20 Apr 2016

Food security: A cause worth fighting for

Food, nutrition security and vulnerability have always been an issue close to Ha'i Raga Lawa's heart. Having lived in East Nusa Tenggara most of her life, the Nutrition Officer at the Kupang Field Office of UNICEF saw first-hand how detrimental food vulnerability can be toward the lives of the community.  “Annual drought, flood and other natural disasters perpetuate the critical situation. Malnutrition was and still is rampant; I feel challenged to contribute and help find a more sustainable solution,” Ha’i explained.

Determination propelled Ha'i to pursue the education she needed to attain that personal goal.  It had not been easy growing up with more than 11 siblings where funds for an education were scarce. When Ha'i and her sister first entered undergraduate studies, their parents could only afford to pay for their first year.  “I was in the midst of sending job applications, getting ready to drop out of university, when I received good news; it was a blessing from God.”  Having attained the highest GPA at the end of her first semester, Ha’i was granted a newly established Government of Indonesia scholarship. Her sister followed suit the next year.

This personal experience compelled Ha'i to actively support the East Nusa Tenggara Academic Forum.  The forum was established to provide a worldwide platform for the East Nusa Tenggara community to share knowledge and support each other in their achievements.  “Funding is fully donated by members, and the East Nusa Tenggara Academic Award not only acknowledges academics at a higher education level but junior high students and common community members as well, assisting them in their achievements and in the contributions they make in various fields,” Ha'i exclaimed with obvious pride.

Ha'i’s involvement with the NTT Academic Forum is undertaken in addition to her previous substantive position as Senior Program Assistant – Vulnerability Analysis and Mapping (VAM) and Food Security with the United Nations World Food Program, Kupang Sub-Office.  Having worked for the UN Project from 1999 to early 2016, Ha’i felt compelled to further her studies in order to contribute more.  She applied for an Australia Awards Scholarship and later graduated with a Master of Public Health in Community Nutrition from the University of Queensland in 2008.  “The knowledge I gained plays a crucial role in analysing and mapping food and nutrition security in East Nusa Tenggara; accurate mapping is needed in ensuring strategic intervention,” Ha'i explained. Ha'i was recently granted her second Australia Awards Scholarships to pursue her PhD.

Aside from her contribution toward the internal M&E database of the World Food Program office, a food security map that Ha'i was involved with in the past has enabled the Government of Indonesia to allocate funds to 100 districts identified as high priority areas.  Ha’i explained though that through her work with the World Food Program, she came to realize that food and nutritional intervention isn’t as easy as one might think.  Ha’i went on to explain that many anthropological factors among the communities need to be explored in order to achieve the optimum result, that is, where beneficiaries actively participate and utilize all interventions to achieve maximum benefit.

Even the process of establishing the Food Security and Vulnerability Atlas for East Nusa Tenggara (FSVA NTT) has met its challenges.  Not all districts had the pertinent data needed to ensure an accurate map.  Fortunately for Ha’i, the team working on the mapping project was able to overcome this by setting up technical working groups.  These groups held routine meetings and discussions involving government institutions including the Food Security Offices, Health Offices and Statistical Bureau. Ha'i was later also involved in the writing and publication of the second edition of the FSVA NTT 2015, which was launched by the Governor of East Nusa Tenggara on 1 March 2016.

Are all these challenges worth the continual fight?   “A woman who had received the nutritional rehabilitation packages once approached me. She proudly showed off her third child, born a healthy weight and with superior motor skills compared to the two older siblings at a comparable age. I could see the obvious joy of this mother.”

“Yes, it’s definitely worth it,” Ha'i answered enthusiastically.

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