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Full and Contented Babies

November 18, 2008

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Perveen shares a bowl of suji, a hearty mixture of milk, flour, and oil with her young daughter, Angel. Photo: Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps

To the outside observer, the mushy mixture of milk, oil and flour — called suji — doesn't look terribly appetizing. But you'd never know it from the way it was being devoured by the 20 young children packed into a small room of a clinic in Pakistan's Hazara Town.

The children and their mothers are here to take part in a Positive Deviance Health Clinic. This 12-week course, run by Mercy Corps, is meant to help dangerously underweight children put on some much-needed pounds, and help their moms learn more about healthy cooking and good nutrition by highlighting best practices in the community.

(The positive deviance approach tries to "identify and optimize existing resources and solutions within the community to solve community problems," rather than try to solve problems using external resources, according to the Tufts-based Positive Deviance Initiative.)

Angel was encouraged to attend this clinic after a visit to her local doctor. "She was very weak and was not doing very well," says her mom, Perveen, about the 14-month-old's health at the time. "Very low weight."

Since joining the clinic, Angel has gained almost six pounds, and there are no signs of weakness in her bright smile. "She is really happy now," beams Perveen. "She is so calm during these sessions."

The Positive Deviance Health Clinics emphasize a balanced diet of grains and vegetables and protein-rich items like beans that will aid a baby's normal growth. The clinicians also focus on UNICEF's "16 Key Family Practices" related to health and hygiene.

This two-pronged approach is already making an impact, as evidenced by the gaggle of contented babies cooing at their mothers through mouthfuls of hearty spoonfuls of suji.