In many villages in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, rice is the primary meal for breakfast, lunch and dinner. In addition to helping people grow more rice, MCC, through its account at the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, funds nutrition trainings in 10 villages. In a school in Phonehome village, MCC nutrition project officer Bouachan Thanvanh teaches about the importance of eating a variety of food, including items that can be collected from the forest, fields and streams.
MCC nutrition project officer Bouachan Thanvanh warns students that malnutrition has an impact on the brain. It becomes difficult to think quickly. Children feel tired and weak and sicken easily, she told the class. MCC funding supported the printing of this poster to show students some of the effects of malnutrition. Nutrition trainings reach some 600 students in grades four and five.
MCC nutrition project officer Bouachan Thanvanh, shown working with students (from left) Pan, Khammoun and La, encourages pupils who help their families cook to plan meals that include several food groups. “If you are having snails and fish meat, then add vegetables and bananas,” she tells students. (In this area of Lao PDR, many people, including these students, use only one name.)
In addition to learning what to eat, students learn to keep food clean before it is cooked, to cook it thoroughly and to cover food they are saving. They are encouraged to wash their hands with soap before and after eating and after going to the bathroom to stay healthy. Khammoun (center) moves to tag another student as they play a game at the end of their nutrition and health class.
To complement what children are learning about healthy eating in the classroom, seven of the 10 schools in the nutrition project also have a school garden. Students learn to care for a garden, including building fences strong enough to keep out roving pigs. Moringa, the plant in this photo, provides protein and many vitamins and minerals. It can be cooked or eaten raw and is an excellent supplement to a person’s nutrition.
At Phonehome, students learned how to plant fruit trees by digging large holes, mixing and adding compost and tending to them regularly. Khammoun, left, and Khamla water tree seedlings in the school garden.
In this area of Lao PDR, an important part of good nutrition is the food that can be collected for free from the forest, fields and streams. As part of the nutrition training, students such as Khem learn about these and other plants that are safe to eat.
La uses a net to capture fish and frogs as she turns over stones in a small stream. In an area where meat is too expensive for families to buy often, if at all, teachers encourage students to take advantage of free sources of protein, including what they can catch with nets.
Going out to gather food from streams, or from fields and the forest, is a traditional part of the rural Lao diet that MCC educators are stressing. Moun, left, and Wan visit as they leave a nearby stream to walk back to the village. Frogs, crickets, freshwater crabs, snails, rodents and fish such as these in the basket provide important nutrients often lacking in rice-based meals.
Even as nutrition educators encourage people to eat a varied diet, another aspect of MCC’s work helps people grow more rice through clearing land, developing irrigation systems and agricultural training. In, Than and On work together to break up hard-packed earth to clear land for rice paddies. An international humanitarian agency, Mines Advisory Group (MAG), partnered with MCC to clear the project area of unexploded ordnance before work began.
Khammany Phommachan, whose family received Canadian Foodgrains Bank rice for work on land clearing and irrigation projects, also is deeply involved in her school’s nutrition training and school garden effort. Learn more about Khammany through MCC’s Hello page of children’s content.
Fish dishes, such as the one in the pink container, and rodents cooked in banana leaves provide valuable protein, while greens offer other important nutrients. Read more about the nutrition trainings or about work to help families grow more rice in MCC’s magazine, A Common Place.