Growing Together for a Brighter Future in Laos
Ms. Hin Phommasanh lives in Donghongkham, a rural village in Laos PDR in an area with high malnutrition and where only one-third of households have toilets. With support from the USAID Nurture project, the community has committed to improving nutrition, sanitation and hygiene practices to give their children the right start in life.
Despite a record of rapid economic growth in Lao PDR, the country suffers some of the highest rates of child and maternal mortality and malnutrition in Southeast Asia. Undernourished children have an increased risk of mortality and illness, delayed development and poorer school performance.
(“I am proud to help our village to improve nutrition for our children.” –Ms. Hinat the village visit in Donghongkham. Photo Credit: USAID)
The USAID Nurture project, funded by the United States Agency for International Development and led by Save the Children in collaboration with the Government of Lao PDR, is working to improve nutrition for women and children under two in 471 villages in six districts in Khammouane and Savannakhet provinces. In each village, the project undertakes a series of nine visits to trigger community awareness of poor nutrition and its links to sanitation and hygiene. These visits build village commitment to action for improved maternal, adolescent and child nutrition.
The first visit provided an introduction of USAID Nurture to the village leaders. The second visit helped community members assess their own village situation and risks through different participatory activities, like storytelling, community mapping, and village walks. Despite the demands of planting season, families were eager to participate, and 40 villagers participated in the day’s activities. One of the participants was Ms. Hin, mother of seven children, ranging from 1 to 18 years old. She shared: “Our Village Chief told us these activities would benefit our children. I want to help our children and other children in the community.”
A key activity was a village walk that allowed residents to visualize and understand sanitation and hygiene issues in their community and how they are associated with malnutrition. On the walk Ms. Hin noted the location of households with adolescents, pregnant women and young children, pointed out instances of areas where villagers openly defecate and noted unclean homes and children’s play areas.
Following the walk, Ms. Hin shared what she had seen and learned with the rest of the village. Participants agreed the community should plan to take action to improve children’s and adolescent’s healthy growth. The villagers nominated Ms. Hin to be part of the Village Committee to administer the action plan. She said “I am proud to help our village to improve nutrition for our children.”
(Villagers sharing what they learned after the community walkthrough. Photo Credit: USAID)
When asked about the village visit, Ms. Hin shared that she had fun participating in the day’s activities
“We learned how important good nutrition is to children’s growth, especially for children under two like my youngest daughter and for teenage girls. They need special attention with the right kinds of food each day. We also need to keep our village clean and free from animal feces that can make our children sick. I want to make sure all the children in our community grow up healthyand strong so they can get an education and a good job for a bright future.”
As of October 2017, almost 600 villagers from 60 USAID Nurture-supported villages have agreed to create community action plans to support children’s healthy growth.