Nutrition awareness a “huge challenge” for Maldivian authorities: Children’s NGO

Informing parents and educators in the Maldives of the importance of healthy nutrition and exercise remains a “huge challenge” to child development in the country, a local charity has said.

The Advocating the Rights of Children (ARC) NGO has told Minivan News that parents in the country are still not well-informed on the best ways to promote and ensure their children are engaging in more active lifestyles and enjoying a balanced diet.

The comments were made on the second and final day of a festival launched to celebrate ARC’s Healthy Eating and Active Lifestyle (HEAL) initiative held at Iskandhar School in Male’.

Festival launch

The event began Friday (March 1) with the launch of the first in a new series of books aimed at children to try and promote the five key health objectives at the heart of the HEAL campaign, ARC has said.

According to the NGO, these focuses include: ensuring a daily intake of fruits and vegetables by emphasising colour,  encouraging drinking water as an alternative to carbonated beverages and energy drinks, and cutting down on processed foods.

ARC is also calling for a greater availability of healthy snacks for children’s diets, while encouraging physical activity over watching television and playing video games.

Despite the challenges of promoting nutrition in the country, Juna Latheef, Project Manager for the 2013 HEAL Festival, claimed that schools had shown more awareness about teaching the importance of diet and healthy activity even over last 12 months. However, she added that efforts to introduce healthy eating campaigns and other similar programm through the school curriculum were limited by budgetary restrictions.

As part of its own efforts to focus on nutrition in the country, ARC said it is using its HEAL festival to launch the first in a series of children’s books that could be used by both parents or teachers to encourage healthier lifestyles.

Each book will focuses on a child-friendly character, and will detail the key aims of the HEAL strategy, while also playing up the benefits of specific fruits and vegetables to a child’s diet, according to the NGO.  The book was made available at the festival for MVR 30 (US$2).

“Adverse dietary pattern”

In May 2012, Maldives Planning Department statistics detailing household food expenditure in the country charted a shift towards an “adverse dietary pattern”, with increased intakes of high-fat and sugary products.

Health experts in the country at the time blamed the unhealthy diet of Maldivians for the high prevalence of cardiovascular diseases and metabolic disorders such as diabetes in the country. These health factors were found to account for almost 50 percent of all deaths in the country. The comparative figure for the US was then 25 percent.

According to the Household Income and Expenditure Survey, the structure of the Maldivian diet was found to have shifted towards a “higher energy density diet with a greater role for fat and added sugars in foods, greater saturated fat intake, reduced intakes of complex carbohydrates and dietary fiber, and reduced fruit, vegetable and fish intakes.”

During World Health Day in April 2012, authorities told Minivan News that the level of malnutrition experienced in the Maldives was “quite alarming” considering other national advances in the fields of health and medicine.

Public Health Programme Coordinator for the Center for Community Health and Disease Control (CCHDC) Dr Fathmath Nazla said she was specifically concerned over the national promotion of healthy diets.  She claimed that the issue of vitamin deficiency in expectant mothers and children were among her key concerns.

The consumption of high-calorie junk food and energy drinks by young people was also raised as a serious issue for local health experts to address.


Superboys and supergirls at heart of charity focus ahead of Ramazan

It is a fairly uncommon site in Male’, if not anywhere else in the world.  A young Superman is sliding down the banisters of the capital’s national stadium, closely followed by a no-less fearless Snow White, several fairies and a princess, all while several marching bands provide a regimented soundtrack to the high-energy goings-on.

Rather than a colourful breakdown of order in Male’ amidst present political tensions, the event held in the capital yesterday represents attempts by a growing number of NGOs to provide fundraising and awareness programmes aimed at children in the run-up to the holy month of Ramazan that begins in August.

Local NGO Tiny Hearts of Maldives and the Advocating the Rights of Children (ARC) organisation have both this weekend launched initiatives designed to capitalise on the charitable spirit said to be at the heart of Ramazan.

Tiny Hearts race

Tiny Hearts, which was set up three years ago to help local youngsters suffering with Congenital Heart Defects (CHD), yesterday organised a fancy dress run attended by 400 pre-school children.  The event was supported by a number of organisations like the Diabetic Society of Maldives, Maldivian Red Crescent, the Scout Association of Maldives and the Maldives Girl Guide Association.

Five pre-schools participated in the race, including the Galolhu Madhrasa, Hulhumale Preschool, Maafannu Madharsa, Sheikh Abdul Rahman Preschool and Zaailing Preschool.

Music during the event was also provided by the brass bands of Iskandhar School, Jamaaludheen School and Imaadhudheen School.

According to the local charity, the ‘Race for Tiny Hearts 2012’ project was focused mainly on promoting physical activity in young Maldivians, whilst trying to encourage parents to do more at the family level to promote heart health.

Having previously been involved with high-profile attempts in the country to raise funds for its work, including an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to make the record books last year, CHD was not the sole focus of yesterday’s event for Tiny Hearts.

The charity nonetheless said that it had been able to raise awareness of both its own and other charitable organisations’ commitments and aims during the two hour event.

“We aimed and managed to engage various other institutions to work actively alongside charitable organisations to achieve goals that benefit society,” Tiny Hearts stated.

While yesterday’s series of races served as a fun family event for participants, Tiny Hearts has claimed that during the last three years, it has not only provided advice and awareness campaigns regarding CHD, but to also provide logistical and financial support in ensuring there is hope for child sufferers of heart defects.

The NGO estimates that 250 CHD patients have been able to fly abroad for specialist surgeries and healthcare, while the group has also worked to bring paediatric cardiologists to the Maldives for more direct assistance.

ARC Ramazan collection scheme

Yesterday also saw the ARC charity launch its 2012 Ramazan collection campaign designed to collect goods and other essentials for children of all ages that are raised in shelters.

A spokesperson for the charity today told Minivan News that the scheme, which had also been run back in 2011, was designed to aid the work of three key children’s shelters in the Maldives.   These shelters include; Kudakudhinge Hiya on Villingili, the Education and Training Centre for Children (ETCC) on Maafushi and Feydhoo Finolhu’s Correctional Training Centre for Children.

“Ramazan in the Maldives is a time where the majority of people went to help others and are in a giving mood. We have aimed this for now, as families will be buying lots of new things and we ask them to think of less fortunate children,” an ARC spokesperson said.

“We ran this project last year as well and found a lot of interest in people wanting to help, though not knowing how to. We looked at the needs of these shelters and have compiled a list. Collections opened yesterday (July 6) and will continue until next Saturday (July 14).”

The collections are taking place at the ARC office located on the second floor of M. Nooraaneeaage on Orchid Magu in Male’. Collection hours are between 2:00pm to 6:00pm from Saturday until Thursday. On friday, collection will occur between 4:00pm and 6:00pm local time.

According to the charity, the collection will take a large range of goods from clothing and apparel, to toiletries, toys, foods, books and stationery.

A full list of the goods needed can be read here.

Looking to its aim for the year ahead beyond Ramazan, a spokersperson for ARC said the organisation did not have a clear strategy regarding specific fund-raising events.

“We tend to work on a project-by-project basis, which has mainly seen us helping the shelters such as through capacity building initiatives and providing Parental Effectiveness Training (PET) projects for care-workers. It is important to support these care-workers as they are effectively parents to children as these shelters,” the spokesperson said.

ARC is presently involved in establishing a 
 scheme amongst staff at the ETCC
 site in

The programme, which is being overseen by certified instructors has been devised by the charity in an attempt to give caregivers the means to better understand and deal with issues facing the children they look after. A similar PET programme was provided at Kudakudhinge
 Hiya in July 2011, the charity added.

Alongside focusing on national awareness projects relating to areas such as health and nutrition and child abuse, ARC claimed it also had a secondary function of providing sports programmes in fields such as badminton and chess to children living in the environment of a shelter.  The charity has also been involved in the provision of additional assistance and tutoring to assist underprivileged children with their school work and studies.