May 26, 2011
For the last hour or so, we’ve bounced along the pitted dirt road, not touched by the thick humidity outside our heavily air-conditioned IRD vehicle. We’re on our way back from Dong Na Kham village, a small community of only 30 or so households about 80km from the field office in Gnomalat. Today was the first community health promotion meeting in this village. Although we left the office a little after 2pm, the meeting didn’t start until dusk around 6pm. It was enough time to allow men to finish in the fields and children to gather, as IRD staff connected the projector and speakers to the generator. While waiting for the rest of the community to gather, the health officer set up health education posters along the edge of the clearing to introduce the topics to be covered: hygiene, sanitation, and nutrition. As soon as each new poster went up, children eagerly crowded around. It was exciting to see the children’s interest.
Once the sun had set, the projected film was visible and we were ready to start. First, the Health Promotion Coordinator covered hygiene focused toward the children. Two videos were used—the first involved song and a video montage of children sweeping houses and clearing branches from the ground and occasionally short footage of a child taking a bath or washing cups. The second was a cartoon story (originally from Thailand but dubbed in Lao) about a family that came down with diarrhea. In the video, when everyone realized why they were getting sick, the community banded together to clean the local water supply, the river.
As the last hygiene and sanitation video was ending, women from the community slowly trickled in. Women only had the opportunity to join once household chores were finished. It was this understanding of the cultural practices that allowed the IRD health promotion program to most effectively reach each section of the community: women, men, and children. After the children’s hygiene promotion, sanitation and nutrition issues were addressed to the adults in the audience.
Overall, it was impressive to see the interest and excitement of community members responding to questions between each section of the program, and the enthusiasm of the young chief as he encouraged children to volunteer what they’d learned with the lure of a new toothbrush or bar of soap as a prize.