It’s checkup day in Bantoli. As the children giggle and squirm under Dr. K. Sandhya’s cold stethoscope, it’s clear that, today, the doctor is also taking the pulse of TPRF’s first Food for People (FFP) facility to see how effectively it’s meeting the nutrition and health needs of the villagers it serves.
Malnutrition is a pervasive problem in rural areas such as this,” explains Sandhya, a pediatric specialist and Associate Professor of Anatomy at the Rajendra Institute of Medical Sciences in Ranchi. “Poor nutrition weakens the immune system. And when immunity is low, disease takes over.” Dr. Sandhya has been affiliated with FFP in Bantoli since before the facility opened in 2006, helping to determine which foods to serve and even the optimal height of the children’s washbasins.
“Before FFP, and when we first started, many of the children I saw were regularly suffering from respiratory infections,”the doctor remembers. “Skin problems were prevalent. Energy levels were low, which affected the children’s ability to focus and learn.”
And today, after performing her general checkup of the children, including an examination of their nails and teeth, the doctor is encouraged. “Today, I saw two small girls, sisters, new to the facility. They had never been here before. One was coughing badly and they both had dermatitis.” The doctor reflects for a moment. “After examining them, along with the others who had been coming to the FFP facility for a while, I realized that I very rarely see those symptoms any more. So, yes, FFP is definitely making a difference—even in the children’s ability to socialize. When we first started, most of the children were shy and had problems even talking. Seeing these two new students today made me remember that many of the children here had those same issues before the Food for People program started in Bantoli. And now they don’t. Good hygiene and proper nutrition has made a real difference in their lives.”
As she discusses the positive changes she’s seen, a child runs up toshow her his mastery of the 11 times table. Dr. Sandhya smiles and ponders the future. “The children’s health checkups are good and our screening has been effective. But follow-up is important. These children do very well when they’re here between the ages of 8 and 12. But what about when they’re adults? Having an empirical record of what happens after these children leave our facility will better tell us where and how we can improve what we offer in these formative years.”
If today’s health checkup is any indication, the prognosis for tomorrow is very encouraging. “The children here are more open, less shy, healthier and practice better hygiene than ever before,” says the doctor looking around the FFP facility. “A lot of positive change has happened.”