|Gulazyk & Early Childhood Development: Two wings of success for the health and minds of children
|Categories: (Other Documents | Document Database | UN Agencies | UNICEF)
“Since ancient times people have known
And today Gulazyk has returned
So goes a song written to honour Gulazyk, and written by Rakiya Musuralieva, a schoolteacher in Uchemchek village, in Bakayata district of Talas province, Kyrgyzstan.
We went on a visit to Talas province, not to carry out sociological research, and not even to monitor the Gulazyk programme. Our task was to meet the mothers whose children have over the last two months been receiving the vitamin-mineral supplement Gulazyk.
It was important for us to find out whether parents have noticed changes in the development and behaviour of children, whether they enjoy taking Gulazyk, whether families in Talas like the children’s book “Oh-Oh Gulazyk” which has been distributed as part of the campaign, and whether there is enough information in the manuals and recommendations which UNICEF prepared both for parents and for regional medical workers and Village Health Committees.
Uchemchek Village: “Oh-Oh Gulazyk” by heart!
At a meeting in the village of Uchemchek in Bakayata district, all the mothers and grandmothers came with their children. The meeting, at the home of a member of the Village Health Committee, began when the well-dressed Turat, who recently turned three and a half, loudly and from memory recited all the poems from the “Oh-Oh Gulazyk” booklet to the approval of all present. The boy didn’t receive a supplement – he was not within the target age group – but his younger sister Aytunuk (10 months), always points at the Gulazyk packet when her mother Faridakhon prepares food for her. “She was born rather weak,” her mother confides, “but now thanks to Allah she is changing in front of our eyes. Her muscles are stronger, and she has become more active and curious. We can’t help but dote when we look at her.”
Her grandmother Aytkul told us that the amazing changes in her granddaughter, who also takes Gulazyk, also took place right in front of her eyes. “I have seven grandchildren and I can tell straight away, who will be successful at what. I think that it was absolutely right to give the children’s books out with Gulazyk. Nowadays it is practically impossible to buy good books for children in the Kyrgyz language, and so the older children read the book to the baby, and they like it so much that they’ve already learned the whole text by heart. And another good thing is that the pictures in the book are so big, the colours bright, the poems simple and easy to remember – children like them a lot. My grandchildren sometimes argue with each other about who will hold the book in their hands.”
We made these wonderful discoveries in the small village of Uchemchek, far from the provincial centre, where 440 families live and where birth rates are increasing every year – almost every family has between 2 and 7 children. Older women told us that “there are more births in the village because life is good.” They proudly pointed out their daughters-in-law and daughters and said that “young people today spend a lot more time caring for their children than we did in the olden days. We didn’t have any time – having to run every day to work we left the children in the kindergarten where there was no-one to work with them. Children just spent their time there. But the young ones take their children themselves for their vaccinations. Gulazyk gives them discipline – they read the books to the children themselves and buy good books… They say it is important that children develop from the earliest years.”
“And by the way, we really need help to open a community kindergarten,” said the women in the village. “At one stage there was a kindergarten in the village, but the building was given to the school and the kindergarten closed. The nearest kindergarten now is five kilometres away. We don’t want our children to sleep or eat at the kindergarten. We need our children and grandchildren to be educated there, so that professional teachers and tutors prepared them for school.”
The best mum in the village
No less amazing was the meeting with the woman who, as part of World Breastfeeding Week, celebrated all over Talas province, won the title “Best mum in the village”. Elmira is 42 years old and her four oldest children have already finished school and are studying at university or working. Meanwhile the youngest, Eldan, recently celebrated his first birthday. When we asked village activists why Elmira deserved such an honour, her fellow villagers explained that the selection criteria were very complicated. Every woman in the village was considered as a contender, and the number of children successfully studying at school was taken into account, as well as who got into higher education after school, whether they go to see doctors and how often they do so. They even considered what the house looked like, how clean it and its surroundings were, and how neat and tidy the children’s clothes were. And of course they took into account whether the mother breastfed her children and how long the children drank breast milk, and also, since the start of the Gulazyk campaign, how regularly the child receives the supplement. “Oh, don’t you worry,” the head of the Village Health Committee reassured us, “The Commission was very strict and very objective! In the village you can’t hide anything from anybody.”
