“I don’t buy vegetables anymore,” says Thaveshwary, 35, who lives in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka. Upon a walk around her garden, it becomes evident why. There are all kinds of green, leafy vegetables growing in her back garden. On a sheet in her front yard, corn and millet dry under the searing sun.
Thaveshwary didn’t always grow her own vegetables. She mainly made handicraft items such as bags and containers with palmyrah leaves originating from palmyrah trees, a common sight in this eastern district of Sri Lanka. Although her creations were beautiful they bought her only a small income. With three children to take care of, she and her husband, a daily wage labourer were barely making ends meet.
Thaveshwary is part of ChildFund’s Lead Mother Program, which builds awareness on child nutrition and development. Under this program mothers receive training on nutrition, home based care, health and sanitation and pass on their learning to other mothers and caregivers in their community through a peer-to-peer education approach.
“I now know about good nutritional meal preparation, age appropriate development, home based care and the importance of education. Our food pattern has changed.” She says. “I cook greens in the morning or prepare cold rice with fruits, some afternoons I boil red rice and serve it with fish or village egg, vegetables and one kind of green leaf.” The program has taught her that appearance also matters in encouraging good nutrition. “I have begun to be conscious about making the meal more colourful, and my children enjoy my preparation.”
As her garden flourished, so have her children. “My second child Jayasan, age 4, and third child Yuvarnika, age 2.5, were underweight. But they have gained weight with my new nutritious meal practices. “Both are healthier and I am really happy about it,” she says.
Another aspect of the program has been the promotion of hygiene practices. Thaveshwary says that she now encourages her children to wear slippers when using the toilet and to wash their hands with soap after using the toilet as well as before meals. She also makes a bigger effort to keep the area surrounding her house clean and makes sure to boil drinking water.
At the end of a busy day, she still has energy to spend time with her children helping them with their lessons. “I make sure to spend time to help the children with their homework”. Sometimes she gets help for this task from her neighbour, Lakshaniya, who is studying for her Advanced Level exams.
As the Batticaloa sun ebbs into the sea, we leave Thaveshwary busy in her garden, tending to young plants that will slowly grow and bloom with new fruit bringing happiness and good health into her home.