Story of Pahasara

Pahasara was diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition when he was just 3 months old. “I thought he was disabled,” his mother, Sumitra, (34) recalls. “He didn’t have the energy of a normal baby. He would hardly even move.” Pahasara’s growth failed to increase in the ensuing months, despite breastfeeding him exclusively, so at 6 months she introduced him to solid food, hoping he would gain weight. Despite her best efforts, however, this led to a reduction in his weight and a decline in his health. “His stomach became bloated. He was constipated, lethargic and he didn’t want to eat,” remembers Mum. At six months of age, Pahasara weighed a mere 5.5 pounds.

Compounding the problems at home, around this time Pahasara’s father left home, leaving Sumitra to provide for him, his older sister, Shehani (14), and her elderly father solely on her wages as an agricultural day labourer. After another six months, a horrific economic crisis began throughout the country. Food prices skyrocketed while available work dwindled. All the while, Pahasara got weaker and would sleep all day. “I was fearing the worst because Pahasara looked so bad. He was so thin. I was very scared. I didn’t know what was happening. The midwife told me I had to get his weight to healthy levels, but I couldn’t afford to buy the food he needed. I was caring for my elderly father and trying to educate my daughter at the same time. I couldn’t afford to do more.” At one point, Pahasara was admitted to the hospital and spent several days there, eventually being discharged with some vitamin supplements to take home.

It was around this time that Sumitra and Pahasara were invited to a meeting for all mothers with children aged 0-5 in the community. There, a lead mother with ChildFund’s Community Response Hubs initiative discussed how they were beginning a programme in the area that would help families have healthier children amid the current economic crisis. “I really wanted to see what this was all about, because I thought it could really help Pahasara. I thought, ‘Maybe he can be healthy at last.’ I told them that day I wanted to be part of the programme.”

As the first step, Sumitra was paired with a lead mother in the community named Sachini. Lead mothers are trained by ChildFund to walk alongside and guide other mothers in the community, ensuring the children they raise are growing and developing properly. At the same time, Pahasara began to receive meals at the community kitchen. Here, lead mothers and volunteers cook a large, healthy and well-balanced meal for young children in the community three times a week, with the mothers and volunteers supplying the labour while ChildFund supplies the food and equipment. Other children and family members are also served if food supplies are adequate. As a volunteer cook at the community kitchen once a week, Sumitra learned from Sachini how to cook healthy, affordable meals that Pahasara would like with ingredients that are found locally. “My son is a picky eater,” says Sumitra. “But I learned how to make healthy food that he enjoys eating. His favourite food is rice with moringa leaf, potatoes and green chilies.”

As part of the Community Responsive Hub initiative, Sumitra now attends regular group play activities with other mothers and children in the community, helping to stimulate Pahasara both physically and socially. She receives a monthly visit at home by her lead mother to assess his developmental milestones and physical growth. Perhaps most crucially, Sumitra was given seeds, equipment and training to establish a healthy backyard garden where today she grows peanuts, papaya, potatoes, greens, lentils, and moringa leaf.

Now at 2 years old, Pahasara is up to 23 pounds in weight. He has shown steady improvement but is still slightly below his target weight, charting in the orange “needs improvement” section of his growth chart. Recently, the heath centre said he could stop taking vitamin supplements. “I’ve cried so many times. I’m so thankful he’s recovering,” says Mum. “I kept on doing the best I could. The last time they weighed him, I was so happy I almost cried. He was SO close to green for the first time. I’m trying my best so the next time he’ll be in the green.”

Today, he is happy and active. It gives me such joy to see him like this. I feel like he might become an athlete one day, he loves running around so much. He’s even learning to ride a tricycle. He loves playing ball with his sister.”