Thursday, May 26, 2016

Joyful early childhood learning in classrooms of Laos

Children reading from 'My Village' storybooks in Ban Nadou pre-school
Three stops, three classrooms. Arriving at the gate of Ban Doub School, our first stop, in Ta Oi district of Saravan province, we hear a clamour from within. The children are laughing, clapping and singing, “My village! My Village is beautiful! My village is fun! My village has a lot of colourful flowers!” We are surprised how quick children remember and learn to sing this song. The Early Childhood Education (ECD) TV team and the ‘My Village’ Claymation series from which the song comes from is from visited this school months earlier in December 2015.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The art of storytelling brings learning to life for Lao pre-school children

Mr Savansay Kyong (25) practices storytelling to a group of pre-children in Ban Nalek Kindergarten.
He holds a colourful book in front of a group of expectant children in a classroom at Ban Nalek Kindergarten. The young man from a rural village of Saravan province looks nervous. Around him young children – mostly 6 or under – look at him, curiously waiting for the man’s next move. With a big smile, he raises his hands and says “Sabaidee” or hello and the room responds in kind with a warm welcome in friendly, eager voices, “Sabaidee teacher!”

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Complete Background to Lao PDR’s Polio Outbreak and Response

Nabua Village, Vientiane Capital: Children in the local Hmong community show us their polio immunization marks ‪#‎endpolio‬ ‪#‎Laos‬ ‪#‎UNICEF‬
In October 2015, the Ministry of Health in Laos reported a case of circulating Vaccine Derived Polio Virus (cVDPV1) in an 8-year old boy who showed symptoms of weakness of the muscles and the muscles and respiration (Acute Flaccid Paralysis – AFP) and died on 11 September 2015. On 29 September a 4-year old boy also showed onset of the symptoms and died a short time later. On 13 January 2016, the Prime Minister of Lao PDR declared cVDPV1 outbreak as a public health emergency. By March 2016, there were 11 confirmed cVDPV 1 cases concentrated in 3 provinces (Bolikhamxay, Xieng Khouang and Xaisomboun) among some ethnic groups. The subsequent investigations and analysis revealed significant immunity gaps. Chief among them an immunization hesitancy among certain population groups.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Breastfeeding in Lao PDR: reaching every mother and child

Low Women’s Union volunteers, Phounvah and Manivone, promoting breastfeeding and healthy eating
© UNICEF Laos/2014/B. Verweij

Phounvah and Manivone love their work. On a humid day in Saravane Province, Lao PDR, they again start walking door to door in a small village to meet new or expectant mothers. As trained volunteers for the Lao Women’s Union (LWU), they have the critical task of delivering potentially lifesaving advice to families.
Saravane province has some of the worst health indicators in the county. One out of every ten infants die before their first birthday and stunting rates are among the highest in the world. For this reason, UNICEF and the EU have teamed up with the LWU to reach out to mothers.

Volunteers from LWU like Phounvah and Manivone have been trained and provided materials to offer breastfeeding advice and support to local mothers – advice that if followed would allow children to survive and thrive.

