How it began at Foundation for Mother and Child Health

Rosie Penrhyn Jones is the co-chair of Foundation for Mother and Child Health UK, which was originally initiated in Indonesia.

Rosie was born in Australia and grew up in the UK, where she trained as a nurse. In the late 1990s, at the age of 38, she moved to Indonesia with her husband and two young children. Visa constraints prevented her from working as a nurse. She thus decided to volunteer her time with a social project in South Jakarta, where her knowledge and skills could be used  for the benefit of the community.

It was at this time that an economic crisis struck Asia, making it difficult for many families to make ends meet. Feeding  one’s own children well became a common struggle. This hit the people of South Jakarta too, where Rosie was living and she saw how difficult life had become for the common man.  When her friend, Barbara Jayson, also a nurse, came up with the idea of developing a feeding program for the children, and asked Rosie to help, she unhesitatingly took on the offer.

Their initial moves included gathering a team and raising funds. This itself took a good six months. This effort culminated into a foundation called  “Yayasan Balita Sehat,” which translates into”Foundation for Healthy Under-Fives,” through which the feeding programme was run. The program included keeping track of babies’ growth, providing nutritional support to mal-nutritioned ones, as well as was educating the mothers in health, hygiene and nutrition.

Many of the children who came to the clinic showed major signs of malnutrition – from low weight, to stunted growth, to de-pigmented hair. Rosie and Barbara’s aim was to help these children fight malnutrition so that they could reach their physical and intellectual potential in the long run, and rise out of poverty. In order to do so, they provided supplementary meals, but their main thrust was through the education of the mothers.

The feeding program was designed to be easily replicable. That’s how the model came to Mumbai thanks to the efforts of Leena Godiwala, an Indian volunteer with them who was living in Jakarta at that time. Leena realised that the model would work well in Mumbai’s slums, so when she returned to India,  she (along with Barbara, who came along for the initial setup) set up a small pre-school “Balwadi Sehat Kendra” with added health and nutrition programs. In 2010, when Dorothy Wagle took over management, it was decided to focus on malnutrition. The staff are Indian professionals, supported by a committee of volunteers who help to raise funds and provide support.

To unify the programs, the name “Foundation for Mother and Child Health” (FMCH) was registered in Indonesia and India, and FMCH also registered as a charity in the UK for fundraising and support.

Rosie has now been volunteering for nearly three years in FMCH India, as she came to settle here for a while, giving a hand wherever she can, in the NGO’s development. “FMCH is growing rapidly and reaching more and more families in treating and preventing malnutrition”, she says. The sessions  are mainly held at their center

near Dhobi Ghat, with a new project in Powai, North Mumbai. Training of trainers is becoming an important way of reaching more vulnerable families.

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