Background Information/Statement of the Problem

Major obstacles to child survival in the developing world include infections, parasitic diseases, malnutrition and the risks associated with low birth weight and high fertility. (UN Informational Letter #37-435) A serious problem exists in the rural villages of Malnesia of children dying from common illness and infections that are attributable to poor nutrition. Though high nutrition foods are available in the villages, it is apparent that mothers do not have an understanding of exactly what foods contain the most value for their children. (Ministry of Health, 1994) The most significant person in the life of the young child is the child's mother. Research has shown that the children of mothers who have an understanding of how to provide good nutrition to their children stand a significantly greater chance of survival during the first three years of life (87% survival rate) as compared with children of mothers who do not know how to provide good nutrition (43% survival rate) (Position Paper, Opening Plenary Session, Malnesian Health Conference - MALHEALTHCON - 96).

The use of volunteers to provide community service is a new concept in Malnesia and can be capitalized upon as a viable way to provide trained manpower for the offering of educational services. The first student service scheme, Service Mahasiswa/SERMAH, was created in the early 1990s. Initially operated at only two universities, SERMAH is now a mandated national program that operates at all public and private universities (Directorate for Higher Education, Ministry of Education, Statistics for 1996). The emphasis of SERMAH has been exclusively on the providing of information to local farmers on improved farming practices. The Universitas Pembangunan Pertanian has been funded by the Ministry of Agriculture to operate the SERMAH Educational Development Center (Introducing SERMAH, Ministry of Agriculture, 1996) as a central agency for the providing of farming practices instructional materials to all universities in Malnesia. The selection and training of student volunteers is conducted autonomously at each university with the support of the instructional materials disseminated by the SERMAH Educational Development Center.

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