Background Note from Dori
Barbara traveled on January 15, 2012 to Xieng Khouang to continue Give Children A Choice’s efforts to distribute over nine million daily multiple vitamin tablets to 25,000 preschool children. The vitamins were donated by Santa Barbara, California, USA-based Vitamin Angels. And, it was up to Give Children A Choice to partner with the provincial health department, who did the actual training and vitamin distribution to the children to the 570 villages in Xieng Khouang Province with our assistance.
The project continues with passionate commitment from the provincial health department and Give Children A Choice. We are particularly thankful for personal passionate commitment from Xieng Khouang provincial Public Health Department’s Dr. Chanthala, who has championed this project since the beginning.
Following is what Barbara learned from this trip. Also, below are pictures from her trip.
Barbara’s Trip Notes
During this trip, I wanted to learn more about the impact of the vitamin project had with the children, how the vitamin distribution program has progressed, and what issues we had to deal with to get the children to take the vitamin. I wanted to make sure that all of the vitamins we received from Vitamin Angels were distributed before the vitamins expirations dates, especially those dated in 2012. As well, Dr. Chanthala wanted me to visit some villages with her to get an update first hand and to understand the challenges with the vitamin distribution. It was a quick trip, but it was important.
Dr. Chanthala told me last December that some children started taking their vitamins, but after a while, some children stopped taking their vitamins on a regular basis. Either they or their parents would forget. I needed to follow up. She also mentioned that some of the vitamins (big round pills) were problematic. The pills were turning colors in the jar (without being opened) and the children were having a difficult time taking the vitamin because of the taste. This has been a learning experience and all contributors to this project are working to make improvements in the manufacture and delivery of these multivitamins.
On January 15, 2011, I traveled alone to Xieng Khouang alone and met Give Children A Choice’s Thongchanh in Phonsavan (the Xieng Khouang capital city). That evening, we prepared and made copies of forms to help the doctors track the children receiving vitamins. Our plans was to visit three villages over the next day and one-half.
At each village, representatives from the provincial and district public health departments were accompanied by the school principal and teachers were present. Parents were invited to participate. The process was the same at each village. The preschool children were weighed. Dr. Chathala reviewed the importance of taking the vitamins with the children and their parents. Parents and teachers were given the opportunity to share their experience and ask questions.
Those parents whose children had been taking vitamins exclaimed how the vitamins were helping their children. Their children were doing better in school, gaining weight, being more energetic and active, were more curious and talkative, were getting rosy cheeks.
Nonetheless, Dr. Chanthala felt there was a need to remind the parents, children, teachers and village leaders of the importance to take vitamins daily (knowing that skipping a day or days couldn’t be help).
She suggested that we produce a video to distribute to the villages for the village leader/school principal to play for the parents. A video would be important in the very remote areas with electricity, where many parents could not read the posters and handouts, explaining the benefits of taking vitamins. A video could be produced in both the Lao and Hmong languages. (Xieng Khouang has a large Hmong population.)
In addition, Dr. Chanthala observed that the vitamin intake by the children was more successful, when the teachers took responsibility for vitamin administration to the children. She noted that some parents were too busy, didn’t understand vitamin’s importance or didn’t know. Teachers understood the importance of vitamins and have the discipline to administer the vitamins daily. They were generally the first to see the impact of the vitamins with children’s attitude, behavior, interest, activeness in the classroom. Most recently, the village leaders, school principals, and teachers agreed to place a greater role and take more responsibility for ensuring that the preschool children take their vitamins.
There are less than 700,000 vitamin tablets yet to be distributed from the original 9.3 million after working on the project for two years. There was some concern with ensuring that a portion of the 9 million tablets of vitamins not being distributed by the expiration date of June 2012. Dr. Chanthala said this was not an issue. All of the 2012 expiration vitamins have been distributed. The remaining vitamins in storage have a 2013 expiration date.
The vitamin distribution process is understood by the district health departments and villagers. When vitamin bottle are emptied, the parents will go to the health center or district center to replenish their supply.
She asked for additional financial help to reach the more remote villages (some remote villages are hours to days from the main road). I agreed to help them (through the generosity of Rob and Kim Carpenter and family).
I spoke with the children and sang a song, entitled ‘If you want to be happy, take your vitamins’. I wanted them to remember that they should love taking vitamins. So, between my singing my song, having a translator translate to Lao or Hmong, their copying what I did, listening to Dr. Chanthala of the importance of taking vitamins , my hope is that they will remember to take their vitamins everyday.
We visited three villages. We went to our preschools classrooms. The above pictures are from our visits. Parents were unusually interested this trip with the contents of the vitamins and now each vitamin helps their children’s health. Their interest made me very happy.
When we were finished with the third village, we had a quick lunch at Thachok Village. I received a phone call from my friend Mr. Hiem, who asked if I was still in Xieng Khouang and whether I would like to go back to Vientiane with him. I agreed. I went back in style in a helicopter from Xieng Khouang to Vientiane.