In the remote and rural village of Somsavath Tai village, in Vientiane province, Mrs. Thord, a 54-year-old farmer looks after her two grandchildren while their parents work long days in the rice fields.
Like many women her age, Mrs. Thord didn’t receive much of an education as a girl because among ethnic communities, cultural norms and traditions led to women marrying young and dropping out of school to raise families or work the land. Consequently, Mrs. Thord doesn’t know how to read or write but is determined to provide a different future for her granddaughters.
The key to supporting her grandchildren develop lies in adequate nutrition, an area that she has recently taken pleasure in learning more about. “I help to cook the school meals once a month and I’ve learned a lot from nutrition food that can give my grandchildren and all the school children here better health”, she says.
Despite progress in recent years, Laos still has the highest under-five child mortality rate in Southeast Asia (46 per 1,000 live births) and some of the highest rates of child stunting in the region with one in three children under five reported to have stunted growth due to malnutrition and in turn, a reduced capacity to learn in school and grow to their fullest potential.
To address this alarming issue, we’ve developed a nutrition project that not only provides nutritious school lunches to students from low-income households but also teaches parents and community members like Mrs. Thoud aboutthe value of nutrition and how to cook nutritious meals from local ingredients. Once trained, Mrs Thoud and others have job opportunities within the schools to cook the meals and participate in our project further.
While the ingredients of the school come from local produce purchased from the communities where we work, we are also encouraging school gardens where children can grow their own vegetables and increase their knowledge on nutrition further.
Across many of our activities in Laos, we believe in a learn through doing approach which offers parents, children, teachers and communities the opportunity to be part of the process of learning. Last year, our research revealed that 81% of the students in our project reported that they preferred to eat at school rather than at home because the food was more nutritious, better tasting and they enjoyed eating with friends. This led to school meals motivating students to come to school more and improve their learning outcomes.
According to Mrs. Thord, her grandchildren, too, have become more interested in going to school. “Before they were not interested but now these new activities from Aide et Action such as library books and school meals are making the children want to come to school,” she explains.