Nicaragua (MNN) – We know that a child’s early years are very important when it comes to development and growth. We also know that poverty hits women and children the hardest. For some children, just surviving the first few years of their lives is a struggle.
This is why Compassion International’s Child Survival Program (CSP) exists—to give children a chance to live and grow up healthy and to help their mothers provide a safe home for them.
These programs are run with the help of local churches around the globe. CSP provides home-based care, group-based learning, advocacy for moms, and a place for mothers and children to learn, grow, and stay healthy.
One of the locations where Compassion is running a CSP is in Nicaragua.
Setting the scene
According to Compassion International, 75% of the Nicaraguan people live on less than two dollars a day. They also have a very high maternal death rate. A third of these deaths are teenage girls. In fact, in rural areas, the marriage of minors and children is not that unusual. A third of the children here are chronically malnourished, and they are three times more likely to die before the age of five than children in the US. And sadly, many children have to work at a young age to help make ends meet.
To get a look at how the CSP program is addressing these needs, we spoke with Fátima Romero, a project director, and Ena Liz Torrez, a CSP specialist. They described the unique challenges they face in their community.
“The challenges we face is the poverty they live in. And we also face different kinds of cultures,” Romero says, explaining that some harmful cultural beliefs are passed from generation to generation, even from grandparents to their grandchildren.
“For example, they think that it’s best for the children to [have a] bottle of milk instead of breastfeeding. We can see also, they don’t know about good nutrition during the pregnancy because they think that just eating something is going to help, and they don’t know what is [best] for them.”
In this area, there are many large families with few resources. Children are susceptible to disease and illness because they do not know about basic hygiene like washing hands. They walk around barefoot.
Another challenge is the work available for mothers. It’s typical to see young mothers try to eke out a living by washing and ironing. There are few opportunities for more profitable work because they have not had very much education if any.
Torrez says another major issue is malnutrition.
“Most of them, maybe 50% of the mothers, are younger than 16 years old. And they don’t know how to take care of a baby. And so, the mothers are [malnourished] and also their children are like that.”
Addressing the need
The goal of this program is to help children survive. But it is also very clearly helping children, and their families, thrive.
Romero says, “We work with pregnant women who are young, [and] babies, needy people and those in low society.
“We work with these kind of people in order to make [help with their development] and to show God’s love to the children and help to take the women and children [through] the counseling the church provides for them.”
As a church, they offer individualized and personal care to the participants of the program. This means they visit families, provide resources such as marriage counseling, and hold special services in their homes. They also provide children with classes that help them develop and grow. The mothers and their children will also receive food assistance.
“So this way, they will know a God who offers help and solution to their problems,” she says.
The program offers classes that touch upon breastfeeding, nutrition for pregnant women, nutrition for children in their first year of life, family planning, and more, depending on what information is needed in a particular situation.
Workers keep tabs on the health of children and pregnant mothers. They make sure they’re getting adequate care, including important vaccinations for the children.
In many ways, the program is also addressing the great educational and vocational needs, as well. They help the mothers get basic education, scholarships for further schooling, job training, or come up with strategies to generate income. Eventually, it becomes more about a sustainable future than just avoiding a crisis.
But along with the physical and educational help, Compassion is also introducing these women and children to their greatest spiritual help, Jesus.
Romero explains, “Considering the challenges they are facing, we bring the Gospel to them by teaching them that there is a solution for their problems, and that is through Jesus—that we can rest in Him by giving our sadness or our problems to Jesus.”
In Jesus, she says, the children and the mothers can grow.
The message of the Gospel is integrated into the lessons the mothers receive at home. Implementers of the program who do home visits carry a Bible with them and hold a small worship time. They dedicate time for prayer with the mother who is, of course, invited to church services.
Those who give their lives to Jesus can participate in a child dedication ceremony at the church, and be baptized.
Stories of transformation
Once a month, a meeting is held with all the women and the children participating in the program.
“In this meeting, all the women interact—sharing experience between them,” Torrez says.
But what are some of these experiences? Torrez and Romero each share an example that has impacted their lives.
Romero shares the story of a woman who today, is doing quite well. She has two children and is married. While typically the mothers in the CSP are single, there are many situations that make married women eligible for the program.
For this particular woman, Romero says, her husband sickness “affected the home because he couldn’t work because of his illness. [He] has spinal problems”.
Despite his serious condition, his wife trusted that God would do something about their situation. Their three-year-old girl, who is a beneficiary of the program, believed it, too.
“One day during the service, this little girl stood up and said ‘I need you to pray for my father because he was in the hospital, very sick.’
“This is the faith that this little girl had learned about in the program,” Romero says.
After this request, her father’s health was no longer as serious as the doctors had said. His improved health led him to begin attending the church. Today, he is hoping that God will heal him completely.
The story Torrez shared is not so much about improved health as it is about a changed heart.
One day, she and a program implementer were visiting a family who had a young baby. Torrez says they knew the husband was jealous and violent towards his wife. He didn’t let her work. Nor did he allow his wife to take their child to the project center.
Torrez says, “one day when his child was less than one month old, the baby got very sick. And that day the implementer had a visit, and the mother notified [them] that her baby had a high fever.”
At first, the baby’s father would not allow Torrez or the program implementer in the house. But they could see how sick the baby was, and so they kept asking.
“We told him that his baby needed to go to the hospital—needed medical attention. And because we [insisted] he allowed us to come into the house.”
However, he did not allow his wife to speak about what was happening with the child. But they learned that he prevented her from breastfeeding, and so the child was not very healthy. They were able to counsel the father until he calmed down and let them help.
Torrez and the implementer prayed for the baby and the parents. They explained the benefits of breastfeeding. After a while, the mother was able to feed her child. The baby also received medical attention. The mother was also able to get an appointment with a psychologist.
After that meeting, things changed for the small family. The father has allowed his wife to have a job. He’s now accepted the program as part of their life, and he even visits church!
Praying for the vulnerable
Because this program operates at a local level, the individual care women and children receive is phenomenal. But that doesn’t mean prayer isn’t still a big need.
Romero and Torrez ask you to pray for the women and children of the program. Pray, first of all, that they would accept Jesus as their savior, and secondly that they would live a healthy life. Ask God to provide more education and job opportunities to young women in Nicaragua, to protect children from the abuse that can go hand-in-hand with poverty, and to grow the economy of this nation. Pray for the church to be strengthened, and for more workers for to help with the CSP. Pray for the implementers of the program who also face their own, personal challenges. Pray for their protection and stamina.
The church in this area is growing, and there many more people who need help. Right now, this CSP unit is hoping to find a bigger place to help with more children. Please pray that God would provide this building.
If you’d like to help with Compassion’s Child Survival Program, click here.