Even more amazing was the faith of the Village Health Committee members and women whose children take Gulazyk. “You know,” they told us, “we ourselves didn’t expect that Gulazyk would make us so friendly. Now we often meet, help each other and share information. The most interesting thing is to know what changes have happened to the children in our village.”
Nurgyz and Chyngyz: on a good path!
The twins came to the meeting in the care of their mother Gulzina (27) and grandmother Aisuluu (53). Looking at the children it became clear, that within them they faced an invisible, but insidious, foe by the name of anaemia. During the meeting other children looked at books, threw away and picked up again toys, took things away from each other, laughed and smiled – in general doing what is normal for children of their age. These two sat in the arms of their mum and grandmothers, and watched the other children in the room carefully. “They were born extremely weak,” says their mother Gulzina, and tears form in her eyes. “Underweight, anaemic… We were extremely worried about them and didn’t know if they would survive. They will soon be two years old, and just a month ago they both started walking. I can’t be sure that it is directly because of Gulazyk, but the effect of the product is too obvious not to be noticed. The children have really started to perk up,” says their mother.
But Baba Yaga is against
There was also a funny story that people told us in Uchemchek. “There’s just one person here who is against Gulazyk,” the women tell us, laughing. “It’s our tabib, our alternative healer, who has suddenly lost a lot of patients!”
Manas district of Talas province
Sogot village: helping people
Munara, who recently turned 24, met her future husband at Issyk-Kul, her home province. He brought her to this small remote village in Talas three years ago. The young couple live with his parents and they already have two children of their own, a two year old daughter and a one year old son, Jakhanbek. Munara works in the primary school, and teaches a class of six pupils. In total 43 families live in the village, and so there is only a primary school here. Children continue their studies in the neighbouring village, which is three kilometres’ walk away. Apart from working in the school, Munara bakes rolls for schoolchildren, and is an active member of the Village Health Committee. But her most important position is “mother”.
“Everyone should have an aim in life” says the very young, serious woman, at the same time as pouring us tea, because she is the youngest person at the meeting. “If you help people, people begin to respect you, and listen to you. Munara’s young son also takes Gulazyk and she takes her responsibilities to this important process for her child’s health very seriously. In her in-laws’ house a calendar for taking the produce is sitting on the fridge, and packets of Gulazyk are visible, so that she won’t forget to add them to her infant’s food. And her daughter, who is already two years old, has learned all the poems in the book. As a member of the Village Health Committee, Munara works actively with all 18 mums in the village whose children are taking the supplement. “I’ve studied the handbook myself and always remind women that Gulazyk is very beneficial for our children, so that they don’t forget to add it to food. I see it in my son – he’s stands up strong on his legs and his teeth have begun to grow quickly. Earlier we often went to see the doctor, but now we don’t need to any more.”
“And I myself invent and tell children stories, like “Oh-Oh Gulazyk” says,” smiles Munara. My grandmother always did it when I myself was small. She always made up stories for me, and I still remember how interesting they were to hear, and on which long journeys my grandmother and I set off on.”
Kanyman-eje Jumalieva, the tireless leader of the Village Health Committee, proudly states: “Our village is rich because it’s the friendliest in Talas province. When young people come together I tell them that Kyrgyz people have always tried to ensure that even their foals were pedigree and hardy. What does that say them about children? If children are born to healthy parents and live with love, if the parents help them to become strong, healthy and ready for adult life, then the little people will find it easier to meet their goals, and will definitely be successful.”
