BUILDING GOOD NUTRITION : FOUNDATION FOR DEVELOPMENT (PART TWO)
“... Children are important. They are the future and the hope of the nation. At present there are many Thai children whose bodies and brains are not well developed, because they have not eaten clean and right proportion of food due to poverty or ignorance about nutrition. Especially during economic crisis like this, cases like those may increase. In child development, if we cannot take care of basic factors like health and hygiene, children are not ready to develop in other aspects, and they cannot be the future of the nation. To provide those children with opportunity to eat well, all parties must seriously cooperate…”
H.R.H. Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn
Seminar on ‘Protect the Children during Economic Crisis’
Bangkok, Thailand. 8 January 1999.
PROMOTING GOOD NUTRITION
Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn started her development work in 1980. Her work, as a first step, was designed to promote better nutrition and better health among children attending schools in remote areas. Most of her initiatives are school-based programmes. Schools are the ideal settings because it is where knowledgeable teachers are. They are the key persons in Her Royal Highness’s development work. In the remote areas where the problems of food and nutrition were severe. Her Royal Highness introduced the area-based integrated approach to tackle the problems.
Later on, her work has been adjusted from single focus on school feeding to holistic development, involving many other aspects of development, such as health, hygiene, education, vocation training, environmental conservation and cultural preservation. It has also expanded its target group from school children to mothers and children as early as the beginning of life.
Her work has reached the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children residing in bordering communities and has addressed not only the problem of hunger and malnutrition but also the issue of educational opportunity. Her effort on helping these young people are to ensure that they become well-nourished and healthy, ready for learning and realizing their full potential with sufficient knowledge and skills needed for self reliance in the future. In addition, Her Royal Highness has also been interested in dietary and nutritional supports for the elderly and the sick person with her keen belief that adequate nutrition is essential for maintaining quality of life in such situations.
NUTRITION IMPROVEMENT PROGRAMME
FOR MOTHER, CHILDREN AND THE ADOLESCENTS
1. IMPROVING MATERNAL AND CHILD NUTRITION
Recognizing the importance of maternal and child nutrition and health, Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn initiated many supportive programme for the local people, designed to enhance community participation by focusing on capacity building for local people in caring pregnant women and small children. The programmes are as follows :
Improving the practices in care and delivery processes of birth attendants by providing them with training courses at local hospitals. This is for safe pregnancy and delivery.
Developing knowledge and skills in growth monitoring and infant and child feeding practices among mothers and village health volunteers by organizing training courses at the villages with the collaboration of local public health officers. Mothers and village health volunteers work together to routinely weigh their children and monitor their growth using the Thai growth chart. While progress in child growth can be monitored by the local themselves, feeding practice can be adjusted according to the status of each child by consulting with the local health officers. Through community participation, better nutritional outcome in those remote villages can be achieved.
Increasing household food production by promoting the practice of the New Theory of His Majesty the King. Her Royal Highness’s aim is to help the mothers provide adequate food for their children and for themselves to improve their nutritional status and quality of life. Her Royal Highness not only provides seeds, animals and cultivation techniques for better farming, but also teaches them how to prepare nutritious meals.
In some areas where malnutrition was severe, the Agriculture for School Lunch Project has been extended to the children’s families. One effective method is to consider family’s farming activity as a part of the child’s learning achievement. By providing the under nourished children’s families with animals and animal feeds and asking the families to raise animals for their consumption., the teachers can evaluate their farming work at home and assign the children some scores or grades.
2. PROMOTING EARLY CHILDHOOD NUTRITION
In remote communities, local people are mostly farmers whose income from farming is little and fluctuates due to the uncontrollable nature of the market. Therefore, many young parents leave the villages to look for jobs in towns or cities. Their young children are left at home with the elderly or even being alone sometimes.
With a concern for nutrition during this critical period, Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn made an effort to help those families by asking the local community representatives, known as the Sub-district Administrative Organization (SAO), to join her in setting up a place in each sub-district for small children as the preschool. In a remote village, Her Royal Highness believes that it is easier if the target population is gathered in one place. This place therefore is called the ‘Child Development Centre’. It hires local people to look after young children under the supervision of SAO with technical assistance from local public health officers. The centres offer appropriate feeding, growth monitoring and health care for children under the age of three as well as provide training in basic nutrition and health care principles for the elderly. However, in some areas where there is limitation of qualified personnel, those centres therefore work closely with the Primary School teachers in the communities.
As a result, the underweight rate of children under three years old has declined to 6.8 per cent from an earlier figure of over 20 per cent.
3. KNOWLEDGE ENHANCEMENT FOR FUTURE MOTHERS
Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn has often been informed that many girls in remote villages tended to marry at an earlier age, a few years after finishing the sixth grade in Primary School. Even though she started her first project in 1980 working on nutrition for Primary School children, and sixteen years later, extending her work to include pregnant women and young children, she recognized that well-nourished and educated mothers are more likely to have better nourished and healthier babies. Therefore, Her Royal Highness has extended her work to include the adolescents who will soon reach the childbearing age.
