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Before World Vision started a child health project in her village, Keo relied on traditional methods of care that often were detrimental to the health of her three children. Now, she's better educated, and her children are healthier.
In a rural village in the Xonnabouly district of Laos, 26-year-old Keo, a mother of three young children, once believed in local traditions regarding child rearing.
Keo — mother of Khunkham, 8; Bountha, 7; and Nang, 3 — rarely thought about getting healthcare information. Even if she did, the eight-mile distance from her village to the nearest health center was enough to discourage her.
During rainy season, Keo's journey is even more difficult, as the river that runs across her village rises.
A mobile clinic visits the village only once a year. At that time, health check-ups and vaccinations are offered, and free medication is distributed. But Keo didn't make use of the services.
"I always missed the mobile clinic when I was pregnant with my first two children," she says. "I never consulted a doctor, nor took special care of myself. I just relied on what my mother taught me."
Keo, who married at just 17, relied heavily on information passed down to her from her family. That meant she would often overlook important aspects of child care that might seem obvious to mothers elsewhere.
"When I had my first baby and had difficulty feeding with my own milk during the first week of giving birth, my mother showed me how to feed the baby with sticky rice," she recalls. "I didn't know then that it wasn't a good practice."
A newspaper report published on May 4, 2010, in IRIN, the UN news service, says that, "While many Lao believe sticky rice is the ideal baby food, health experts say just the opposite. Feeding the glutinous grain to babies can not only result in gastro-intestinal disorders and immune deficiencies, but also contribute to malnutrition."
Keo admits that her two older children did not receive proper care.
"I didn't think much about the food they ate," she says. "When I tried giving them vegetables, they didn't like it, and I never insisted nor encouraged them to eat."
Her lack of knowledge on proper hygiene also resulted in her children often getting sick with diarrhea.
But in 2008, World Vision established an early child care and development project in Keo's village, aimed at providing assistance to families at risk because of limited access to healthcare.
"World Vision came to our village in the same year that I [gave birth to] my third child, Nang," says Keo. "I attended trainings on family planning, learned about proper care when pregnant and after giving birth, and how to properly care for babies until they grow older."
The project helped build a strong foundation for early childhood well-being, through village discussions on health, nutrition, education, and parenting. Armed with knowledge on these topics, Keo was more prepared with her third pregnancy.
"I had a tetanus toxoid injection when I was pregnant," she says, noting that her youngest child is healthier and doesn't get sick so easily.
"With my two previous pregnancies, I didn't know that I needed the injection to prevent infections while giving birth, especially when I delivered at home with only my mother and traditional midwife."
Keo adds that she now strives to be a good example to her children in the area of hygiene.
"When my children saw me brushing my teeth, they also followed. It's easier to encourage them to wash up before going to bed if they see me doing it," she says.
She also takes time to share what she learned with other women. Her neighbor, Dieung, can attest to this: "She is the one who actively attended village meetings. I also learned from her about preparing oral power [a treatment for diarrhea] for my children."
In addition to training mothers, volunteers, and health workers, World Vision provides regular child-monitoring activities, such as immunization, health education, and birth registration to improve the capacity of communities in taking care of children.
The result? Child health is significantly improved in rural Laotian villages like this one, where a lack of knowledge and persistence of local myths regarding child care can be detrimental to families like Keo and her children.
Read about Child Health Now, World Vision's global campaign to end preventable child deaths.
Thank God that Keo now has the knowledge to care for the health of her three children, and pray that she would continue to be a positive resource for other parents in her community.
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