simple: “What you should do is buy a few vegetables – some potato and carrot, and maybe a tiny bit of sugar just to make her want to eat it.”
It's simple enough advice, and it's getting through because Joanna is bringing information about the importance of nutrition and immunisations directly into people's homes.
East Timor's high malnutrition numbers have a number of causes. Often there's simply a lack of food. But the midwives concentrate on building up knowledge about food and nutrition, while making healthcare more accessible.
At the clinic, Alexandrina can see mothers are getting better at recognising when there is a problem. Today she treats many minor ailments that would previously have gone unnoticed, but now mothers bring in children at the first signs of illness - a cough, a skin rash or a bout of diarrhoea. The village has come to trust the clinic.
The midwives have worked hard to change aspects of East Timorise daily life that could be harmful to child health. Throwing away colosterum (the first few days’ milk; a natural vitamin/protein boost for newborns) and closing the mother and baby inside a smoky room are 2 harmful practices that Alexandrina and Joanna hope will one day become a thing of the past.
World Vision set up the clinic 3 years ago as part of its Early Childhood Health Promotion initiative in the district. It's staffed entirely by women.
Alexandrina and Joanna visit new parents within days of a child's birth, often accompanied by volunteers. As they do their rounds, the midwives share their knowledge.
It's the only healthcare facility for hundreds of people who live within walking distance. Prior to its being set up,immunisations were difficult and home births were the norm but the Caisido Clinic and its staff have begun to reverse that trend.
You can learn more about World Vision's work in maternal and child health by visiting our Child Health Now campaign.
* World Food Programme website (http://www.wfp.org/countries/timor-leste)