Twenty-six year-old Sriyalatha from Sri Lanka was unhappy, made worse by incessant arguing with her husband and the poor health of her children. Helpless, Sriyalatha found solace in visits to the public health midwife and Plan International’s health promotion facilitators. Through conversations with the midwife and local facilitators, Sriyalatha became aware of the reasons for her unhappiness.“We had quarrels at home almost daily,” she says. “I worked hard throughout the day, cooking, doing housework and looking after our three children, but my husband never appreciated me. We always found something to argue about. My three kids use to fall sick very often. I was in and out of the hospital. My seven year-old eldest son, Vidula, had learning problems at school and the teachers struggled to discipline him.”
Little by little, Vidula’s behaviour changed and he started to become more aggressive and unpredictable. “He started to eat everything from paper to leaves to grass. I knew something was wrong,” explains Sriyalatha. She took her son to the hospital, where she learnt that Vidula had Down’s syndrome.
During that time, Plan International began work in Mahabulankulama, introducing a community-led initiative aimed at improving children’s health and increasing the wellbeing of families. To kick off the programme, our health promotion facilitators and the midwife visited families to find out the health of babies and their mothers.
In addition to poor feeding practices and lack of early childhood care, they noted issues such as poor support from men in childcare, domestic violence and male-dominated household finances as major issues contributing to the poor nutrition of children in their communities.
The programme initiated collective actions such as happy child diaries, baby rooms, collective feeding, simulation and play in nearly 135 village settings where we work. One of the key initiatives is known as the ‘happy calendar’. Coined by Plan International Sri Lanka, the happy calendar is used by families to mark the everyday happiness of family members, and make the family members more conscious about happiness at home.
Sriyalatha says she never imagined a single calendar could change people, but in just a few months of using the calendar and documenting her family’s moods, everything started to change.
“I was shocked, I never ever thought that the calendar would work. I tried it as my last resort. I put the faces of all my family members in the calendar and marked their moods every day. Gradually, everyone in the family wanted a ‘happy mood’ next to their face. The first change came from my husband. He didn’t notice the calendar in the room, but when I moved it to the living room and continued to mark the moods, he reacted to it immediately. He has more patience now. He doesn’t quarrel with me!”
Sriyalatha’s children have responded well to the positive environment in the house. Less fighting between the couple has meant that the parents are happier and better able to deal with their children.
By 2013, there was significant change in the districts where Plan International implemented the health programme. In Anuradhapura, where Sriyalatha lives, the health promotion project has expanded to 335 village, covering over 7,000 children under five years of age.
“The happy calendar is much more than a piece of paper. It brings happiness to my life and my family. It is the evidence that we are managing our lives without violence. We are also empowering women to be part of family decision-making processes,” concludes Sriyalatha.