Their first visit was to Pa, a 20 year old mother of two. She could clearly see the benefits of breastfeeding. “I’m exclusively breastfeeding my 6 month baby,” she said holding her new baby and gesturing to her 2 year old who was almost the same size. “I didn’t do this with my first child.”
Pa, a mother of two, is shown information about breastfeeding and healthy eating by a Lao Women’s Union volunteer
© UNICEF Laos/2014/B. Verweij
It was startling to see the how similar in size the two children were, despite the age gap.
 “We see many more mothers breastfeeding now,” says Manivong after counselling Pa on healthy foods for their children. “They are all seeing the benefits this brings to their children.”
A joint report by UNICEF, ASEAN and WHO shows that nearly half of children under 5 years of age in Lao PDR are stunted, or too short for their age. Poor nutrition, including suboptimal breastfeeding, is one of the key drivers of undernutrition in children. Children in Lao PDR suffer from many problems associated with undernutrition; stunting, wasting and anaemia levels are all high.
After visiting Pa the volunteers stroll through the village to meet other mothers. It’s getting even warmer now and with villagers either working in the fields or laying in the shade, the only discernible sounds are the buffalo-bells and crickets.
Wie, left, learns how to keep her new baby, and herself, healthy.
© UNICEF Laos/2014/B. Verweij
Wie and Lounny welcome the volunteers to sit beneath a stilted home. “Thanks to their support I learned how to feed my baby properly,” says Wie. “I also learned how to keep myself healthy, which is also important.”
But, said Lounny, there were still challenges. She said some mothers still give sticky rice to their young babies just to stop them from crying. Next to her home, she told us, a baby was born at 8am. By 11am, it was being fed rice.
In Lao PDR, only 40 per cent of babies are exclusively breastfed until 6 months of age. Exclusive breastfeeding up to 6 months and complementary feeding after 6 months protects against childhood diseases but it also protects later in life against diseases such as diabetes.
Lao Women’s Union: critical partners
When UNICEF was looking for a partner to promote and support exclusive breastfeeding and appropriate complementary feeding across Lao PDR, the LWU was the obvious choice.
“To reach as many women and child caregivers as possible, we needed a trusted and active agent in the local community in order to keep broad community support,” says Dr Viorica Berdaga, UNICEF’s Chief of Health and Nutrition in Lao PDR. “It’s a resource that allows you to be present in every community.”
The LWU has 600,000 members and is present in every village in Lao PDR.
They have the ability to access women across the multitude of ethnic groups in Lao PDR and in the many different languages.
“This contribution from community based workers is very important,” explains Dr Chandavone Phoxay from the Ministry of Health in Lao PDR. “We have two main types: Firstly, the village health volunteers who come from the community level. They are trained for a month in nutrition education as well as behavioural change communication and health promotion. In addition to that, the LWU also plays an important role. Some of the LWU members also became village health volunteers.”

Pa’s youngest child was exclusively breastfed and is thriving
© UNICEF Laos/2014/B. Verweij
UNICEF supports the LWU with training, communication materials and job aids to promote appropriate infant and young child feeding and nutrition in pregnancy and postpartum. Extra funds were provided for cooking demonstrations to engage women and other child caregivers on how to prepare nutritious food using local ingredients.  
Additional communication materials were made into visual aids or “memory cards” in order to circumvent the problem of a lack of written languages and a plethora of spoken languages. 
“When you cannot use the written language for training, you need to be innovative,” Dr Berdaga explains. UNICEF has also piloted the use of smart phones to convey health and nutrition messages in the local languages.
Lao PDR is making a good progress in improving infant and child nutrition. With the help of UNICEF and the EU, and working alongside groups such as the Lao Women’s Union, it seems likely that greater improvements can be made.
“Nutrition is very complex,” says Koen Everaert, from the EU Delegation to the Lao PDR.  “It requires a multi-sectoral approach, multi-stakeholders, putting in place the correct structures at the national level, at the sub-national level and most importantly at grassroots level. The biggest work to come now is the scaling up and the rolling out of these very good policies.”
For Phounvah and Manivone, it’s another day of gratifying work. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

UNICEF partnership with Lao animator flourishes as pioneering early learning clay-mation series enters third season

Animator Souliya Phoumivong sets up a new scene in season 3 of “My Village”
Picture a small road sidling along the Mekong River just outside Vientiane. Thailand visible just across the water. On both sides line row after row of family homes with motorbikes and pick-up trucks clustered outside. Most offer some kind of homemade business opportunity – a shop, food stall, a mechanic. Behind one of the houses, tucked away almost out of sight, sits an unassuming building. The faintly turquoise, washed exterior walls, pretty potted plants and ordinary appearance disguise the hive of creative activity within. Meet the world’s most unlikely Claymation studio.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Meet the Superkids of Laos

Chandavone and her daughter Namkhing
Chandavone (25) Homchanh (20) and Chanhom (28) have one thing in common. They are the mothers of three buoyant 13 month-old children from the small village of Ban Namahee in the south east of Laos. Lively and healthy, the children wrestle in their mother’s arms, mouthing eager pre-speech noises and taking any opportunity they can get to try out legs which only months ago seemed unimportant to their world. In a country where child under-nutrition is a silent emergency – the latest data indicates almost 2 million Lao citizens, mainly women and children, suffer some form of under-nutrition – these three bouncing, healthy children, are in stark relief to the figures. Why? All three have been taking the nutrition supplement Superkid as part of their diets.