Tomorrow is Diwali, a five-day festival that celebrates the victory of light over darkness.
The Foundation for Mother & Child Health (FMCH) India reported that almost eight lakh (hundred thousand) children in India are not able to celebrate their first Diwali due to poor nutrition and health outcomes.
FMCH works to empower families from vulnerable communities with actionable information and services, resulting in health seeking behavior and nutritious food choices in order to tackle maternal child malnutrition, ultimately breaking the cycle of poverty.
“FMCH India’s work empowers women – it gives confidence and encouragement to an FMCH field officer, adds to the skills and knowledge of a government frontline worker, and builds agency and support for mothers in the community,” Shruthi Iyer, CEO and Co-founder, FMCH India tells Our Milky Way.
When Our Milky Way first interviewed FMCH in 2018, the organization had reached 10,000 women and children in Mumbai and Thane districts of Maharashtra. To date, FMCH has now worked with 60,000 families across low income neighborhoods of Mumbai.
Still, in 2020, more than 40 percent of children in India were undernourished and 50 percent of women were anemic.
Within the first 1,000 Days, FMCH strives to implement education sessions in the community, home based counseling, and the strengthening of systems, each strategy with a strong emphasis on monitoring and maintenance of quality. Sustainability has been built into the program through community engagement and government systems.
Because malnutrition and maternal health are complex forces, FMCH engages in a variety of programs. Read in detail about them here.
For instance, as part of Project Poshan, the organization identified that in Mumbai, “only 53 percent of newborns are breastfed within one hour of birth, displaying a serious lack of early initiation of breastfeeding. On the other hand, the percentage of breastfed children aged 6 to 23 months receiving an adequate diet is as low as 6.4 percent in the city.” [ Retrieved from https://www.fmch-india.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/FMCH-Annual-Report-2021-Interactive.pdf]
Most recently, in the last year, FMCH “worked with close to 25,000 families, and recorded an increase in early initiation of breastfeeding – 74% from 59%… The national average is 57%,” documented in the latest Annual Report. What’s more, 70 percent of mothers started complementary feeding at the appropriate age of six months.
Their work supporting healthy infant feeding recognizes that breastfeeding is not only the responsibility of the mother though and aims to educate the network of people around the breastfeeding dyad.
FMCH’s most recent annual report describes the success stories of health care providers and the families they serve. Explore them here.
Iyer says the way forward is to establish more direct interventions, build out indicators for their theory of change and to conduct more trainings for Anganwadi workers. (Anganwadis are rural child care centers started by the Indian government as part of the Integrated Child Development Services program.)
In the earliest Indian literature, the Vedas (a large body of religious texts originating in ancient India) recognize the life-giving powers of breastmilk.
As documented in The Religious and Cultural Bases for Breastfeeding Practices Among the Hindus “…Milk and breast are symbolic of longevity and nectarine sweetness” and “‘Drinking of the milk, whose sap is the sap of immortal life divine, may your baby gain long life, as do the gods by feeding on the beverage of immortality!’ (Susruta, III, 10).”
Extolling breastmilk in modern India and globally, through programs like FMCH, is like the light over darkness during Diwali, the FMCH vision achieved: “Healthy mothers and thriving children for a world of unlimited possibilities.”