October 16 was World Food Day and it got me thinking about food issues in Laos, the country where my non-profit, CleanBirth.org works.
Laos’ rate of stunting — low height for age as a result of chronic malnutrition — is staggering. A full 44 % of the population has stunted growth. In the remote areas where I work, stunting affects 54 % of children under 5, one of the highest rates in the country.
What are the causes of stunting?
The WHO sites multiple causes:
- Maternal factors. Mom’s diet before, during and after pregnancy, while breastfeeding is very important to a child’s future growth.
- Food insecurity. 80% of the Lao population lives in rural areas where the wet season brings rain-destroying crops. Pests are another big contributor to food shortages.
- Poor Hygiene. For example, according to UNICEF, “four out of five households do not dispose of children’s feces correctly and hygienically, an indication of poor health awareness.” Food and water are often consumed in a contaminated state.
- Non-exclusive breastfeeding. A study by Kaufmann et al found that pre-chewed rice was given to 20-48% of Lao infants in the first week of life. Another study shows a link between this rice supplementation and stunting.
- Poor quality foods, inadequate quantity, infrequent feeding. Nutrition experts find that over-reliance on rice and inadequate animal protein are to blame for much of the stunting.
What are the consequences of stunting?
- Problems with cognitive motor and language development.
- Difficulty in school and lower employment productivity/achievement.
- Lower adult statue, other health issues.
The Way Forward.
- Nutrition education is critical. “Even small changes in food preparation, such as adding salt at the end of the cooking process to increase iodine intake, can help,” said Aachal Chand of the World Food Programme.
- Government Action. The Lao government has a plan of action and participates in the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) program, focused on sanitation, development and women’s education to improve nutrition.
With such a focus on the food issues we face in the developed world, its important to take a look at the situation at the other end of the food spectrum.
What food issues are most pressing in your country?
This is an original post written for World Moms Blog By Kristyn Zalota, founder CleanBirth.org.
Photo Credit: Kristyn Zalota
The Truth About Fundraising.
When I talk about the fundraising work that I do for the organization I started, CleanBirth.org, I often hear in response, “I could never ask people for money.”
I’ll be honest, I don’t have a choice. When I began providing moms with life-saving birth supplies, in partnership with a local NGO in Laos, I used my own funds. Happily, the $5 kits proved effective and more moms wanted the sterile, convenient supplies that prevent deadly infections in moms and babies. How could I say no?
So I promised to fund as many kits as were needed.
Since we began in November 2012 we have provided 4,000 birth kits to moms and training for 180 nurses and staff.
Knowing that my own funds couldn’t sustain the project, I told my story to others. I wasn’t great at promoting the project at first but many friends and family supported me anyways. The tagline: $5 Saves 2 Lives in Laos proved irresistible.
Now 3 years on, the project has grown beyond my own social network. Thanks to bloggers at World Moms Blogs and others, we have extended our reach worldwide. I am constantly touched by the simple notes of support that accompany donations from complete strangers:
Thank you for doing what you do for mothers and babies!
Another great aspect of fundraising is working with others who want to share their special gifts to make birth safer. One example is a fun collaboration happening now for Mother’s Day. World Moms Blogger and photographer Ewa Kuc of Ewa Samples Photography in the Bay Area has developed awesome Mother’s Day photo session packages. A full 40% of the profits go to CleanBirth.org!
In my almost 3 years doing this, I have come to appreciate that fundraising is a give and take proposition.
I’m not just taking money but giving something to donors: a feeling of making a positive impact in the world; the piece of mind that comes from donating to a transparent, registered organization; or a tangible gift to give a loved one.
One such gift, our $10 Mother’s Day cards, honor mom or grandma & provide 2 moms in Laos with Clean Birth Kits.
So the truth about fundraising is that I do ask for money. (Please click here to buy our Mother’s Day cards!! J) But I also get to connect with many generous people who are committed to making their world a better place. We each give, and we each take. Not so scary after all.
What benefits do you receive from donating or volunteering with a non-profit?
This is an original post written for World Moms Blog by Kristyn Zalota, the founder of Clean birth.org
Photo credits Kristyn Zalota.
As many of you know, less than 3 years ago, I started an organization, CleanBirth.org, to make birth safer in Laos. We have had great success in 2014 with 2,000 Clean Birth Kits (hygienic birthing supplies that prevent infection) delivered and 88 Lao nurses and staff trained.
Zero mothers who used the kits reported an infection in themselves or their babies!
$5 Clean Birth Kit
In my mind, CleanBirth.org’s success and World Moms Blog are inextricably linked.
When CleanBirth.org was in its infancy, I was approached by fellow World Mom, Nicole Melancon of Thirdeyemom, to join this amazing group of writers and moms from around the world.
When I asked founder, Jennifer Burden, for World Mom Blog’s support for our first crowd funding campaign in January 2013, she gave an unhesitating “Yes.” I felt such gratitude as fellow bloggers profile pictures changed to CleanBirth.org’s logo. Having the support of all of YOU: accomplished professionals, writers, and world changers gave me such confidence.
