Compassion India's Child Survival Program

Compassion India's Child Survival Program

By: Sumana Mani, Compassion India Communications Specialist   |   Posted: February 20, 2006

Improving Tribal Children's, Families' Lives
"I've learned to write my children's names," says Amsa, proudly, describing one of many skills she's learned at the Cross Child Survival Program (IN-CS4). Previously outcasts, the family's status is also changing. Amsa is meeting other women in the village who interact with her at the project.

With painstaking effort, Amsa, a 35-year-old tribal woman who has never attended school, writes her and her six children's names on a piece of paper. This is quite an accomplishment for a woman who grew up illiterate.

Amsa lives in the village of Senji Mottur, several miles outside the city of Vellore in southern India. Most inhabitants in this agricultural community are considered to have a low social status, working as day laborers in the fields of rich landowners.

Because of this stigma of low social status there are few opportunities for tribal people like Amsa and her husband, Mari, to advance educationally, economically or socially. So the couple resorts to the illegal practice of hunting rabbits and squirrels to eke out a living for the family.

"If I'm caught, my snares are taken away from me and I have to pay a fine of about 100-250 Rupees (U.S.$2.21-$5.54)," says Mari. "I cross the border into Andhra (a neighboring province) and I sell my rabbits to a contact there, which earns about 75 Rupees (U.S.$1.66) a day if I have a good catch."

Considered "ritually impure" by their neighbors, Amsa and Mari have few friends and had little hope of breaking free from the bonds of generational poverty and illiteracy that ensnare them. That is, until Amsa and her youngest child, three-year-old Rajathi, enrolled at the local Compassion-assisted Cross Child Survival Program (IN-CS4).

Compassion Intervenes

In Tamil, a language spoken in southern India, Rajathi means princess. But when Amsa enrolled her daughter in the CROSS Child Survival Program, Rajathi looked anything but a princess. The child looked untidy - her hair was matted with dirt and tinged with orange - a sure sign of malnutrition. Amsa didn't know much about personal hygiene for herself or her child. The mother of six children was so poor she couldn't afford simple grooming supplies, such as toothpaste, toothbrushes or soap. More importantly, the family, living on her husband's meager income from collecting firewood, couldn't afford nutritious food vital to a young child's diet.         

But now, through the Child Survival Project, Amsa receives the food, hygiene supplies and parenting instruction she needs to adequately provide for little Rajathi. The three-year-old is happy, wears clean clothes, and her symptoms of malnutrition are slowly diminishing.

The crucial health and nutritional intervention the Child Survival Program provides Rajathi and other children allows them to grow and develop normally, giving them a head start on becoming all that God intended them to be.

"Before, Rajathi was sick all the time," Amsa explains. "She was also not immunized, since we didn't know that such health precautions even existed! Now she is immunized and I make sure she is clean and neat."

"Because she receives good food at the project - milk, eggs, chickpeas and a variety of fruit like pineapples, apples, grapes and plantains - she is healthier," Amsa adds. "This is more than I can ever give her. If we have no money, we eat only rice gruel and some tamarind chutney.

"The times I can afford it, we buy small quantities of inexpensive vegetables like okra and eggplant. If Mari has had a successful hunt, we eat some squirrel or a bit of chicken - maybe a half pound to a pound for the family."

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