Global Volunteers Responds to Need for Long-Term Comprehensive Community Development
August 25, 2020
Michele Gran, Co-Founder & Sr. Vice President, Global Volunteers
As the global pandemic and resulting economic crisis has increased the incidence of hunger and malnutrition, food insecurity and access to health care, low-income communities who have invested in local self-sufficiency are better poised to survive the tragic consequences. Such resiliency balances upon local leaders’ broad and comprehensive development wisdom to leverage essential services and stabilize local capacity.
It is in these visionary communities that Global Volunteers has for more than 36 years invested; helping provide “upstream resources” to strengthen their resistance to the inevitable health, nutrition and economic emergencies that can befall them.
In 2017, in the central highlands of Tanzania, Global Volunteers initiated the Reaching Children’s Potential Demonstration Program to help eradicate hunger, improve health, and enhance cognition on a long-term and permanent basis. RCP is a child-focused, parent-driven, family-centered, community-led, comprehensive program that invests in pregnant women, mothers and children – focusing on the crucial first 1,000 days of life. At the invitation of Tanzania President Jakaya Kikwete and in cooperation with our 34-year partner, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania (ELCT), we began in a single model village, which has served as a “hub” while services expanded to the remaining communities in the local ward over three years.
The key components are the “12 Essential Services” which are derived from the innovative work of the World Food Program (WFP), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Together, the Essential Services are designed to raise self-sufficiency and fill in the gaps, beginning with fortified meals to mothers and children and students in RCP communities, extending to EarthBox container gardens to supply micro-nutrients to participating families, as well as home visits by caregivers to reinforce parent education workshops that teach proper health, nutrition and child development practices.
Currently, more than 570 families in five villages in the rural Ukwega Ward are enrolled in RCP. Parents are offered the skills and knowledge to help their children develop well and thrive. Families receive daily nutritious meals for pregnant women, nursing mothers and infants; vital knowledge from interactive workshops on the importance of the first 1,000 days of life, nutrition, health, hygiene, childcare, development, disease prevention, and income generation; relevant household technologies including hand-washing stations, and container gardens, and in the near future chicken coops, fuel efficient stoves, and household water catchment systems; access to quality prenatal, postnatal, child, and maternal care at Global Volunteers’ health clinic; and opportunities to join local cooperatives.
RCP’s whole-child approach is comprehensive, addressing all known underlying causes of stunting – hunger, malnutrition, infectious disease, and insufficient maternal care, education, and psychosocial support – employing a unique combination of methods. Short-term volunteer professionals provide catalytic support through knowledge transfer, direct care, technology implementation, teaching in schools, engaging with local people, and offering behavioral support.
Once food security is achieved, our focus pivots to sustainable nutrition for stunting prevention, anchored by education and appropriate technologies — the foundation of the program.
Beyond nutrition, RCP focuses on improving hygiene and clean drinking water for better health. Each RCP family and the partnering schools have their own hand-washing stations with instructions on sanitizing the cleaning water and boiling the drinking water. Future plans include the addition of simple water catchment systems for safer drinking water.
Data shows the RCP program is making a significant difference in the nutrition, health and well-being of women and children in the Ukewega Ward. Program data analyzed by a research group from St. John Fischer College pharmacy doctoral program, shows a significant and dramatic reduction in stunting. In the first two full years, most notably, stunting decreased from 37 percent to 30 percent and severe stunting dropped from 20 percent to 8 percent in children enrolled in RCP.
This is the nutrition stabilization and stunting reversal intended to build up communities’ long-term capacity to withstand health and hunger threats, and to enable children – our world’s greatest resource – to reach their full potential.