Helping moms and babies succeed in Bangladesh

Feb 03, 2019
By Katie Chung  

On a trip to Bangladesh last year to visit families and communities involved in a new development initiative focusing on nutrition for mothers and new babies, we met Ajmira, one of the community facilitators. It was a hot and humid day, and she greeted us warmly with glasses of cool water and seated us in her outdoor space, beside her family’s garden. We were closely observed by her adorable three-year-old daughter and nine-year-old son.
Earlier that day we sat in on one of her training sessions, where she teaches other women about pre-natal care and maternal and child health and nutrition. The initiative, monitored by academics and funded by the Government of Canada, is called the 1000 Day Journey, and is focused on providing good health and nutrition for the first 1000 days of a baby’s life (from conception to their second birthday).

Ajmira teaches women about nutritious food
Ajmira teaches a group of women about proper nutrition in a community in Bangladesh. Photo: Paul Bettings 

“This is my community, I have a responsibility to better [it],” Ajmira told us. 
We asked the women in her class about what they’d learned. We noticed Ajmira whispering facts about health and nutrition to them as we talked. She is very passionate about what she teaches her fellow moms, and wants them all to succeed.
A special calling
Ajmira always knew that she wanted to do something. She never wanted to be dependent on someone else. When the position with World Vision became available, she applied immediately and was hired.
This was a big step for her. Ajmira needed to convince her in-laws that the work, although unpaid, was more valuable than bringing in extra money to support the family. 
“My husband is very supportive and caring. Because of him, I’m here. I’m inspired by my husband,” Ajmira glows.

After being accepted for the position, she attended training sessions on health and nutrition for mothers and babies.
Ajmira teaches about good nutrition using an approach called positive deviance intervention (or PD Hearth), a 12-course practical training she conducts with mothers who have babies that are malnourished. For 12 days, the mothers and babies come together where they learn from Ajmira about good hygiene, cook a meal together and weigh their babies to track progress. 

The meals they cook together are well balanced and meet the mother’s and children’s nutritional needs, and use locally sourced and affordable ingredients. One ingredient Ajmira often uses is rice that bio-fortified with zinc.
Zinc is necessary for a baby’s physical growth, cognitive development, and is effective against development of waterborne diseases like diarrhea and dysentery.
Once the program ends, Ajmira trains one or two of the mothers to regularly visit the moms and babies, to make sure they are staying on track. These peer mothers are an important way to make sure there is no slippage, once the program ends.   
The real work of positive change
Ajmira currently looks after three villages and works from dawn to dusk because she loves her work and knows how important it is to share her knowledge.
“This is the first job [I’ve had] in my life…After learning from this project, I've changed our habits. My daughter is so trained now that even when no one is watching, she'll wash her hands with soap,” Ajmira said with a laugh.

Portrait of a woman in Bangladesh wearing a red headscarf
Ajmira glows when she speaks about her work. Photo: Paul Bettings 

She’s so proud of the work that she does. She once conducted a session where 14 out of 24 children were malnourished. By the end of the training, all of the malnourished children were healthy.
When I asked her what her favourite part about being a community facilitator is, she said it was spreading the knowledge of nutrition and health. She loves seeing behavioural changes within the mothers and good habits beginning to form.
“I love seeing pregnant women change their attitudes…I love seeing mothers teaching other mothers in the community.”
For her future, she says that she wants to be self-employed and to do a decent job where she can help her community.
“I want to continue my work with pregnant and lactating women here, even after the project's finished… I want to learn and give back to the society.”
After chatting for more than an hour with Ajmira, she took us out to her garden with her kids to show us her crops. You could see the love in her eyes for her children. They’re healthy and happy. I understand exactly why Ajmira is doing what she’s doing and why she loves being a community facilitator. She wants other mothers to experience what she has with her kids.

A mom and child harvest crops in Bangladesh
Ajmira and one of her children harvest nutritious crops. Photo: Paul Bettings 

Ajmira is part of a world-shaping movement that knows no boundaries. Community health workers like her are helping to bring life-saving maternal and child health care to some of the world’s most vulnerable places. Learn more about the 1000 Day Journey and why we believe that all mothers and babies deserve the right to have Canada-quality health care.