Stories of Change

Ma Bo Ma and Mg Htet Oo at lunch time.

Better Nutrition can be Better than Medicine

Ma Bo Ma, 25, works as a day laborer for six or seven months of the year–the dry season in her community in southwest Myanmar. For the remaining five or six months, though, she is jobless. Her 27-year-old husband, Ko Oo, earns a living as a carpenter during the dry season and a ferry boat operator in the rainy season. They earn less than $4/day on average, which is not that low by rural Myanmar standards. 

The problem, though, was that they were spending too much money on their son’s healthcare. Mg Htet Oo is four years old. As a toddler, he was often ill and weak. Ma Bo Ma and Ko Oo found themselves at the local clinic with him too often, confused and frustrated when no one could quite understand why he was sick so much. With all the money going to his health care, the family’s income was spent quickly. They didn’t have much left over for other needs including, ironically, good food. 

When no one could diagnose Mg Htet Oo, his parents thought that maybe his health issues were related to his diet. But they didn’t really understand how to make sure he had a balanced and nutritious diet. Luckily, CWS was already working with some families in their village to help share information about the very things that Ma Bo Ma and Ko Oo were wondering.

Our team sat down with Ma Bo Ma recently as she prepared okra and potatoes, fish curry and beans for her son’s lunch, and she told us more about her experience. “One day, after hearing about CWS information-sharing from another mother in the village, I joined a nutrition education session,” she said. In this session, and the 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 ones, 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.

They also didn’t eat protein because they could not afford meat or fish when they were spending so much on clinic fees and medicines. The Mother-Leader–the community volunteer who led the education session that Ma Bo Ma attended–nominated the family to join a program focused on raising poultry. She thought it would jump start their ability to improve their diets, since chickens are a great source of protein and extra income for families. She was right–Ma Bo Ma joined the education and training workshops about raising her new poultry, and she has succeeded!

Now, Ma Bo Ma includes protein from eggs and chicken meat, as well as vegetables, in family meals. Mg Htet Oo particularly likes carrots and watercress, Ma Bo Ma says. She added, “I make our meals with all three food groups now; I cook them properly by keeping a cleaner cooking area, too.” She made 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, our team was happy to realize what a difference our information sharing means to people like Ma Bo Ma. “We are so happy since we no longer visit the clinic so often. Our son has become such a healthy boy,” she 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.