Tuesday, 24 September 2013

The story of little Neni

By Dorian Druelle, UNICEF France

Neni (center) is smiling with her classmates as she is now no longer suffering from diarrhoeal symptoms.
©UNICEF Indonesia/2013/Druelle 

Neni is a 10 years old Indonesian girl, but she has the size of a 7 or 8 years old child. Her fragile body bears the mark of stunting, a manifestation of chronic malnutrition which affects more than half of all children under five years of age in the region where she lives and more than a third in all children in Indonesia. She will probably wear the effects of stunting all her life, but her bright smile and sparkling eyes seem anticorrelated to her underweight; Neni is a shining child.

Neni lives in a rural village called Taubneno, close to the inland town of Soe, in the Nusa Tenggara Timur province of Indonesia. NTT, as the province is usually called, is notoriously dry, with hot winds blowing from Australia just south, during a long dry season which lasts for more than 8 months. Around Soe, the soil is often rocky and unfertile, with little industry or tourism to generate any income, and erratic flooding which washes away roads and crops, a recent phenomenon worsened by the growing deforestation.

When we meet in her primary school, little Neni explains how she used to be sick all the time during her early childhood. She doesn’t give her symptoms the medical name of “diarrhoea”, but she talks about chronic stomachache, vomiting and the need to go to the toilets very often. Two years ago, she even had to be hospitalized for a week, after a severe diarrhoea crisis, missing school. Her classmate and friend Neneng visited her at the clinic and remembers how she really got worried about Neni. And of course Neni’s stunting is most probably linked to her frequent diarrhoeal episodes.

Neni’s life is now getting a little bit brighter every day, as she explains that she hasn’t been suffering from diarrhoeal symptoms now for several months. Both Neni and her friend Neneng link her improved health to their new habit of washing hands with soap “after playing, eating and using the toilet”.

At her school, now Neni can practice a new habit of washing hands with soap after playing, eating and using the toilet.
©UNICEF Indonesia/2013/Druelle

The school supervisor of Taubneno confirms that, since UNICEF started supporting the school two years ago with a water, hygiene and sanitation programme, she has observed that the children changed their behavior. Their attendance record gradually increased as well, since they are less ill than before. UNICEF has helped the community construct toilets and creates access to clean water in the school, and has worked with the local government and community to educate children about the importance of proper hand washing. In a province where 1 out of 3 children dies due to diarrhoea before reaching his or her 5th birthday, a simple hand washing practice can reduce the risk by almost half.

As diarrhoeal cases among children are now decreasing, Neni’s supervisor hopes that UNICEF can continue helping her school in the future, especially in the area of sanitation. And as evidence shows that this integrated approach which combines nutrition, early childhood development and education allows for an improved health of children on the remote island of NTT, UNICEF now aims at scaling up the community-based sanitation, water storage and hygiene practices in the whole region.

The toilet with access to clean water at Neni's school was built by the community supported by UNICEF, thanks to regular support from donors.
©UNICEF Indonesia/2013/Druelle

Become a Champion for Children today to help UNICEF improve the lives of the most vulnerable children like little Neni. More than 35.000 children die every year in Indonesia because of diarrhoea. Your monthly gift will help change their daily life and their future. Thank you in advance for your generous support.

Neni (right) with her friends Neneng (left) and Alda (center) washing their hands with soap at Taubneno primary school, Soe, Nusa Tenggara Timur, Indonesia.
©UNICEF Indonesia/2013/Druelle