Small clouds of dust rise on the main village road as mothers, babies, fathers, toddlers, and grandparents trickle inside the gates of the health center. Just a few minutes prior, the voice of the village authority rang through town over a loudspeaker, inviting residents to pause their daily activities and attend a nutrition campaign presented by Samaritan’s Purse.
We’re in one of 143 rural farming villages in Tada Oo Township, which lies on the outskirts of Mandalay City. Though the unpaved roads prove difficult to travel, the palm trees grow tall, sunflower fields bloom, mango trees flourish, and a clear, blue sky meets the forest of deep green hues. Rarely will a car be seen entering the village boundaries. Most people drive motorcycles or ox carts or walk.
During the harvest, workers easily find jobs, but in the off-season, many families struggle to make ends meet. As a result, some of their children are malnourished. In Myanmar, 71 percent of pregnant women and 80 percent of children under 5 years old have anemia. The nation has the lowest life expectancy and the second-highest rate of infant and child mortality in Southeast Asia.
A Samaritan’s Purse staff member greets each mother with a clipboard, writing down their names and number of children to determine how much micro-nutrient powder they need. The families find seats on the ground in the shade of a large tree before the session is opened with prayer. One by one, the staff members speak on how to form a well-balanced diet, how to foster hygiene in the home, and the benefits of micro-nutrient powder for children.
With multiple vitamins for children 6 months to 5 years old, the powder promotes good nutrition and protects from disease. These nutrition campaigns represent one step in a larger project that focuses on facilitating health education sessions, constructing latrines, and distributing powder and iron-folic acid to families in Tada Oo.
Education Benefiting Children and Mothers
Because photography is welcomed and foreigners are intriguing, I’m able to wander through the crowd with my camera, taking candid photos of attentive mothers holding their babies. If I make eye contact with someone, I smile and gesture to my camera, as if to say, “May I take your picture?” Returning the smile, a mother nudges the child in her lap and points to me.
When the nutrition campaign ends, a Samaritan’s Purse staff member asks if any of the mothers would like to sit for an interview. Two women volunteer and we smile, nodding politely. Under the shade of a large tree away from the crowd, each woman holds a child in her lap, and I open my notebook. I introduce myself through our translator and listen to their stories.
Do San Yi* gazes at me with tired brown eyes, tucking stray hairs behind her ears. Her 2-year-old son sits quietly in her lap, munching on a biscuit. At 41 years old, Yi has three children, and her family primarily farms corn. They have lived in this village for more than 60 years.
Yi explains that upon hearing the village authority’s announcement of the nutrition campaign, she was immediately intrigued; she wanted to gain a better understanding of nutrition to improve the health of her children. At the session, she learned the first 1,000 days of a child’s life are the most crucial to human development. She realized micro-nutrient powder was necessary for her son.
“I am very grateful to Samaritan’s Purse because this education is not only useful for my children, but for me also,” she said.
Naw Su Win* holds her toddler, who plays and chews the hem of her green dress. Win, 31, wears a beautiful smile, her jet black hair combed back into a bun. Keeping three children nourished with a variety of healthy food proves difficult because rice persists as the least expensive option. Her family doesn’t have money to spare. At the nutrition campaign, she received vital information regarding how to vary her family’s diet and three boxes of powder for her children.
“I am very glad Samaritan’s Purse came to our village,” she said. “This information is very useful, and I know that more educational messages like this would benefit our community. I hope you come back.”
By the time our staff members finish loading the training materials back into the truck, 244 children have received enough nutrition powder to last the next two months. It’s the largest number of children Samaritan’s Purse has supplied with micro-nutrient powder in Mandalay District.
Pray for the families in Tada Oo as the monsoon season peaks and many villages experience hazardous flooding. Please keep Samaritan’s Purse in your prayers for favor so we may continue to expand projects and bless people with the love of Christ.
*Names have been changed to protect privacy.