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Stories: Children, Communities, Futures

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Becoming a new mother can be accompanied by many exciting and important new tasks, from holding and feeding the new baby to making sure she is safe and clean, and getting her medical attention if she gets sick. It can also be a stressful time for many women and their families as they try to navigate motherhood and the best way to care for their babies and themselves.  

In remote villages in Huaphanh Province in Laos, volunteers from ChildFund’s maternal and child health and nutrition project are helping to reduce the stress that mothers can face, and ensure they and their babies are safe and healthy.

This project is supported by the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP).

Mother-of-four Souk is a ChildFund volunteer. Since 2018, Souk has been helping dozens of mothers in her village care for themselves and their babies for 1,000 days, the time from when a woman becomes pregnant to her child’s second birthday. This period of 1,000 days is critical to a child’s healthy development. Good nutrition for both mother and baby, for example, is necessary for proper brain development and laying the foundations for good health throughout a child’s life.

In remote villages in Laos, says Souk, women and their families have traditionally relied on outdated and potentially unsafe practices because of the lack of access to professional health care, information and advice.

“Before ChildFund’s ‘1,000 days’ activities, most mothers and their families were not fully taking care of their own health,” Souk says. “Mothers worked too hard, did not eat a variety of food groups, and did not pay attention to prenatal health needs like taking iron pills.

“After giving birth they followed traditional practices like restricting what foods new mothers could eat.  They also lacked some of the skills to take care of newborn infants, and sometimes they did not follow doctors’ instructions on breastfeeding, because they believed they had to give their baby food and water so they would not be hungry and thirsty.

“This led to many babies becoming unhealthy and malnourished, which sometimes caused stunting and underweight infants.”

Thousands of new books have been distributed to schools in rural and remote communities as part of a ChildFund project in Timor-Leste to improve literacy levels among young children.

The project, which is being implemented with Mary MacKillop Today, is helping to fill a shortage of reading materials in 12 schools in Liquica municipality, west of Dili.

More than 1,300 students from Grades 1 to 4 will be able to access the new books.

Seven-year-old student Jujunia (pictured below) is an avid reader and has been borrowing some of the new books at her school to read at home. “The books are helping a lot of children at my school to read,” the Grade 2 student says.

A lack of resources and poor quality teaching have long been some of the barriers to improving low literacy levels across Timor-Leste, with many children reaching Grade 4 and still unable to read.

ChildFund Timor-Leste’s education project is helping to break these barriers. “We’re working in line with the National Strategic Plan of Timor-Leste to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals,” ChildFund Timor-Leste’s Senior Education Manager Joãozinho Noronha says.

Teachers are also being trained as part of the project. They are learning how to implement creative and fun activities, such as singing, dancing and drawing, to teach literacy and numeracy, says Joãozinho. “A focus is to ensure children can recognise and sound the letters in the alphabet early on,” he says.

Teachers and parents will also be able to access videos on storytelling and literacy and numeracy to help them develop lessons for children.

More than 4,500 books have been delivered to schools over the past year.

This project is supported by the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP).