In 2015, Thelma Tun Thein, a registered dietitian, nutritionist and lactation consultant, returned to Myanmar after leaving as a child. Not long afterward, she co-founded Healthy and Happy Families. Alive & Thrive asked her about how the group began and why.
Alive & Thrive: Why did you and your fellow nutritionists start Healthy and Happy Families?
Thelma Tun Thein: Upon return to Myanmar in 2015, I was appalled by many aspects of nutrition and healthcare: high malnutrition rates in children (one of highest in Southeast Asia), low knowledge of nutrition in families, lack of support to families by health care providers. It was my dream that Burmese families should have children who were whole: physically healthy, socially adjusted, prepared for education and emotionally stable so that they could achieve their highest potential. That is why we named our group “Healthy and Happy Families.”
Alive & Thrive: How does Healthy and Happy Families respond to families’ needs?
Thelma Tun Thein: With the current COVID and coup effects, the need for health care is the highest while access to health and information is the lowest. Families are struggling with dire poverty to feed their children, and those who are able to do not know where to go to get the nutrition information they need to nourish their children nor get the support they need to breastfeed their babies or to deal with difficulties with breastfeeding. Healthy and Happy Families fills that niche for information and support for all areas of Myanmar.
To start any movement, in this case, improving nutritional status children with breastfeeding and proper infant/child feeding, it must be grassroots, so we incorporated mothers into our social groups. Khine (a young mother, see main story) and other mothers are not experts but community mothers who have chosen to learn more about breastfeeding and nutrition so that they could help and support other mothers: we call them Breastfeeding Champion mothers. They are just moms who give peer support, not medical advice. Research has shown that this model works well with social behavior change. We are so grateful for the many mothers who want to help others. When the coup happened, the general feeling was that “it was up to each individual to fight the fight.” This united sentiment also helped with our group … that we had to support each other to survive.
Alive & Thrive: Tell us a bit about the team behind your initiative and how you’ve succeeded.
Thelma Tun Thein: The Healthy and Happy Families team is made up of five people: three nurses, a lactation consultant, a dietitian/nutritionist and a nurse/nutritionist. We are all passionate about helping families have healthy children. We had started as a larger group but the coup dispersed some members. We follow all health guidelines per WHO and international medical organizations as well as the Government of Myanmar. Through the help of Alive & Thrive resources, we were able to get the technical support for developing on social media.
You know the saying, “Desperation is the necessary ingredient for learning anything or creating anything.” Well, the desperate situation in Myanmar has helped Healthy and Happy Families learn a lot and helped us create a lot!