Sri Lanka: Malnutrition Cripples Child Development

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SILVER SPRING, Md. —Nearly one in three Sri Lankan children suffer from the effects of malnutrition, reports the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA), leaving them vulnerable to opportunistic diseases, seriously compromising their chances of leading a healthy, productive life.

A child that is undernourished during the first two years of life, is less likely to complete school, and will earn, on average, between 10 to 17 percent less than their well-nourished counterparts, according to the World Bank.

“The nutrition that a child receives is essential to not only build a strong body, but also to achieve optimal mental and intellectual ability, as well as emotional health,” said Edgar Castillo, country director for ADRA Sri Lanka. “Just as a car needs fuel, proper nutrition during these important developmental years is a necessity.”

To provide children with the nutrition they need to grow and perform effectively, ADRA is running HEARTH, a two and a half year project that helps tsunami-affected families in eastern Sri Lanka improve their children’s health and nutrition.

HEARTH works in partnership with the Sri Lankan Ministry of Health in the Ampara District, targeting mothers and small children in 15 villages in the Pottuvil Division, specifically those who were affected by the tsunami in 2004 and the country’s recently ended civil war.

An estimated 900 mothers and 1,800 young children are benefiting from directly from the project with more than 4,000 community members indirectly affected.

To implement the project, ADRA uses the Positive Deviance approach, a methodology that emphasizes the use of sustainable techniques that mobilize the community through the utilization of local knowledge and resources.  Through the project, ADRA provides training on important health and nutrition topics for public health midwives.  These midwives then train health volunteers, who in turn teach mothers with undernourished children the practical habits they need to improve their children’s health and nutrition.

Participating mothers attend 12 sessions which cover a variety of health and nutrition issues including pre-natal nutrition, breastfeeding, home gardening, hygiene, and weighing sessions that monitor the growth of the children.  Also a complementary feeding session is offered that provides undernourished children with additional nutritious meals. These activities reinforce the value of improved nutrition and dietary habits.  

“Before I joined the HEARTH project, I knew very little about things like nutrition and the importance of complementary feeding,” said Salma, a mother of four and beneficiary of the HEARTH project.  “My son refused to eat, and cried all the time.  Now, he eats a variety of foods, and sleeps through the nights.  I appreciate the work of ADRA and the volunteers have done, by teaching us this valuable information.”

HEARTH is scheduled to end December 2009, and is funded by Aktion Deutschland Hilft (ADH) through ADRA Germany, as well as ADRA New Zealand, and ADRA Australia.

Other partners include the Christian Children’s Fund, World Vision, and the Women’s Rural Development Society.

ADRA has been working for the people of Sri Lanka since 1989 in the areas of economic development, emergency management, basic health care, and food security.

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ADRA is a non-governmental organization present in 125 countries providing sustainable community development and disaster relief without regard to political or religious association, age, gender, race or ethnicity.

For more information about ADRA, visit

Author:Nadia McGill



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