Dee, Kristyn and the US Ambassador to Laos
Together we met that funding goal and then again in 2014 goal. With your support, I am confident that we will raise what we need for our upcoming training trip. This March, we will return to Laos, to train local nurses on Clean Birth Kits and the WHO’s Essentials of Newborn Care, through an alliance with Yale University School of Nursing. The Yale Midwives, whose travel is funded by the School of Nursing, are the perfect partners for educating nurses on safe birthing practices.
Yale & CleanBirth Training of Laos Nurses
Please consider contributing to our crowd funding campaign this year. A donation of just $5 provides a mother with a birth kit and education by the nurses we train. Join your voice with ours on social media.
Because no mom should lose her baby to a preventable cause. And no baby should lose their mom.
$5 Saves 2 Lives
Here are some ways to get involved:
- Donate http://startsomegood.com/cleanbirthlaos
- Join our WMB hosted Twitter Party Jan 29 1-2 EST #CleanBirth
- Take a picture with a handwritten sign $5 Saves 2 Lives #CleanBirth and post on FB or Twitter.
- Blog & share posts from CleanBirth.org’s FB page.
Thank you for helping us help mothers who lack adequate access to maternal health services!
This is an original post written for World Moms Blog by Kristyn Zalota founder of CleanBirth.org.
As many of you know, my organization CleanBirth.org works to make birth safer in Laos, which has among the highest rates of maternal and infant mortality in the world.
Due to the generous support of so many of you in 2013, with our local Lao partner Our Village Association, CleanBirth.org provided 2,000 AYZH Clean Birth Kits, served 150 villages, trained 15 nurses and 20 Village Volunteers.
The training of the last group, Village Volunteers, is particularly exciting. The nurses we train about Clean Birth Kits and safe birthing practices, have begun passing their knowledge to women from each remote village.
The nurses explain how to use and distribute the Clean Birth Kits, as well as how to track their use with a picture data sheet. They cover topics like safe pregnancy, the importance of having a partner during delivery (many women birth alone) and the importance of exclusive breastfeeding.
Photo provided by CleanBirth.org
A government representative who attended the Village Volunteer training in December 2013 was impressed and said, “We need more of these trainings throughout the Province.” That kind of validation from the government is essential to scaling up the project.
In another positive development that will enable us to expand training for nurses and Village Volunteers, CleanBirth.org has formed an alliance with the Yale University School of Nursing.
In July 2014, Yale Midwifery students will teach 30 local nurses the World Health Organization’s Essentials of Newborn Care. The Essentials are: clean birth, newborn resuscitation, skin to skin newborn care, basic newborn care and breastfeeding. This information will then be incorporated into the Village Volunteers training.
By providing access to the midwives from Yale, our Lao partners, the local nurses and Village Volunteers will have more tools to improve care for mothers and infants. This promotes our mission to make birth safer by empowering those on the ground with the training and resources they need.
We want to maximize the Yale Midwifery visit in July 2014 by raising $8,250 to fund the training of 30 nurses. To that end, CleanBirth.org is launching a crowdfunding campaign from February 4 – March 4.
Photo provided by CleanBirth.org
We are so lucky that World Moms Blog has signed on to support us again this year. During last year’s crowdfunding campaign WMB raised $685 and tons of awareness.
Please join us February 6 from 12-1 EST and 9-10 EST for a World Moms Blog & CleanBirth.org Twitter Party to talk about making birth safe worldwide. It is easy to join in by going to tweetchat and entering #CleanBirth.
This is an original World Moms Blog post by Kristyn Zalota. Kristyn is the founder of CleanBirth.org, a non-profit working to improve maternal and infant health in Laos. She holds MA from Yale, is a DONA doula and Lamaze educator. She lives in New Haven, CT with her husband and two children. Click here to watch Kristyn talking about her project. Email her are firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more check out:
What do you think is in a Clean Birth kit? Click here to find out!
As many of you know, one year ago I started CleanBirth.org, a non-profit aimed at reducing infant and maternal mortality in Laos. We provide nurses with training, birthing supplies and funding to educate village volunteers about safe birthing practices.
One tenet of my organization is that local people call the shots on-the-ground, while Westerners provide the resources and funds. Local nurses are empowered to develop and execute programs which empower expecting mothers to have safer births.
There’s that darling of non-profit speak: empower. Oxford defines it: to “… make (someone) stronger and more confident, especially in controlling their life and claiming their rights.” A worthy goal, certainly, but sometimes I worry:
“Can foreigners really empower locals to find long-term solutions to their own problems?”
Photo By Kristyn Zalota
I thought about this on my long journey to Laos in June to train twelve nurses. On this second CleanBirth Training trip, I wanted to see that the nurses were taking ownership of our CleanBirth Kits Program. I also wanted to hear their new ideas about ways that we can make birth safer.
From the beginning, it was clear they the nurses wanted to learn and participate. They were “…thrilled to have been invited…none of them had ever been asked to a training like this before.” They asked pertinent questions about the CleanBirth Kits Program and grasped the importance of accurately reporting data.
