An Eggplant a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

Sok Soeymao lives in a remote village in the Prear Vihear province of Cambodia. She is 20 years old. Her husband, Mi Somoeurn, is 23 years old, and they have a one-year-old boy named Yoeurn Thou. She has never been more than a few miles from her village.

Life in a typical Cambodian village is very hard. Without some kind of help, Sok would likely lose one or two children to childhood illness. She would never learn about good health practices, nutrition, or clean water. Trapped by illiteracy and ignorance, Sok would continue to live the hand-to-mouth life of rural Cambodian farmers, growing as much rice and cassava as possible for the harvest season, but then foraging for food when the harvest is consumed. Drought and flooding could very well destroy her livelihood, forcing her husband to travel to Thailand in search of work. Health issues would likely end her life early.

Howeve20140505-IMG_0663-Mr, Sok is no longer resigned to such a fate. She was a beneficiary of ADRA Canada’s SMILE project, which ended recently. This project, which stands for “Securing Mothers’ and Infants’ Lives with Equity,” was a comprehensive health and livelihood project designed to help young mothers and their children. By working closely with local village leaders, ADRA was able to identify needy families like Sok, Mi, and their son, who were happy to join the SMILE project.

Like many rural farmers in Cambodia, Sok never completed her education. She attended school until the 4th grade, and her husband attended until the 5th grade. Because of her lack of education, she did not know much about caring for her son, who was often sick. Since joining the program, Sok has learned how to make a nutritious vegetable-and-rice porridge. The baby loves this food, and has become more active and energetic because of his improved nutrition. Sok has also learned to give him fluids if he gets diarrhea, to help him cool down when he has a high temperature, and to take him to the doctor when he is sick. Sok now knows that eating fresh vegetables can help her family be healthy!

IMG_0755-M2The family’s health benefits have been tremendous! Now, they boil their water before drinking it. They even invested $5 in a water filter (ADRA paid the other $7 to purchase the $12 filter). As a result, her baby boy no longer battles diarrhea, which is often a deadly disease for young children in Cambodia.

Before joining the SMILE project, Sok and her family went through hungry periods in which they had to go to the jungle to forage for leaves to eat. Now, Sok and her family no longer go hungry. She still collects fresh bamboo shoots from time to time, but this is for enjoyment, and not out of necessity. She has many vegetables to supplement their diet of rice and cassava.

Through the SMILE project, Sok and Mi have learned how to grow new kinds of vegetables in a kitchen garden. They grow morning glory (a delicious leafy green vegetable similar to spinach), pumpkin, eggplant, gourd, and winter melon (a squash-like food). Of course, they still grow rice and cassava. Whatever they don’t eat, they sell in the local market. Because of the surplus they were able to produce last year, they earned $200 USD.


Some of the gourd, morning glory and winter melon harvested from Sok’s garden.

Sok and her husband are now hopeful for the future. With their newfound health and financial stability, they plan to expand their family: they want to have two more children!

Every day, ADRA is helping thousands of people in Cambodia (and many other countries around the world).


Story by Ryan Wallace