“I believe in what I am doing”

May 9, 2014

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Asma Akhter had her first child at the age of 15. She had little knowledge on infant, young and child feeding (IYCF) practices and used to believe in superstitions and social taboos regarding child care.  She had avoided breastfeeding her daughter within one hour of birth and had wrongly fed other lacteals during her child’s first six months.

Frontline community health worker Asma Akhter with her second child Arafat

Frontline community health worker Asma Akhter with her second child Arafat

Asma Akhter had her first child at the age of 15. She had little knowledge on infant, young and child feeding (IYCF) practices and used to believe in superstitions and social taboos regarding child care.  She had avoided breastfeeding her daughter within one hour of birth and had wrongly fed other lacteals during her child’s first six months.

In 2005 Asma joined BRAC as a frontline community health worker and was posted to a remote village of Barisal district, in south-central Bangladesh. Through her training, she came to know about antenatal and neonatal care, IYCF practices and child healthcare.  Conscious of her mistakes, she actively began to raise awareness about maternal and child health to people in her community. This included delivery care, exclusive breast feeding practices, diet diversity and personal hygiene.

According to Bangladesh Demographic and Health Survey (BDHS) in 2011, the rate of exclusive breast feeding during the first six months has increased by 21 per cent — from 43 per cent in 2007 to 64 per cent in 2011. Women like Asma working in healthcare have crucially contributed to the increase in exclusive breastfeeding.

Asma gave birth to her second child in 2012 (12 years after her first born). Breaking cultural taboos and social tradition, she followed the proper IYCF practices. She started breastfeeding early and continued exclusively breastfeeding for the first six months before introducing appropriate solid food. She feels happy that she could take proper care of her second baby and says, “I believe in what I am doing.”

Asma’s first child, Umme, is malnourished and more susceptible to illnesses whereas her second child, Arafat, is leading a healthy life. Being a frontline community health worker, Asma can see the difference between her two children which itself sets an example for the importance of proper nutrition during a child’s early years.  She is happy to be working with healthcare issues and has made the commitment to take these lessons to as many households as she can. Asma strongly believes that every small step she takes has the potential to bring about a lasting impact to her community.

Asma’s case is an example of how the right information can initiate positive social change. It speaks of the strong role that social and behavourial change communication play in community households.

Nowshin Jahan is a senior sector specialist for BRAC’s health, nutrition and population programme.