On March 21st Kyrgyz people celebrate “Noorus”. It is a family holiday marking Spring and the renewal of life. This year, it has been the happiest holiday for young parents Aidana and Shumkar. Mother Aidana is delighted that both her three year old daughter, Aisanat, and Tariel her one year old son have escaped illness during the winter months. She has forgotten about her difficult pregnancies complicated by her anemia; and the times when doctors worked hard to save the lives of her children who were both born with a low weight and anemia. It was a real wonder. The clue for this improvement in her fortunes, is in a set of small packs of vitamin and mineral powder “Gulyazyk”. For Aidana and Shumkar, it has brought a renewal of life, just like “Noorus”.
The change did not happen overnight. It has been thanks to a daily routine with the help of a nurse who visited the family home regularly to ensure the parents added “Gulyazyk” to their children’s food. At the same time the nurse talked about how the family could play with their children using simple kitchen utensils, tableware, plastic bottles and other things around them. “I learned that we can do without expensive toys and make fun of every moment” says Shumkar. Aidana did not get annoyed any more when her younger baby was learning about the world by putting everything in his mouth or threw the spoon across the table.
The programme of “Gulyazyk” began in summer 2009 in Talas Province following nation-wide research which had showed that the province had the worst child nutrition in the country. At the time Tariel had just been born, and Aisanat was two. Aidana was one of the first who came to get the vitamin and mineral power. It was her big hope that it would help to cure her daughter’s anemia and improve her health. Aisanat was very weak, did not eat much, and her head was wet with sweat each night.
Four months later, when Aisanat was brought by her mother to the out-patient clinics for a regular check-up, the level of hemoglobin had increased from 90 to 120. She was a totally different child – lively and energetic. When Tariel was 6 months old, he also started to receive “Gulyazyk”. And his sister was a big help- always checking the process, and sometimes under her mother’s supervision was allowed to put the powder into the food by herself. “Gulyazyk” was a priority issue for the whole family.
Just on the eve of “Noorus”, Tariel took his first step. Ill-health was no longer a hindrance to the family celebrations, so they decided to take a trip to another Province to visit close relatives. There they performed the rite of “cutting ties” - a blessing for good travels in life. Nobody could believe that Tariel, who was on the verge of death some months ago, could make such progress. His success story made “Gulyazyk” the main topic of discussion among friends and neighbours. While the Ministry of Health is seeking ways to extend the “Gulyazyk” Programme to other provinces, word of mouth has already made the treatment long-awaited across Kyrgyzstan thanks to parents like Aidana and Shumkar.
Balanced and enriched nutrition is important for every child but the real wonder happens when it comes hand in hand with stimulating children’s development – by talking and playing with them. This is what Aidana learnt from the nurse. She was happy to tell her relatives about how she and her children walked in the park and talked about trees and birds, how they together fed the animals and learnt to say ‘moo’ and ‘baa’. Shumkar also could not resist giving his younger brother some advice on child rearing. Aisanat, in her turn, cited poems about “Gulyazyk” that had been written by their neighbours. One poem is now famous in Talas, having been published in a local newspaper and nominated for a prize just before “Noorus”.
When leaving, Shumkar made a present to his hosts – a book for children about “Gulyazyk”. He was sure that Marat, his brother’s new born baby would love its colorful pictures and sweet verses, and it would be a big help for his parents in making sure that the child would grow strong and bright.
UNICEF supports the Ministry of Health in fulfilling the hopes of parents in other provinces who want to be included in the “Gulyazyk “Programme. In March 2010, Christopher J. Grasset J.D. Chief Operating Officer, Sprinkles of the Global Health Initiative Inc. arrived in Kyrgyzstan to assess the implementation of the programme and consider possibilities for the local production of “Gulyazyk” “Gulyazyk”. At the end of his mission he wrote, “I left Kyrgyzstan believing that I had just met the Nutrition Dream Team”.
For the moment, the programme continues in Talas Province. It has been supported by the new acting Governor and is seen by the community as one of the priorities for today. The enthusiasm and appreciation of the local people gives hope for the whole country. “This project has a strong potential to bring investments to the Republic and make “Gulyazyk” accessible and affordable to every child who needs it” said Rajae Msefer, OIC Representative in the Kyrgyz Republic.
By G. Najimidinova, J. Madalbekova, G. Solodunova
Photos by J. Madalbekova