Photo credit: Sahabat Anak

A Nutrition Solution for Street ChildrenPhotos courtersy of Sahabat Anak

BY :ALICE GARNER

JULY 01, 2015

Photo credit: Sahabat Anak

Twelve year old Vioni has been having stomach problems for as long as she can remember. In and out of doctors’ offices and on and off medication, she thought she’d had every possible diagnosis. But today Vioni got a prescription she’d never received before: no more instant noodles.

Nutrition-related diseases such as diabetes, stunting and heart disease are one of the biggest health threats on Indonesia’s horizon. They are non-communicable diseases – lifestyle related diseases, brought on by unhealthy diets and ways of living.

Sahabat Anak, a local NGO, realizes that the health of Indonesia’s youngest generation needs to be addressed now, before these lifestyles become too ingrained: “healthy lifestyles, feeds healthy brains, feed healthy futures” commented one of Sahabat Anak’s volunteers when asked about why the organization was concerned about addressing nutrition.

Every few weekends, one of Sahabat Anak’s seven tutorial centres is transformed into a health check-up centre. Doctors, nurses and pharmacists all volunteer their time to provide consultations for hundreds of young street kids, marginalised children and their parents.

Photo Credit: Sahabat Anak

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Sitting in groups according to age-group the children are lead line-by-line to have their weight and height recorded on their health record form – forms that Sahabat Anak have created to keep track of the children’s wellbeing. Hair is checked for nits before each child is given a vitamin and a worm-tablet.

A table, manned by a group of pharmacists, overflows with medicine that can be prescribed to the children and their parents free of charge. A line of doctors sit at a row of primary-school style desks, where for two hours they provide free consultations to both children and their parents.

“The overall health of the street children is actually quite good” commented Dr Gde Sanjaya, a resident doctor in Jakarta, who lists skin infections, tooth decay and flu-like symptoms as being the main concern along with nutrition. “However their eating habits are often not healthy, high calorie, high sugar, and low nutrients. They do not have balanced diets” he remarked.

“I am concerned about the body weight of some of these children” remarked another volunteer Dr Dickson Tan, “they are malnourished”. Malnourishment is not just the result of a lack of food explained Dr Tan, “they might be eating a lot of food, but it is not the right kind of food.”

When it comes to nutrition related illnesses, like the stomach pains Vioni suffers from, and more serious nutrition related diseases, prevention is far more effective than treatment. For this, education is key. ““I’m using this opportunity to give them a lot of health advice, especially on their eating habits, but also making sure they know to brush regularly, visit the dentist twice a year, and wash their hands before eating” said Dr Sanjaya.

While the street kids and other marginalised children leave the makeshift health centres with medicine, new toothbrushes and pamphlets on healthy eating, they are not the only ones who benefit from these events.

“It is important to practice our empathy” said Dr Tan, when asked why he volunteers his Sunday afternoons every second week, “other people are less well-off than me and I want to help them”. Dr Sanjaya agreed, “I am here today because I want to learn from these people, and also give back to the children.”

For Vioni, a bag of vitamins and strict instructions to stay away from processed instant noodles is not all she has taken away from today. “Today has been inspiring - it’s good to see doctors helping all these people. When I grow up I want to be a doctor, I want to help sick people.”

Find out more about the work of Sahabat Anak on its website, sahabatanak.org; its blog, thevoiceofsahabatanak.wordpress.com; its Facebook Fanpage, Sahabat Anak; or follow the group on Twitter,  @sahabatanak.

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