There are 108 households in Kara Archa village, and so here there is a secondary school, where children leaving the primary school in neighbouring Sogot come to study. Esengul Suyunbaeva (53) is the indefatigable leader of the Village Health Committee and simply a heroine. That’s what her fellow villagers believe. This because the village is 7 kilometres from the main road, on which you can hitch a ride either to Talas or to Kirovka, the district centre. But no transport goes to the road from the village. Therefore the Village Health Committee leader, whatever the weather, in rain and in snow (and the winter in this part of the Talas Valley can be very cold), regardless of heat or wind walks along the country track, and doesn’t miss a single meeting that she is invited to. “What choice do I have?” laughs Esengul. “If I don’t go, I tell myself that people won’t know the very important news – for example, about Gulazyk!”
“This work doesn’t give me an income,” smiles Esengul. “But I’m satisfied when I see how the children are laughing when I bring them books. But when the doctor comes, the children always cry.”
Maral is two years old, and was born very weak, not eating anything at all. “And Gulazyk helped us,” says her mother Jazgul (23). “The baby developed an appetite. And when she’s playing up, I open the book and say “Look – the ant’s eating, and the little bear’s eating as well. Look, they also started to open their mouths!”
And Village Health Committee member Gulira tells us how good it would be to also give older children the vitamin-mineral supplement. “We buy vitamins for children in pharmacies, and they are very expensive, while the effect is much less noticeable than that of Gulazyk. Therefore this product was a real find for us – we’re all witnesses to how it has changed our infants.”
In answering our question about whether all mothers know what Gulazyk is needed for, and how to give it to children, the friendly Village Health Committee members said: “Of course, how could they not know! We’ve made them all learn the text of the brochure by heart!”
We didn’t have any more questions…
And finally – Karasuu, Talas district
And thus we came to the final point on our journey through the whole of the Talas Valley. The village of Karasuu is located 30 kilometres from the provincial centre. It is a significantly larger village, with 420 households, and 122 infants in the village regularly receive Gulazyk. The leader of the Village Health Committee is glad that finally resources have been found, and that a new primary health facility is being built in the village.
Anara (30) has five children. Her young son, named Aktan after the hero of the country’s popular cartoon serial “Magic Journey”, has turned one. “The birth was difficult,” sighs Anara. “The child was born asphyxiated, and was so weak that it was painful to look at him. But now, after a month of taking Gulazyk, we began to notice amazing changes – the child has become active, he’s trying to walk, and he’s grown four teeth! He somehow quickly began to try to talk, and if he sees the book “Oh-Oh Gulazyk” in our hands, he immediately snatches it, opens it at any page and begins to tell us the story in his own, so-far not understandable language – but with emotion! And the other children ask me – why only him? They’ve read the whole brochure that UNICEF gave us, where it talks about Gulazyk, and say “We also want to be clever and healthy!” Sometimes I just don’t know how to answer. And if they see that little Aktan hasn’t finished his porridge with Gulazyk, they take it and finish it for him. So in my family, everybody’s benefitting!”
“And do you want us to visit a family where a child who was quite bald has grown hair in two months?” suggest members of the Village Health Committee. We decline, because we believe them and because we’ve already seen enough wonders in our two days in Talas.
Our observations in no way should be seen as scientific research and do not present any conclusions. Our task was simply to meet people and find out from them if they had received enough information about Gulazyk and what noticeable changes had occurred in children in two months. Because there is no stricter judge, no more disciplined doctor, or more biased observer than a mother who knows everything about her child – from the first second of birth until this moment.
Of course, real monitoring, and research about the effects of the product on child development, including haemoglobin levels in blood, will be carried out later, in half a year’s time at a minimum. And only then we’ll be able to say with assurance that all the wonders listed above are proven facts, and not products of our collective imagination. But already now, two months after the beginning of the programme, we have heard from all corners of Talas province “Give our most heartfelt thanks to the donors from the Netherlands, UNICEF and everyone who cares about our children.”
Baktygul Saparbaeva, Deputy Governor of Talas province responsible for social affairs, told us “we are very carefully monitoring the Gulazyk programme. We have a Provincial Coordination Council, where we regularly hear reports from responsible medical workers, and to which we invite leaders of Village Health Committees. As of today, we have not received a single warning signal, just good news. On this basis, the population of the province are glad that we’ve developed such close cooperation with UNICEF.”