Tumen-Ulzii at home playing dress up
Tumen-Ulzii is an active five year old. She loves playing with her friends in the yard outside her house. Tumen-Ulzii goes to the local kindergarten.
Her mother Otgonbayar, 27, says she does well at school. “Her teacher speaks highly of her,” she says. “She is a good student and really likes going to school”.
Tumen-Ulzii lives with Otgonbayar, her brother Pever, seven, and grandmother Undal. The family lives in a small, one room wooden house in Chandmani-undur a small town in northern Mongolia.
In November last year Otgonbayar participated in a training by the public health unit, from the local hospital. “I was really proud to be involved in the training,” she says. “We learnt so much about what we can do to keep our children healthy, from hand washing, to making sure water was safe for drinking and good nutrition. Everything we learnt was useful.”
Following the training Otgonbayar made some changes at home. Hand washing has become routine before eating and after using the bathroom, she is using the information she got to give feed her children more nourishing meals and has improved their home’s cleanliness.
“If you live in a healthy and clean environment you won’t get sick as much,” she says. “Since we made the changes neither of my children have gotten colds or the flu, even during winter. It means they don’t have to miss out on school because they are sick, which is good for their future”.
In addition to making these changes within her own home, Otgonbayar has been sharing her new knowledge with others in her community.
“At first when I started talking to people, sharing the information, they were a bit hesitant,” she explains. “But because we know each other and people trust me, they are starting to listen and use the information in their homes.”
The training Otgonbayar attended was organized the public health unit at the local hospital. Earlier in the year the public health unit identified that parents and careers were not aware of many of the good habits that can improve children’s health and prevent diseases. To address this the team decided to run an awareness raising project, but rather than just conducting trainings, the unit really wanted to engage the community.
“We know that some of the most powerful messengers are friends and families,” Narangerel, a nurse with the public health unit, says. “We wanted to empower people within the community to become advocates for healthy habits and to mobilize others to make positive changes.”
“We trained 40 people from different walks of life and parts of the district,” she says. “We made a big effort to recruit people who were already active and well respected in the communities, to make it easier to share the messages.”
The training covered a range of topics from good hygiene practices, cleanliness, nutrition, disease prevention, immunization and provided great ideas on how to keep children healthy.
Following the training, each participant had to share their knowledge with members of their communities. They became advocates, promoting healthy behaviors and practices. To help them in their outreach work, each participant received a resource manual, with information about best practices.
And is has been successful according to Narangerel. “The public health trainings, funded by UNICEF, have reached a lot of people and made a difference,” she says. “The number of children getting sick has decreased and the number of emergency calls has reduced. There are less cases of preventable diseases because parents know how to keep their children healthy”.
Reaching more communities
Narangerel and her colleague Dr Sarantuya
UNICEF supported the project by providing funding for the trainings and the resources to be published. The grant was a part of UNICEF’s effort to work with local communities to increase awareness of how to promote healthy habits for children. Across the province 25 grants were given to health centers, family clinics and even a television station.
UNICEF Mongolia’s Health Specialist Surenchimeg Vanchinkhuu explains that they really wanted the communities to come up with innovative projects. “The projects that communities came up with have been really interesting and spread the word on preventative health measures that everyone can take,” she says. “Across the province we are seeing the impacts of these projects and hearing stories of how people are changing their behavior to improve the health of their children.”
Surenchimeg believes that investing more resources into prevent can make a real difference. “Ideally we want to stop children from getting sick,” she explains. “There is so much that we can do from good nutrition, immunizing children, good hygiene practices that makes a real difference and help keep children healthy. We want to see communities adopting healthy practices and behaviors that really will give children the best start in life”.
Zetty Brake, Communications and External Relations Officer, UNICEF Mongolia