It was drizzling. Two-year-old Amit and Menoka, four, ran from their house, responding to their friends’ call. Running in the rain is something their mother would never have allowed them to do in the past.
“They are healthy. Let them run,” she said.
This is an outcome of World Vision India’s nutrition programme, which is helping under-twos like Amit to lead healthier lives.
Amit’s village, Bhujubita, in West Bengal’s Malda district has 25 households – all of whom face the risk of food shortages. The village’s children have been malnourished since birth.
Amit’s health has always been poor. He easily caught mild fever or diarrhoea even at the slightest change of climate. Last year, malaria nearly claimed his life.
"He survived, but became very weak after that,” said his mother, Phoolky Tudu.
Malnutrition is one of the major crises facing children in India. Almost half of children suffer from some form of malnutrition. Children living in Amit’s state, West Bengal, are even more likely to be underweight than their peers elsewhere in India.
World Vision’s nutrition programme has been running in Amit’s village for three months. Amit was admitted to the Early Childhood Care and Development Centre looking little more than skin and bone.
Amit’s three months in the centre helped him to gain more than a kilogramme in body weight. “He seldom falls sick now,” smiles Phoolky.
The nutritious food given at the centre includes high-calorie nuts and biscuits, puff rice, jaggery and other protein mixtures. Families like Amit’s often cannot afford to buy these kinds of foods.
World Vision staff working in Bhujubita and nearby villages realised that mass malnutrition was a real problem in the area. The organisation has now opened Early Childhood Care and Development Centres in 28 villages.
“We want to cover 50 villages because the need is there, but there are not enough resources,” said Jyoti Mukhia, Programme Manager.
It is midday, and the Bhujubita day care centre is full of noise. The children are given nutritious meals, taught nursery rhymes, learn alphabets and play games.
“The children like the centre so much that every morning they tell their parents to take them there,” said Jyoti.
The centre also offers baby day care where mothers can leave their infants while they work the fields.
“It is not easy for me to leave my baby there, but I can see that they really take care of my daughter – she is well fed and taught well, so I trust them,” said Mando, another mother in the village.