«Our patronage nurse used to visit us regularly in the past, checked on the children’s health and asked if we had any complaints», - says Juldyzkhan, a mother of two daughters aged 4 and 1, who lives in Mol-Bozor village, Chimbay District, Karakalpakstan. «Now, in addition to the regular home visits, our patronage nurse and the community advisor invite me and my family members to take part in the regular community discussions aroundthe practices that are essential for our children’s health and well-being».
According to Juldyzkhan, her older daughter used to get sick very often, especially with diarrhea. She admits that she had little knowledge about the advantages of exclusive breastfeeding, and was hardly able to recognizethe symptoms of dangerous illnesses that required immediate visit to a doctor for her children.She was not alone in this, her neighbors have been experiencing similar challenges.
Things have started to gradually changefor Juldyzkhan’s family and her entire community with the introduction of the Participatory learning and Action (PLA) methodology, brought to the village by the IMCHS II Project – the collaborative alliance of the Ministry of Health, Women’s Committee, Makhalla Foundation, the European Union and UNICEF.
Piloted the selected urban and rural communities of Namangan region and the Republic of Karakalpakstan, in the period of 2013-2015, the PLA methodology encourages and empowers communities to start assessing health and well-being needs ofmothers and children aged 0 to 5 years old, gain necessary knowledge, plan action for improvement that is relevant in their local context, and regularly monitor the progress of applying the positive practices, through establishment of the community-based monitoring groups.
The PLA methodology builds on the enthusiasm of the influential community members and channels the messages through the religious leaders, retired teachers and doctors, young active students and others who are respected and ready to dedicate their free time for the well-being of their community.
Facilitated by patronage nurses and community advisors trained in the PLA methodology, the community dialogues have been held regularly to discuss the community situation with regards to five key essential behaviours for mother and child health: exclusive breastfeeding until the age of six months and continued breastfeeding with complimentary feeding until the age of 2; recognizing danger signs of illnesses in children aged 0 to 5 years old; practicing a balanced diet; washing hands with soap at critical times during the day; and developing bonds with a child as well as stimulating the child’s early learning and development.
«Through this experience we learned that the community members and activists are in the best position to advise and guide their own health, well-being and development,» – says Juldyzkhan. «The methodology builds on trust and ensures access to community members and others who serve as information providers. My community peers and I are empowered to take charge of our children’s well-being and development, and to demand better healthcare services from service providers. Most importantly,I feel confident in my girls’ healthy future.»