“I lost two children because I didn’t know what was good for their health.” It’s the sad but honest statement of Mrs Hung, a 27-year-old mother from a remote community of Atsaphone district, Savannakhet province.
Atsaphone is a rural district of southern Laos, two hours away from the nearest provincial hospital of Savannakhet. For Hung and her community, the trip to the district hospital can take more than one hour on a bumpy, dusty, harassing road. The lack of decent infrastructures can become a death threat for rural communities, which represents 67% of the Lao population. In Hung’s village, only one toilet is available for 610 villagers, meaning open defecation is still prevalent among other harmful hygiene practices, increasing the risk of illness. When access to basic healthcare services is this complicated, methods of preventing fatalities must be thought through locally. The solution needs to come from the community itself.
Mr Kongchai lives a few houses away from Mrs Hung. He is a farmer, like the majority of his neighbours. However, the 45-year-old man also holds a crucial responsibility for his community—he is a village health volunteer. Three years ago, Kongchai was trained by World Vision’s Timed and Targeted Counseling (TTC) project. With the support of the local staff of the Ministry of Health, he received the knowledge on how to provide health counselling to the pregnant women and young mothers of his village and monitor their conditions and their newborns’ growth.
“Before the project started, the mothers of our community were facing difficulties in accessing health care service and didn’t have knowledge on health, so they kept practising their own traditional beliefs,” says Kongchai. “When we first started the activity, we faced many challenges because the mothers and their family members were not cooperative and said they were too busy when I came to provide counselling.” In addition to the time spent in his rice fields, his only source of income, Kongchai tries to build trust and convince his community fellows to change their behaviours. The caring father of two works passionately and wholeheartedly for the greater good: “I want my village to be healthier,” he says.
As part of his new routine, Kongchai checks the health of pregnant women, measures children’s weight and height, provides immunization to children under 5, and guidance on how to feed them. Kongchai also speaks daily on community loudspeakers to raise awareness of hygiene. His long-term endeavour is already making a short-term impact with the mothers, who are beginning to listen to his advice and praising him for his involvement in the change of the village.
“I’m very happy that now we have village health volunteers in my village. I received advice from them on how to take care of my health during my pregnancy, take enough rest and eat nutritiously,” says Mrs Hung.
After the loss of two children, I gave birth to my fourth child and received advice from Kongchai, health center and health district staff from the first months of pregnancy until now. I felt safer, and so does my child.
Eager to learn, the caring father of two children keeps participating in World Vision’s training, gaining new knowledge on nutrition of women and children under 2. “Currently, community mothers participate actively when we conduct the mobile health services, take ownership to bring their children to join the health checkup and follow on the doctor’s advice,” he says. “Community members, mothers and children can now access better health care services, and are healthier than before.”
In the last year, over 68,000 mothers, fathers and other caregivers have received new knowledge to take care of their children from Kongchai or another of the 350 village health volunteers trained by World Vision in Lao PDR.
In these rural communities, children now have a new local guardian angel to keep an eye on their healthy growth.