posted April 19, 2010

Grant Continues Evaluation of Program for Feeding Orphans in Zambia

 A grant to Dr. Deborah Sturtevant of the Hope College sociology and social work faculty will continue her on-going evaluation of a program to feed orphaned children in Zambia; her hope:  to help save lives.

She will be examining the "Milk and Medicine Program" of the Christian Alliance for Children in Zambia (CACZ), measuring the effect of changes implemented this past year based on her earlier, three-year study of the program.  Her work is being supported by a $200,000 grant to the Alliance for Children Everywhere, a partner organization of the CACZ, by the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation.

The "Milk and Medicine Program" provides infant formula, protein supplements and medicine to children through age three who have been orphaned but are staying with their extended families.  Sturtevant noted that by providing resources for their care, the program is seeking to enable the children to remain with families rather than be institutionalized.  The problem is particularly acute, she said, with the AIDS epidemic sweeping Africa having left many children without their parents.

"This is a really fragile situation," said Sturtevant, who is a professor of sociology and social work as well as chairperson of the department.

In analyzing data for 2006 to 2008, Sturtevant found that the outcomes weren't matching the vision.  While 88 percent of children entering the program were under the normal weight for Zambian children, 94 percent were still underweight after 18 months in the program.

"While children are surviving, the data showed that the program isn't working as well as it should be," she said.

In the spring of 2009, she visited Zambia with colleague Dr. Jane Wimmer of Dalton State University and interviewed participants, staff and others involved to identify changes for improvement.  Patterns emerged.  For example, the children needed more nourishment than the formula alone could supply, and family members sometimes needed to walk many hours to retrieve the formula, too far to manage.  The interviews resulted in four suggestions that were implemented later in the same year:  increasing the amount of formula based on weight and age, adding vitamin and mineral supplements, improving record keeping and adding distribution sites.

For the next three years, she will examine the data to see if - as she hopes - the children's health improves.  In 2012, she'll return for another site visit and follow-up interviews.

"The recommendations were all implemented with the long-term goal to equip individuals, families and communities to meet the needs of vulnerable children," she said.  "Our hope is that the infants and toddlers not only survive, but thrive and become productive members of society."

Sturtevant's involvement in the project reflects her long-term emphasis on child welfare abroad, work that has taken her to Romania, China and Central America in addition to Africa.  She regularly involves Hope students in her research.  Current seniors Bethany Braaksma of Cambria, Wis., and David Dethmers of Champaign, Ill., have been working with her most recently on the "Milk and Medicine Program" project, with sophomore Lindsey Boeve of Holland becoming involved in the statistical analysis full-time this summer.