A day in the life: Sarah Hunt, ChildFund Australia Global Programs Director
In April, ChildFund Australia Global Programs Director, Sarah Hunt, travelled to the ChildFund in Laos Country Office for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Here Sarah was able to visit a health and nutrition project, to understand the impacts of the program and speak to those who have been involved in the project. She also spent time with the ChildFund in Laos team, planning future activities.
We spoke with Sarah to hear about her experience visiting Laos:
How do your days usually start? Tell us a bit about how you get ready for a day in the field and how you get there.
Before I arrived, the ChildFund in Laos Operations Officer, Boua, helped me find an apartment that was about a 30-minute walk from the office and near the Mekong River.
April is one of the hottest times of year in Vientiane, so I would usually try and leave for the office around 7.30am before it got too warm.
The way Vientiane is set up meant there are lots of little and interconnecting streets and it took me a couple of weeks to find my preferred route. I got to know a few ‘regulars’ along the way as well as the local shops that sold cold and refreshing cans of Coke Zero!
Where in Laos did you visit on this trip?
I spent most of my time in Vientiane working from the ChildFund in Laos Country Office. I did manage a 48-hour trip to Huaphanh Province to visit a few projects. it is a beautiful, mountainous, and much cooler, part of the country!
You visited a health program while in Laos. What is this program, when did it start and where is it at now?
The project is part of an EU funded initiative, led by Save the Children and implemented in partnership between Save, Care, Comité de Coopération avec le Laos and ChildFund.
The aim of the Sustainable Change Achieved through Linking Improved Nutrition and Governance (SCALING) project is to improve food and nutrition security among rural households and create sustainable agricultural wealth at the village and household level, as well as to improve nutritional status of adolescent girls, pregnant and lactating women, and children under 5 years old in project districts.
This project is drawing to a close and will formally end in June 2022.
You met a few of the women who are part of this program. Tell us about that? What did they have to say about their involvement in the program?
One of the successes of the project has been the establishment of local women-led village savings and loans groups. Recognising that in remote and rural areas, access to formal banking and loan opportunities are rare, these groups come together on a regular basis and contribute money each meeting that can be accessed as a loan by different members.
Different members have used these funds for things such as contributing to school fees, meeting unexpected medical expenses and investment in livelihood opportunities. In addition to being a practical way for women to access credit, that they are groups managed by and for women, has also helped address issues of gender inequality. For example, women are increasingly recognised and respected in terms of economic decision-making within the household.
Another important element of the project was the training of Community Facilitators and Home Visit volunteers. The volunteers were each responsible for about 10-15 households, conducting home monitoring visits when women were pregnant and visiting new mothers.
These visits were an opportunity to provide information, advice, and support to expecting and new mothers, including the provision of food supplements and safety and hygiene related interventions.
What is next for the SCALING project?
With the SCALING project coming to an end, ChildFund, signed a new agreement that will allow us to expand our SCALING activities into new areas.
A new project, Integrated Nutrition for Growth (IN4G) will take our key learnings from the SCALING project and implement them, working in partnership with local organisations.
IN4G is funded by the Australian Government (DFAT) via the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP) and will run until June 2024.
What is your hope for these projects?
When we evaluated the SCALING project, we found some promising impacts. The hope is that the next program, the IN4G project, will be able to achieve similar results. I am hoping that we will be able to reduce stunting, improve sanitation, increase the number of women giving birth in health facilities and improve child nutrition in the regions ChildFund is working in.
We’re also hoping that through this project, we’ll be able to strengthen our collaborative processes and partnerships with local government actors.
What was your favourite part about your trip to Laos?
The food was a highlight for me. Although I didn’t use quite as much chilli on my food as my colleagues. I found some local noodle places in Xam Neua, the capital of Huaphanh, that become favourites.
I was also there during the Laos New Year celebrations. While public celebrations were restricted because of COVID-19, we were still able to celebrate in the office. This included a traditional, moving Buddhist ceremony in the office, followed by the team hosting a fun lunch and series of games.
How do you like to wind down from your day?
The walk home from the office was always a nice way to finish up the working day. There was always so much colour, cheer, sounds and delicious smells from the street-food to observe.