More Than Just a Fashion Statement: These Bracelets Are Saving Lives

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Jewelry often holds significant meaning for its wearers; sometimes it’s a family heirloom or a spiritual connection. Other times, it makes a statement about who we are, or how bold we want our fashion to be. In Nepal, however, one organization is making jewelry that's actually saving lives. Their bracelets are called Nutribeads, and they're being used as educational tools for women who are breastfeeding. 

Nutribeads help mothers in Nepal learn about breastfeeding, complementary feeding, and how to include diverse food groups in the daily diet for everyone in their family. The bracelets contain a set of colorful beads with numbers, indicating age intervals of the child (up to two years). Each bead color represents a specific type of food that should be included in the child’s meal depending on their age. Nutribeads come with a Nutricard containing information on food type, frequency, and additional health information.

The idea for the bracelets came from Bonita Sharma, co-founder and CEO of Social Changemakers and Innovators (SOCHAI) — a youth-led organization aiming to “improve health, nutrition, and socio-economic status of women, children, and girls through education, innovation, and entrepreneurship at a grass-root level.” While working in the public health sector of Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley, Sharma tells CircleAround that she met a mother who had lost her baby after feeding him some cashew nut paste that was not ground fine enough. “I wondered why a child living inside the Kathmandu Valley, where facilities are available and people are educated, had to lose a life to a preventable cause.” The incident made Sharma realize that lack of awareness about appropriate breastfeeding and infant nutrition was surprisingly widespread. 

According to the World Health Organization, if breastfeeding were scaled up to near-universal levels, about 820,000 child lives would be saved every year. But globally, only 40 percent of infants under six months of age are exclusively breastfed. 

Working with a group of like-minded individuals, Sharma and her team came up with Nutribeads. “This colorful bracelet can be worn by the mothers at all times like a beautiful accessory,” Sharma’s blog post indicates, “so that she can remember the nutritional needs of her child at all times.

So far, more than 1,500 free Nutribeads and Redcycle bracelets — a similar program helping inform women about their menstrual cycles — have been distributed to communities in need. According to their website, anyone can “gift” a bracelet with a small donation. These donations are used to help support disaster victims in Morang Districts in Nepal, who are still recovering from the effects of a flood from 2017.

But Nutribeads and Redcycle beads are just one part of what Sharma and the SOCHAI team do. Peer education is another large part of the SOCHAI initiative, especially for younger community members. Since 2017, “We have been conducting community-based learning programs using various innovative tools for pregnant lactating mothers at local health centers,” Sharma adds. “We conduct nutrition camps for school children and adolescent clubs. We also conduct capacity-building programs for mothers’ groups and community health workers.”

These programs are largely run by youth groups in the communities SOCHAI targets so that the education components and information can be accessed even after SOCHAI moves on to a new group. 

COVID-19 has changed the mission of SOCHAI’s work, but in positive ways. “We are currently implementing a holistic approach to improve the health and nutritional status of mothers and their children and to minimize the risk of COVID-19,” Sharma tells CircleAround. Their short-term and long-term COVID response programs are helping to provide immediate relief, as well as long-term socio-economic rehabilitation, for the most marginalized families at risk of COVID-19.

“Working with the community itself was a challenge because changing mindset and behavior takes a lot of time. So, we cannot measure the impact of our work immediately,” says Sharma. But there are more successes for SOCHAI in the few years it’s been active, and that gives her hope. 

“We consider the small positive changes that we see in the community as our biggest reward,” she proudly states. “For example, a mother following the Nutribeads bracelet and breastfeeding her baby in a timely fashion is a success for us! Even if we can inform and inspire ONE mother/girl to make an effort to improve their nutrition practices, or break the menstrual taboos, it’s a big achievement.”

Tags: Toddlers, Breastfeeding, Education

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Written By

Katka Lapelosová

Katka is a writer from New York City, currently living in Belgrade, Serbia. See Full Bio

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