The Promotion of Maternal and Child Nutrition and Health Courses for the fifth and sixth graders have been developed during 1999-2000 in accordance with Her Royal Highness’s initiative. The curricula aim at raising awareness and developing knowledge and behavioural skills in maternal and child nutrition and health, covering four major areas : (1) family, including types of family, family members and their roles, (2) readiness of having a healthy family, (3) appropriate health care for pregnant women and babies and (4) proper maternal and young child nutrition practices.
The curricula were launched in 2000 and implemented in schools in remote villages. Later on, the curricula were modified and adapted to suit different age groups, cultures and traditions, for example, the Islamic schools in the south, and the Community learning centres on Northern Highlands.
NUTRITION FOR SECONDARY SCHOOL STUDENTS
Most school meal services focus on children of primary school age and neglect children and youths at the secondary level. In fact, in the secondary education, children undergo rapid changes in physiological, psychological and social functioning and are at the transition stage from childhood to adulthood.
Many children in the secondary schools in remote areas are still unable to escape from the vicious cycle of poverty, hunger and absence from school. Recognizing this problem, Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn has extended her Agriculture for School Lunch Project to secondary schools in rural and remote areas in 2004, providing contributions from her personal fund, the amount of 10 baht per student, in 43 schools to provide school lunch services to 5,638 secondary students. Schools are effective settings for young people to get access to adequate and good nutrition as well as to acquire knowledge and skills for healthy eating practices.
CONSERVING THAI FOOD AND IMPROVING ITS NUTRITIONAL QUALITY
Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn is the role model in reviving and conserving Thai food culture. She has gathered renowned Thai recipes and collaborated with the Research Institutes to modify those recipes into nutritious dishes and balanced meals. As an example, she has developed the recipes of Thai dishes that make one complete meal, showing its nutritional values per dish as the amount of calories, proteins, carbohydrates, fats, fibres, calcium, sodium, iron, vitamin A, vitamin C, cholesterol and beta-carotene.
In another case, when Her Royal Highness was informed that children enrolled in Phra Tamnak Suan Kularb School were of different family background with various eating habit. She therefore introduced an idea of a single plate lunch programme to the school in 1987. Each menu is a suitable combination of nutritious food combined in one plate. In this project, students learn to practise proper eating behavior as well as to understand about the nutritional value of the food being served. Simple, understandable and precise communication message is also important.
EXPANDING INITIATIVES TO OTHER COUNTRIES
For about 30 years, Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn has devoted herself to improve the well-being of the underprivileged in the Kingdom. Her Royal Highness’s projects have demonstrated sound results, as evidenced by the thousands of children whose nutrition and health status has improved. The children have stayed in school, and many continued studying for higher education. They have contributed to higher income for their families in remote villages, and also to those who have worked to build a better environment to live in.
Her Royal Highness’s projects have grown from one small pilot project in a few remote schools to many long-term integrated developmental projects in numerous remote villages. This small experimental project known as Agriculture for School Lunch Project is now seen as a sustainable development model for improving the capacity of people to reach their highest potential. These achievements have been recognized not only by the Thai people but also by the people of other countries.
In order to expand the benefits of her work to the underprivileged in other countries, Her Royal Highness has provided cooperation to other countries upon their requests. In addition, she has created partnership with many international organizations such as UNESCO, World Food Programme, Food and Agriculture Organization as well as many private sectors as a contribution to the well-being, peace and happiness to the people in any nations.
List of the countries in which Her Royal Highness’s initiatives in child and youth development have been implemented are as follows :
1. Lao People’s Democratic Republic, started in 1990
2. Myanmar, started in 1995
3. Kingdom of Cambodia, started in 2001
4. Socialist Republic of Vietnam, started in 2006
5. Mongolia, started in 2007
6. Kingdom of Bhutan, started in 2007
• The 1991 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service
Presented by the Ramon Magsaysay Foundation, Manila, Republic or Philippines, 31 August 1991
• Honorary Plague for Her Dedication and Outstanding Leadership in the Programme of Sustainable Elimination of Iodine Deficiency Disorders in Thailand
Presented by the International Council for Control of Iodine Deficiency Disorders (ICCIDD), Bangkok, Thailand, 19 August 2004
• Special Ambassador, United Nations World Food Programme for School Feeding
Designated by the World Food Programme Executive Board, Rome, Republic of Italy, 11 October 2004
• UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for the Empowerment of Minority Children through Education and through the Preservation of Their Intangible Cultural Heritage
Designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Bangkok, Thailand, 24 March 2005
• The Degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa
Presented by The Johns Hopkins University, Maryland, U.S.A., 26 May 2003
• The 2004 Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development
Presented by The Indira Gandhi Memorial Trust, New Delhi, Republic of India, 19 November 2005
• The International Union of Nutritional Sciences (IUNS) Special Award In Recognition of Her Exceptional Contributions Through Nutrition Improvement to Development of the Disadvantaged Population
Presented by IUNS, Bangkok, Thailand, 2 October 2009
- Building Good Nutrition : Foundation for Development, Thirty Years of Work by Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn. Publisher : Nutrition Association of Thailand under the royal patronage of Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn (September 2009)