During the six- or seven-month dry season in her southwest Myanmar village, Ma Bo Ma, who is 25 years old, works as day laborer. But for five or six months each rainy season, she is jobless. Her 27-year-old husband is Ko Oo, and he earns a living as a carpenter during the dry season and as ferry boat operator for hire during the rainy season. The couple have a son, Mg Htet Oo, who is four years old and, as a toddler, was always ill and weak. Too often, Ma Bo Ma and Ko Oo found themselves at the local clinic with the son, and it saddened and perplexed them that no one quite understood why the son was sick so often. Much of their modest income, which is less than $4 a day on average, is not that low by rural Myanmar standards. But so much was spent for their child’s health care, there was little left for other things including, ironically, good food.
When there was no diagnosed illness or disease for Mg Htet Oo, the couple thought that maybe his poor health was related to his diet. But they did really understand how balanced nutritious meals – ‘food as medicine’ in their minds – worked. Luckily for this family, CWS was already working with some families in their village to help others understand the very things Ma Bo Ma and Ko Oo were wondering about.
Recently, CWS staff sat down with Ma Bo Ma as she prepared okra and potatoes, fish curry, and beans for her son’s lunch, to hear more about her experience. At first, she shared her gratitude, “We are so happy since we no longer visit the clinic so often. Our son has become such a healthy boy”! And, here is the rest of the story:
“One day, after hearing about CWS information-sharing from another mother in the village, I joined a nutrition education session”. In this session, and others that followed, Ma Bo Ma learned the importance of protein – fish and meat – in building a young child’s body. She came to understand that natural sugar – corn and sticky snacks – give energy. And, she learned the many ways that vegetables, especially green one, protect children from diseases by providing key vitamins, minerals and nutrients. “In the past, we didn’t eat vegetables simply because they were not our favorite food”, Ma Bo Ma explained. And, they did not eat protein before because they could not afford meat or fish when they were spending so much on clinic fees and medicines.
To help this young struggling family improve their child’s health, the Mother-Leader volunteer who led the education session Ma Bo Ma attended, suggested they also join other poor families who receive material help – three hens and a rooster – as a kind of ‘jump start’ for improving their diets, and their lives. Right away Ma Bo Ma joined the education and training workshops about raising her new poultry well, and she has succeeded!
Now, she can also include protein from eggs and chicken meat, as well as vegetables, in family meals. Carrots and watercress are favorites for Mg Htet Oo, Ma Bo Ma says, adding, “I make our meals with all three food groups now; I cook them properly by keeping a cleaner cooking area too”. She makes this last point because, while learning about the link between diet and health, Ma Bo Ma also learned about personal hygiene and it’s link to food value.
As we ended our visit with Ma Bo Ma, CWS staff were happy to realize what a difference our basic information sharing means to people like Ma Bo Ma, who concluded, “I thank CWS for the awareness and education, and for the material things, provided to us. Now I am ready to learn more” for better health, and a better life.
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