Friday, 23 August 2013

UNICEF Indonesia and faith-based organization NU join forces to reduce stunting

UNICEF Indonesia Representative Angela Kearney and K.H Said Aqil Siradj, Chairman of NU
Jakarta, Indonesia, August 2013 – UNICEF Indonesia has signed a partnership agreement with Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the largest Muslim organisation in the country to further enhance its efforts to improve the nutritional status of children and to reduce the high prevalence of stunting.

The collaboration will focus on addressing stunting through strengthening the government’s Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) programme or PKH. This model is currently being piloted in two districts: Brebes in Central Java and Sikka in East Nusa Tenggara through a programme called PKH Prestasi.

For UNICEF Indonesia, this is the first formal partnership with a faith-based organisation. With an estimated number of followers of more than 50 million people, Nahdlatul Ulama is one of the largest Muslim organizations in the world. Around 60% of the population in Brebes are members of NU and the organization has enormous clout in the district. NU has affiliations in most major Islamic boarding schools (pesantren) across Indonesia, including in Brebes. NU also funds hospitals and schools, both religious and secular.

According to UNICEF formative research faith-based organisations enjoy a very high level of trust in Indonesia. “While this is only a small step in what hopefully will become a long term partnership, this is a very important first step, Angela Kearney, UNICEF Indonesia Country Representative said during the signing ceremony at the beginning of August. “The government and UNICEF in collaboration with civil society organisations such as NU, are committed to address child stunting in Indonesia.”

K.H Said Aqil Siradj, Chairman of NU said: “Stunting is a serious nutrition issue, however, I am surprised that it is happening in a city like Brebes. NU will support efforts to reduce the burden through its networks (Islamic clerics) in the pesantren to educate the community on stunting issue.” The launch was also attended by Fiona Howell, Special Adviser of the Government’s Poverty Eradication Task Force.

Almost 9 million under five – or one third of all children that age group in Indonesia - are stunted or too short for their age. The effects of stunting are lifelong and irreversible. Not only does it affect their height, but also has a negative impact on their mental development and growth. Children who are stunted are more likely to become adults who are less educated, poorer, less healthy and more prone to diseases.

UNICEF, NU and the government will work together to sensitize religious leaders (halaqoh) at national and local levels on nutrition and stunting, and facilitate a dialogue among them, and develop training tools so they can disseminate key health and nutrition messages through their sermons and other activities.

While at the beginning the activities will only be implemented in Brebes, the partnership is expected to be replicated nationally. NU also in particular has a huge network of ulamas (Muslim cleric) and kyais (senior cleric) who are in touch directly with the families that have or could have stunted children. They will act as change agents on the ground.