Stories: Children, Communities, Futures

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Jacson was three years old when his mother Augusta discovered his growth was stunted and he was not getting the proper nutrition he needed. 

As a community health volunteer who had undergone training with ChildFund Timor-Leste, Augusta was able to recognise her son was at risk of being malnourished and that he was below the healthy height and weight range that a child of his age should be.

“I immediately enrolled him in the ChildFund’s child nutrition project together with some children who were malnourished,” Augusta says.

Gradually, with better nutrition and diet, Jacson’s health improved.

Fortunately, Augusta’s experience as a community health volunteer helped to ensure that Jacson (pictured above) would not follow the path of many young children in remote and rural communities in Timor-Leste.

High rates of stunting, wasting and malnutrition among young children in the country often results from a lack of access to health information and healthcare. Stunting and poor nutrition can have long-term effects on young children, including diminishing their cognitive and physical development and increasing their risk of degenerative diseases in the future.

As one of ChildFund’s community health volunteers, Augusta regularly monitors the growth and health of children in her village, referring them to a health professional when required, and speaks with parents and caregivers about how good health, hygiene, and nutrition can improve their children’s development. She also helps to run community cooking demonstrations for parents on how to prepare nutritious meals that children enjoy eating.

Another important part of her role is advising pregnant and new mothers on basic maternal and child health, including delivering their babies in health facilities rather than at home, and the importance of breastfeeding. 

“Working with ChildFund gives us volunteers lots of experience,” Augusta says. “We are helping to change parents’ behaviours and helping to children to combat malnourishment.”

Today Augusta’s son Jacson is five years old. He is not only eating more, but more nutritious foods. “I’m happy because Jacson’s has put on weight,” Augusta says.

Augusta is seeing the difference that she and other community health volunteers are making in her village. Being a community health volunteer is fulfilling. “I am serving my community,” she says.

In a small village in Lautem municipality in Timor-Leste, there is a small garden flourishing with vegetables and legumes. It is the pride of joy of father-of-six Americo.

“The vegetables are growing healthy,” he says.

The garden, which also features a papaya tree, is what Americo relies on to help feed his family. Like many other parents in his village, Americo farms for a living. Most of the produce he grows ends up on the dinner table, and any excess vegetables are sold at the markets.

Coming from a long line of farmers; Americo knows a thing or two about growing food. But when he first began his own garden his knowledge was limited. The water spinach, eggplant and banana seeds that he planted produced poor yields and were constantly eaten by pests.

Through ChildFund Timor-Leste and local partner Fraterna, Americo has been learning about sustainable farming techniques, as well as composting, food storage, and how to manage pests and establish water conservation systems. ChildFund and Fraterna have also supported Americo’s family with a variety of seeds and gardening tools.

Today, Americo no longer grows eggplants and bananas. There is still water spinach in his garden, but the plants are thriving. Among the spinach, there is green mustard, lettuce, soyabeans and string beans.

Americo has chosen to use a method called trench gardening. “I learned to grow vegetables using the technique of first preparing the soil by digging a hole and then burying it with dried leaves and some animal waste before planting seeds,” he says.