In rural communities in northern Laos, an IFAD supported programme is using a television soap opera to help tackle extreme poverty and malnutrition.
As villagers follow the fortunes of their favourite characters in My Happy Family, they are also learning how to choose healthy locally grown ingredients to create tasty, nutritious meals for the children and adults in their households.
Traditionally, mothers often feed their infants sticky rice from the family table. But this “adult” food is hard on a child’s digestive system. What’s more, it lacks the necessary nutrients to help a child grow, and can lead to stunting – an effect and an indicator of chronic malnutrition.
“Every second child in Laos is stunted,” says Jutta Krahn, nutrition consultant for My Happy Family. “That means they are short for their age, but also that their mental development is impaired.”
As children grow up, learning disabilities may affect their ability to finish their schooling and find work, keeping them trapped in poverty.
The TV series is giving young mothers like Boun Phonyahak creative new recipes to help break the cycle of malnutrition and poverty.
“Before, I didn’t know what to cook for the children,” she says. “After seeing the video, we know more, how to cook for the children and parents separately. I’ve learned about fern, Asian spinach and Chinese cabbage, and how to prepare a healthy soup from these vegetables.”
Good hygiene practices have also been woven into the story line, and some episodes have focused on dispelling food myths that deprive pregnant women of vital nutrients.
My Happy Family is part of a larger IFAD-supported programme that started work in 2011 and is due to close in 2017. In 225 target villages in Oudomxay and Sayabouly provinces, participants are learning how to cultivate home gardens to improve family diets, and how to breed and care for livestock. In addition, the programme is working to strengthen small producers’ links to markets, and to improve water management. To date, it has reached about 79,000 people from eight different ethnic groups living in 15,000 households.
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Photo credit: ©IFAD