King Essentials

Helen Keller International

A multifaceted program improves nutrition during children’s critical early years




The Challenge

Myanmar has some of the highest rates of chronic malnutrition in the Asia Pacific region. In that country, nearly 30% of children under the age of five experience stunted growth, impaired brain function, or a weakened immune system. The persistence of this problem seriously undermines efforts to lift the nation’s people out of poverty.

The Approach

Helen Keller International delivers large-scale programs that aim to prevent vision loss, malnutrition, and neglected diseases that threaten sight, productivity, and well-being. These programs integrate multiple types of intervention and incorporate evidence-based practices that are designed to yield long-term impact.

Why We Invest

Helen Keller International approaches the problem of child malnutrition in a focused and sophisticated way. The organization starts by recognizing the need to address this problem during the first 1,000 days of a child’s life—a period in which factors such as access to nutrition have a life-long impact on cognitive development, health, and educational attainment. Helen Keller International then creates multifaceted programs that combine efforts from several areas of activity, including health, agriculture, and economic development, as well as nutrition.

At the center of this work is the Enhanced Homestead Food Production (EHFP) program, which serves poor women who are pregnant or lactating, or who are caring for infants. Under the program, trainers from Helen Keller International guide participants on how to grow nutritious foods. The trainers help women set up home gardens, in which they can cultivate vegetables and fruit, and show them how to rear chickens, ducks, or fish. The program also helps mothers learn how to care for their babies and how to cook nutritious meals for their children. In addition, participants receive support on developing home-based businesses that enable them to become financially self-sufficient.

Unlike other nutrition interventions, which often focus on recurring delivery or promotion of specific nutrients, EHFP gives women the skills and tools that they need to sustain effective practices and to pass those practices to other generations. As a result, the impact of the program persists long after Helen Keller International trainers have left a community.

Helen Keller International has a strong record of successfully implementing programs like EHFP in multiple countries. An assessment of more than 2,000 households in Bangladesh found that three years after the implementation of EHFP, participating households were growing three to four times as many vegetables (by volume) as comparable nonparticipating households. EHFP households also sold produce and earned income at higher rates than their nonparticipating counterparts. According to another study, implementation of the program in Nepal resulted in significantly lower rates of anemia among both children and mothers. Crucially, the study was able to observe this improvement more than two years after completion of the program.

An infant in Myothit Township, Myanmar, receives complementary feeding through a program operated by Helen Keller International.

Photo: Helen Keller International

How We Partner

With a grant from King Philanthropies, Helen Keller International is implementing a proof-of-concept initiative to bring EHFP to Myanmar. The grant enables the organization to tailor the program to fit the Myanmar context, to develop key government partnerships, and (where possible) to integrate core components of EHFP into the country’s existing public health and agricultural systems.

Impact Profile

Self-Sufficiency and Survival Amid a Global Crisis

The COVID-19 crisis had a devastating effect on livelihoods and markets in vulnerable farming and fishing communities throughout the Ayeyarwady Delta region of Myanmar. But thanks to assistance and training provided by Helen Keller International, families in the region gained access to resources that have helped sustain them during the crisis.

Mar Mar San lives with her husband and her two-year-old daughter, Ei Than Zin, in Ar-Chan village. She takes part in two efforts supported by Helen Keller International: the Village Model Farms program and the Enhanced Homestead Food Production (EHFP) program. EHFP provided Mar Mar with training in duck husbandry and gave her twelve ducks to raise. On her own, she built a duck pen to keep the ducks safe and to prevent them from laying eggs in the field.

At their peak, the ducks produce about seven or eight eggs per day. Mar Mar uses some of the eggs to make nutritious meals for Ei, and she sells the remaining eggs to her neighbors, earning 175 kyats (about USD 0.13) per egg.

During the COVID-19 crisis, the family lost access to some key sources of income. But between March and May of 2020, Mar Mar was able to earn about 500 kyats (USD 0.38) per day by selling the eggs that she had left after feeding her child. From that income source, she generated about 15,000 kyats (USD 11.52) per month to support her family’s basic survival needs.

In addition, through EHFP, Mar Mar received support to create a small household farm that produces fresh vegetables. That supply of food further enabled the family to sustain itself during the crisis.

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