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Deepika, Sri Lanka

Community participation in providing health services, programme design and decision-making can play a significant role in meeting the health MDGs


Leading an inspiring group of ladies in her community, 23-year-old Deepika is at the heart of efforts to tackle under-nourishment among children. It's all about commitment and courage, she says – and a little dose of happiness.

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    There was one question which was bothering Deepika: why were so many children under five years old under-nourished in her community of Weeraweva? Despite many health initiatives which have been implemented in the past, nearly 25 per cent of children suffered from under-nourishment.

    Together with a group of friends from her community, Deepika, a 23-year-old housewife and mother to a baby girl, then turned her attention to another question: what could she do about it?

    With support and guidance from the public health midwife and encouraged by the approach to health promoted by Plan and the national department of health, Deepika and her group of friends – 20 other women from the community – set off to find out what they could do to improve children's nutritional health.

    What did they find? That a mother's happiness and a father's support were crucial. The women therefore organised themselves into five neighbourhood groups and set about introducing a number of measures which they hoped would address the problem, from raising awareness raising about nutrition to a happiness measuring book for mothers. Deepika took a leading role, coordinating and contributing to many of these initiatives.

    The group encouraged mothers, who are also members, to move out of daily work in the kitchen and participate in community initiatives. They initiated an alcohol prevention programme and carried out a poster campaign with the support of their families and neighbours. But it's not just about the women. Fathers, too, got involved in their children's activities more often, and took a leading role in creating children's play spaces in the community.

    As a result of effective community participation, within a couple of months, all of the children in the community had gained weight. And that's no mean feat. Looking back, Deepika and her colleagues feel proud of their efforts. But they don't intend to stop here – they have many plans for the future too.

    "Commitment, courage and learning is the key to success to anything that you do. Through positive participation in decisions that affected us, we gained confidence and respect from our own family and our community," says Deepika.

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