Healthy children, healthy community

Save the Children Fiji (SCF), with support from the Fiji Community Development Program (FCDP), works with many villages to improve access to healthy food for children and families. The methods involve parents, teachers and community members reinforcing the principles of healthy eating and establishing local food security.  Doguru Village near Labasa is a successful example of the difference SCF is making.

Ana Maria and her 16 friends ran in circles around the makeshift kindergarten in Doguru, singing songs and chasing one another. They clearly enjoyed being at school as the teacher tried to get them organised. Ana Maria’s grandmother, Karoline, was a dominant figure in establishing the kindergarten and nutrition program through the village women’s group. It was this group that managed to garner support from SCF in 2012 and together they approached the Ministry of Education to acquire resources to establish the kindergarten.

The SCF program now involves teaching parents and children about nutrition beginning with pre-schoolers. “They encouraged us to eat fresh vegetables and fruit. They also helped us to establish our own vegetable gardens” said Ili, Ana Marie’s mother. “Now the parents will take care of the garden in the morning by watering the vegetables, and parents and older children will help in the afternoons. For two days a week the parents will use the vegetables to cook lunches for the children at school.” Karoline says everyone is participating in the program.

The teacher says most children now eat healthy meals. They no longer just eat noodles and fried food. “We don’t drink cordial or soft drink anymore in the centre. Now we give our children water or fresh lemon juice. Before we used to eat noodles all the time but now we are taught this is not good for us” says Ili.  “We have noticed the change in our children and the community. Everyone is supportive of the program and we have noticed that our children are healthier.”

SCF has also introduced some discipline into the school day as part of the Healthy Snack Box Policy which is an approach to ensure children, teachers, parents and caregivers are practising healthy eating, and children are bringing healthy lunches and snacks to school. This policy is signed by the kindergarten teacher, the Community Education Committee President and the parents of the kindergarten students and asks them to commit to behaviour change around the provision of nutritional foods. “As parents, we have to sign each child in and out, and at lunch times the teacher will do a ‘food roll call, ’” says Ili. The teacher asks each student what he or she has to eat for lunch and records this. If children are found to be eating foods that are not high in nutrition, she will report it back to the parents to encourage healthier eating. This is seen as a good monitoring process to reinforce positive eating behaviours by the parents and teachers.

Without the vegetable garden supported by SCF it would be difficult to get fresh vegetables and sustain healthy eating. “They are expensive at the market and it is a long way to go” says Ili. “That is why we would just eat noodles and cassava, and drink soda and cordial”. The local canteen mainly stocks noodles, canned tuna and biscuits.

SCF provides seedlings and helps guide the community on caring for the garden. They usually come to the village 2 to 3 times a month and also regularly bring health officers from the Ministry of Health to talk to the community about nutrition and do check-ups on children. Ili says children now brush their teeth regularly, eat fresh fruit, and exercise all the time.  Ili has noticed changes in the behaviour of Ana Marie. She will get up and brush her teeth and loves to go to school and be with her friends. She seems to be a lot healthier with less colds and skin irritations. She also likes the healthy food they cook. “We will have eggs and bread for breakfast with lemongrass tea, vegetable curry and roti for lunch, and fresh fish and prawns with boiled vegetables for dinner,” says Ili proudly.

Source: FCDP.