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How hunger affects children in Laos

Khamsawei is a bright and eager pupil, but the 11-year-old’s enthusiasm is no match for her empty stomach.

A lack of a proper diet means Khamsawei spends most school days struggling to concentrate, unable to understand what her teacher is saying.

“I get hungry at school and I feel tired. I get headaches and I feel angry, dizzy and light-headed,” she says.

“The teacher tries to explain something but I cannot understand it because I feel tired and sleepy.”

Khamsawei’s mornings usually start with a 2km walk to the nearest clean water source before returning home to share a small breakfast of rice and bamboo with her mother, father, and three siblings.

Her family owns a small corn farm about 10km away from their home in a remote village in northern Laos. Her parents sell the corn to support their family, but the money is not enough to provide everything the children need.

“When we do not have enough food for dinner, sometimes I go into the garden and look for fruit in the fruit trees to eat for dinner,” Khamsawei says.

 

Khamsawei suffers headaches and dizziness because she does not get enough food.

At school, if she doesn’t have food, she spends her lunchtimes walking around the grounds inspecting trees for edible leaves.

“I like playing with my friends and having fun,” Khamsawei says. “I don’t like being hungry. I’m sick of being hungry.”

Hunger is a widespread problem in Laos. Despite the country’s potential for food production, only five percent of children eat an adequate diet.

Most families eat rice and a limited selection of vegetables every day. This lack of variety does not give children the nutrients they need to develop properly. It makes them vulnerable to diseases and more likely to fall behind in school.

Khamsawei’s older sister, Oudai, was forced to repeat Grade 3 because she was underweight and missed significant time at school because she was sick.

Khamsawei and her sister, Oudai, help on the family farm

“At the time I was very thin, I was only 25kg because I did not have enough food to eat,” Oudai says.

“So I was sick a lot that year and I was absent from class and I could not get good marks like my friends.”

Khamsawei does not want to follow in her older sister’s footsteps, but she does not have a choice.

Thaimoua Yongvang, ChildFund Laos’ provincial area manager in the province where Khamsawei’s family lives, says knowledge about healthy diets is the main barrier in Laos.

“They have food but it’s still a problem because they do not know how to cook, they do not know how to provide good, productive food for their children,” he says.

“They are eating mostly vegetables and rice. There’s not really meat and not really a variety of vegetables.”

ChildFund is providing seeds to families and running workshops in Khamsawei’s village to teach parents about which foods their children need and the best ways to prepare food.

Local health staff in remote villages are receiving equipment to monitor the growth of children so they can identify and treat malnourished children.

Thaimoua believes these solutions can help lead the way to a healthier future in Laos.

“It is very important for children to have good health and good nutritious food because they will grow very fast and they will have a good life,” he says.

“They can go to school as they want, go for further education. Because they can go to school, they can go for higher education and they can live a good life.”

No child should suffer from hunger. Support our Laos Nutrition Appeal.

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