As we moved on to additional ideas for making birth safer, they became even more engaged. Dr. Nong, my Lao partner, had to write furiously to keep up with the nurses’ suggestions. I sat back and smiled, thinking:
“This is exactly the way it should be. I, the Westerner, am in the background, while they, the locals, are finding their own answers.”
In the end Dr. Nong and the nurses drafted an outline for our new initiative: CleanBirth Volunteer Training. The nurses will gather one woman from each of the villages that she serves to learn about Clean Birth Kits, safe birth practices, and prenatal and infant care. The first CleanBirth Volunteer Training will be held in October.
So have we empowered these nurses? Are we giving women more control over their lives and births in the 100 remote communities that we serve? I’d say that we are off to a good start. The nurses have the funds and the tools that they need. They have designed the solution themselves. Now, we must wait and see what happens next.
This is an original World Moms Blog post by Kristyn Zalota.
What do you think? Is it truly possible as an outsider to empower locals of another culture in a sustainable way?
Photo By Kristyn Zalota
Nine months ago, I received the first donation to CleanBirth.org, my project to make birth safer in Laos. It was fittingly given on the playground after school by a fellow mom.
I say fittingly, because I have spent much of the past 7 years of motherhood pushing swings and spotting my monkeys on bars. It is also fitting because the bulk of the three hundred donors who followed that first donation are fellow frequenters of playgrounds. The support from moms, dads, and grand parents totals almost $20,000 in just 9 months!
Kristyn with OVA Staff and Nurses in Laos
So how does a playground aficionado add safe birth advocacy to her daily life?
Here’s my 3-step plan for changing the world in the way only you can:
1. Find your passion. My kids are 4 and 7 today, but when they were younger full-time, stay-at-home motherhood was tough for me. I wanted to be with them and I also wanted to travel and work. By way of a compromise, I volunteered on projects in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Thailand, Cambodia and Uganda. Sometimes the kids came with me – we lived in Thailand and Cambodia for a year – and other shorter trips they stayed at home with their dad and grandparents. My experiences as a volunteering mother transformed my long-standing interest in women’s empowerment into a passion for global maternal health.
Once I realized that I wanted to advocate for women and make birth safer, I became a mama on a mission.
2. Find a do-able project. So, how can I be at pick-up by 1pm everyday *and* make birth safer in Laos? I started with a manageable project. CleanBirth.org provides Clean Birth Kits (an absorbent sheet, medicated soap, a sterile blade, cord clamp, picture instructions) and birth education to women in one province of Laos. Studies show that kits prevent infection in both mothers and babies.
To ensure that the project is locally driven and sustainable, I have partnered with two organizations. The first partner is Our Village Association (OVA), a Lao non-profit with 10 years of experience working with local villagers. Together with OVA, CleanBirth.org trains local nurses in the use and distribution of Clean Birth Kits. OVA continuously monitors the nurses, tracks the use of the kits and reports back to me via email.
The second organization that I teamed up with, AYZH, manufactures high-quality Clean Birth Kits in India and mails them directly to OVA in Laos. Since the kits are shipped directly, I do not need to be on the ground to ensure quality-control or resupply.
I travel to Laos twice per year to see everything for myself. In the US, I spend all of my kid-free hours raising funds and awareness – and loving every minute of it!
3. Find help. None of this would be possible without the support of my family: my husband, mother-in-law and parents. Having the people closest to you believe in your cause is so important, especially if you are working 30 hours per week and not getting paid.
I have also asked for help from maternal health experts and volunteers. By going to the experts, to those already doing the work, I have been able to capitalize on best practices. Volunteers can be invaluable. When someone competently takes on a task, no matter how small, it enables me to move onto another to-do item.
I can honestly say that I am living my dream life. I still hit the playground every afternoon — after 4 hours of working to promote safe birth. When I travel to Laos, I pack in more in 2 weeks than I could have imagined in my pre-kids wanderings. No time to waste, I’ve got kids at home missing their mama.
If you are reading this and thinking: “I have a passion for _____ but I don’t know where to start,” I urge you to just start. Find a small first project. Make time each day to work on it. Get advice from others who are doing similar work. Ask for help.
If your goal is to help others, you will find support from many places, often you just need to ask. I have been overwhelmed by the unexpected generosity and support of friends and perfect strangers.
So use your passion, get out there and change the world in the way only you can!
What’s Your Passion?
This is an original post written for World Moms Blog by Kristyn Zalota.
Kristyn brings her years of experience as an entrepreneur and serial volunteer to CleanBirth.org. She holds a MA, has run small businesses in Russia and the US, and has volunteered in Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Uganda on projects related to women’s empowerment. After having children, Kristyn became an advocate for mothers in the US, as a doula and Lamaze educator, and abroad, as the Founder of CleanBirth.org. She is honored to provide nurses in Laos with the supplies, funding and training they need to lower maternal and infant mortality rates in their villages.