This blog was written by Hannah Taylor, a field intern with HKI Bangladesh.
Gradute school has made me quite aware of when and how the learning process works best. After hours of long lectures in large auditoriums, I relished those one-on-one meetings with a professor to solidify the content and ask all my questions. On a recent visit to HKI’s Project Laser Beam (PLB), I had the opportunity to see the effect that this unique kind of personalized education can have on family health and nutrition.
Jarna lives in a small home in Kaligonj, Bangladesh with her husband, her parents-in-law, and her two-year-old daughter. Her husband’s income as a local rickshaw-van puller, approximately 150 taka (~$1.90) a day, supports their entire family. Through Mondelēz International Foundation-sponsored Project Laser Beam, Jarna is attending educational sessions to learn about ways she can provide the best nutrition for her family and contribute fresh produce from her garden, part of the Homestead Food Production program, for the household.
Jarna is enthusiastic about the program’s prospects for her and her family. “I hope I will get a handsome number of chickens and then be able to sell them in the market. But my true dream is that I will have a healthy family with the nutrition information I have learned.” One woman, health worker, Rina Howlader, is going to make sure Jarna has the knowledge and support to make that happen.
Rina is a program health worker, known as an Extension Worker, for Project Laser Beam. Each month she leads small-group educational events for the women in her upazilla. During the sessions, called Courtyard Sessions, the health workers teach women how to cultivate personal gardens, develop their livestock rearing practices, and create nutritious and balanced meals while addressing certain cultural barriers to healthy nutrition.
Women, like Jarna, often attend the sessions with their children because they are still breastfeeding or there is no one to watch the children during the monthly sessions. Mothers are frequently distracted by their crying or feeding children, and sometimes have to miss sessions all together because of poor weather or family obligations. To ensure that no mother is without the key health messages from the program, Rina goes to the home of each beneficiary in her group every month to review messages, answer any questions she may have and observe her garden and nutrition practices. Often spending thirty to forty-five minutes at each home, women have praised the Extension Worker visits as one of the most helpful parts of the program.
When discussing their favorite aspects of the project, one woman told me, “the individual counseling helps us most to scale up the practices in our home. Sometimes there can be gaps [in understanding], but once the Extension Worker comes to my home for individual counseling, I am able to understand the message better and ask my questions. I am very proud to show my garden, and feel the Extension Worker is part of my family.”
Across the four upazillas and 4,800 households where PLB is implemented, Extension Workers commit hundreds of hours of individual attention and instruction each month. This personalized care is ensuring that the messages of proper nutrition stick, and that each woman has the tools and support to make sure her family has lasting health.