I was invited by World Vision in Bangladesh to come and have a look at what they were doing and to see what else they could do to further reduce malnutrition in Rangpur District in the north of the country, nestled between two parts of India.
Bangladesh is the most densely populated country in the world, with 160 million people living in an area two-thirds the size of Victoria, so I was expecting to be shocked by the crowds and poverty. I wasn’t disappointed.
I flew to the regional airport in Rangpur. We visited a number of villages in a mostly Hindu area. I never felt so welcomed anywhere. Every village had flowers to put around my neck and flower petals to throw into my hair or what little there is left of it. It is always a little embarrassing being pampered by people who have so little. It is a little like being a movie star, albeit a movie star on crutches!
I visited nutrition groups following the PD/Hearth approach to investigate what they are doing. PD/Hearth encourages poor mothers to identify nutritious local foods and feed these to their children. Although we teach that meat is very nutritious and high in protein and iron, we know that these families can’t afford meat. We encourage families to grow vegetables, lentils and have a few egg-laying chickens so they can feed eggs to their children.
I always test the nutritional knowledge of ladies in the nutrition groups. There are certain topics that they must master, such as the importance of exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, hygiene, dietary diversity, and what to do if your child has diarrhoea. It might seem funny for me to be talking about breastfeeding and diarrhoea to a bunch of conservative ladies, but I had their rapt attention.
Nothing is sadder than a child’s funeral and in Bangladesh it still happens too often. These mothers would do anything for their children, but they are very poor and have few options. Being part of a World Vision Area Development Program means that these mothers have access to medical attention in life-threatening situations.