“I want to see women and children receive more care and support from their families. I want them to have access to good nutrition, health care, and information. These things may not make them rich, but they will have good health [and] know how to care for themselves and their families; children will grow healthily, and everyone will be free from malnutrition,” said Chef Touktick, ADRA Lao’s health and nutrition officer.
While many are living in comfortable homes with a lot of food on tables, countless parents do not have the luxury of choosing what to feed their children. Eating is quite the matter of survival. Poverty, food insecurity, and poor nutritional practices are, to some extent, synonymous with malnutrition. Malnourished children do not grow the way they are supposed to grow. According to their age, they are often underweight or short. This health condition leads to a whole range of issues, including diseases, diminished cognitive and physical development, and, in severe cases, disabilities and increased risk of developing degenerative diseases.
As an organization charged to provide food for the hungry, water for the thirsty, clothes for the naked, healing for the sick, and comfort for the destitute, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) Laos has always had a soft spot for children and mothers who are struggling in the vicious cycle of poverty and malnutrition. Currently, ADRA Laos is implementing Phase II of the nutrition and livelihood project in the country, which is one of the poorest in Southeast Asia.
The project works in Xiangkhouang Province, where acute malnutrition is as high as 10.43%, chronic malnutrition is 33.43%, and underweight children under five years of age is 12.71%. The project addresses undernutrition through various interventions. One approach is Positive Deviance/Hearth, a community nutrition rehabilitation program. It integrates feeding with education, community management, growth monitoring, counseling, and referrals, all to improve mothers’ and children's nutritional status.
Recently, ADRA Laos acquired a new addition to the team through a talented female officer. After joining the ADRA Laos family, Touktick, whose real name is Chanikone Louangoudom, immediately earned the moniker chef because of her cooking skills. As a woman, she champions women’s and children’s education.
Chef Touktick does not consider herself a chef, particularly when cooking for friends or at home, but she is skillful in preparing nutritious food for malnourished children and advising their parents.
“I’m very happy and glad to play a part in helping people learn about nutrition and enabling them to know what a good diet is [and] become healthy and aware of food diversity. I’m glad that children are receiving more attention from their parents and women have more access to health care. The community realizes the importance of good nutritional practices. These things are very important because they dictate their health now and in the future,” said Chef Touktick, when asked how she felt about her role.
“What I feel proud of the most is helping people in remote areas to learn. I am happy being a nutrition officer because it is related to my education, which is agriculture. These two go hand in hand. Good agriculture brings about good nutrition and good health to consumers,” she continued.
Malnutrition is a serious issue in the ADRA Laos target villages. Through the community rehabilitation program, children under five years old are assessed. Those found stunted, wasted, and/or underweight are enrolled in a 12-day feeding session, which is a “stone soup.” Each household brings together what they have. Our ADRA staff then turn the ingredients into a balanced nutritious meal for malnourished children (six months to five years old).
During these 12 days, children and mothers participate in educational activities, such as nutrition awareness, cooking demonstrations, hygiene awareness, drawing/coloring, fun games, etc. Upon joining the program, participating children are monitored throughout the year on the 12th, 30th, 90th, 180th, 270th, and 360th day.
Besides communal activities, the project team (ADRA staff, village health volunteers, and health center staff) also visit pregnant and lactating mothers in their homes to share health messages and teach them how to take care of themselves, their families, and children.
Like Chef Touktick, ADRA Laos hopes that through this project intervention, mothers, children, and the community will become nutritionally balanced, enjoy good health, and face a bright future.
ADRA Laos is grateful for the funding provided by the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, ADRA Canada, and other donor offices.