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A Focus on Nutrition Sets Cambodian Children Up to Thrive

Life in one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, is not easy. Angkor Wat is part of Siem Reap province, and although overall poverty has declined steadily over the past decade in the country, this area remains one of the most impoverished.

Hoeub Oeub is a resident of Siem Reap, along with her one-year old son, Phavin. When Phavin was born, Oeub, like many other Cambodian mothers, hoped for a bright future for him.  She also worried that her family didn’t earn enough to ensure Phavin could even graduate from high school. As day laborers, Oeub and her husband jointly earn only $2-3 per day when work is available. According to the Royal Government of Cambodia, Oeub’s family qualifies as poor, which makes them eligible to receive social assistance.

In 2016, with help from the local Commune Council—an elected body that oversees local services—Oeub enrolled in Cambodia’s Integrated Nutrition, Hygiene and Sanitation (NOURISH) project. Funded by USAID through Feed the Future, this project is improving the nutrition status of women and children in three Cambodian provinces. Because stunting in Cambodia’s poorest regions is largely due to lack of access to water, sanitation, and proper nutrition, the project focuses its activities in water, hygiene, sanitation and agriculture during the first 1,000 days of a child’s life, the most important time for their development. It is the first effort of its kind in Cambodia.

One important way this project reaches Cambodia’s most vulnerable populations is through Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) activities targeted to poor families with pregnant women and young children. Eligible beneficiaries can receive up to six payments—to reach a total of $65—over the first 1,000 days from pregnancy until a child turns two. If certain conditions are met—such as at least four antenatal care visits, childbirth at a health care facility, two postnatal care visits, and monthly growth monitoring and promotion for children under two—funds are transferred directly into the woman’s bank account.

As a CCT beneficiary, Oeub participated in her village’s “first 1,000 days fair” where she and many other participants learned to make fish powder from small fish, build a handwashing device, and set up a nutrient-rich micro-garden at home.

“I really loved the agriculture demonstration,” Oeub said. “I am so proud of the knowledge that I gained from the village fair. I now grow nutritious vegetables in my garden and save money.”

Oeub continues to apply what she learned at home. She has created a small home garden with amaranth, morning glory, eggplant, pumpkin and more, set up a handwashing station for her family, and regularly cooks nutritious food for her son. Because she learned about the importance of routinely tracking her child’s growth and the community support she can get from the health volunteers trained by Feed the Future, she now takes her son to monthly growth and promotion sessions, and is very happy to see he is growing up healthy. Oeub has already received two payments for meeting CCT conditions, and is using the funds to buy seeds for her garden, nutritious foods, and soap for hand washing.

Oeub isn’t the only woman investing in her family’s future: She is one of 10,700 poor women from 427 villages benefiting from these efforts. Feed the Future empowers women like Oeub with practical and low-cost solutions and offers small financial incentives to help prevent malnutrition in their children. Better yet, the CCT activities stimulate simple practices that are proven to improve nutritional status among food-insecure populations.

For Oeub’s son, this progress could be the key between a future filled with challenges and one full of opportunity. Well-nourished children are more likely to go to school, more likely to stay in school, and less likely to struggle academically. And though Phavin is only one year old, he is already quick to learn and his future is looking brighter every day.

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