Pandes Village, Central Java, Indonesia, May 2014 - As the Chief of private fundraising and partnerships in UNICEF Indonesia's Jakarta office, I spend a lot of my time in office buildings - at my desk, in meetings or on the phone. But in early May, I found myself cross-legged on the floor of a huge bamboo building in Pandes village, Central Java, watching a group of expectant mothers play a fishing game.
I’d come with several colleagues to see one of UNICEF’s programmes in action. With the Government of Indonesia, we’ve helped to train a local midwife and several volunteers, known as cadres, to teach women about good nutrition both during pregnancy and after their baby is born. The cadres also work with fathers and older members of the community so that they can best support these new mothers.
Expectant mothers learn about breastfeeding and good nutrition during a game in Pandes, Central Java.
© UNICEF Indonesia/2014/Anup Tiwari
Six or seven pregnant women sat in a circle on the floor of the hall, taking it in turns to try to pluck a fish-shaped piece of paper from the centre of the circle using a fishing rod. There were smiles and laughter as the women enjoyed the game.
On the back of each paper fish was written a word – for example “food” or “hygiene”. The woman who caught each fish would begin by talking about her approach to the topic. The others would then share their knowledge and experience in a discussion.
The midwife and the volunteers would listen, correcting any misconceptions about nutrition during pregnancy, and breastfeeding new born babies. They made sure the women learned about the importance of exclusively breastfeeding their baby until 6 months. They also offered advice on how to hold the baby during breastfeeding and how often to feed them.
The dedication of the team of volunteer cadres was impressive. Together they had decided on a uniform and each one of them proudly wore it. There was obviously a strong sense of community in the village. Indonesia has decentralised its political system and village heads can now decide on how funds are spent to benefit the community. The volunteer cadres seemed motivated by the feeling of being in control of their own destiny.
A boy is weighed at a health centre in Paseban village, Klaten
© UNICEF Indonesia/2012/Anup Tiwari
The training of the cadres and midwives is part of UNICEF’s nutrition programme in Central Java. More than one third of Indonesia’s under-fives are stunted or too short for their age, because they don’t get the nutrients they need in early childhood. The effects of stunting are lifelong and irreversible. Children who are stunted are more likely as adults to be less educated, poorer, less healthy and more prone to diseases.