A champion community development worker

Phet sat in the midst of a group of World Vision Project staff and government health partners and entranced them with his animated, passionate advocacy for the program ‘happy children by community.’

“I can see the changes that have happened in my community. A 12-day course can improve children’s health. Mothers who attended the session had the confidence to practice and cook nutritious food that is available in the village for their children,” says Phet.

Phet is a 24-year-old community development worker in Xieng Dao village in Nhommalath district. He is the proud father of two children, a 4-year-old daughter and a 1-year-old son.

Phet has an easy smile and calm demeanour despite the huge challenges he has faced in his life. He was orphaned at 6 years old and left home to become a monk. Several years later he left the monkhood and moved to Vientiane to work at a petrol station. After tiring of city life he returned to his home village and worked in a local saw mill.

In the local saw mill, he met with his wife Chone, since than he followed her to stay in Xiengdao village and be a brave father.

Three years ago, Phet was selected by his community to become a community development worker. He supports World Vision’s work by helping select vulnerable children, register children, coordinate and conduct child sponsorship activities, as well as monitor child well-being in his village.

Children have access to clean water, medical care and our village has a good school, and text books are available for children to study - which we did not have before.

Phet is a resource person in the village, he is not just responsible for child sponsorship activities, but he is involved in the village development committee.

“He helps me prepare the village development plan and map out what needs to be done in the village,” Bounlet Anntha, village chief said.

In 2012, his community asked him to support the implementation of Happy Children by Community (Positive Deviance/ Hearth) activities as a pilot project in his village.

The Happy Children by Community (PD Hearth) project seeks to rehabilitate malnourished children by promoting behaviour change and empowering caregivers to take responsibility for the nutritional rehabilitation of their children. The project aims to tap into local wisdom for effectively treating and preventing malnutrition and spread the wisdom throughout the community. It means addressing child malnutrition by using resources, knowledge and food that are available in their village.

To implement this project, the community and families are engaged in finding the solution, implementing the activities by cooking nutritious food, providing better care, and using clean water for their children.

Phet’s role is to help the project identify low weight children and encourage parents to bring their children to participate in all the activities. The activities include monitoring child weight and educating mothers on nutrition, food and hygiene. In Xiengdao there are 98 children that Phet monitors and 37 of them were malnourished.

“After implementing the 12-day course training, now there are only seven malnourished children,” he says. “Before, many parents do not understand the impact of malnutrition, are unable to identify it and do not know about the importance of eating nutritious food."

“I did not pay any attention to what my children ate, usually I grilled frog, crab, or snail for them to eat paired with sticky rice. I did not know that children also need to eat vegetables,” says Bounmy, 27, a mother of three.

After attending the 12-day training course, her daughter’s weight improved from 10 to 14 kg.

“At first I didn’t want to be involved with the ‘Happy Children by Community’ activity as I felt shy to talk with mothers about nutrition and child health,” Phet shared, “But no one else wanted this job. I decided to do this for the children in my village, because I found many children are under weight.”

I’m proud to see the children in my community gaining weight and growing up healthier.

Note: Ministry of Health (MoH) reports indicate that chronic malnutrition among the group of children under 5 remains the biggest challenges in Lao PDR. During the past 10 years, the child malnutrition rate remains the same. Approximately 37% of children are underweight and 44% are stunted.