Children deliver health and agriculture messages
In many development programs, children are seen only as potential beneficiaries. An IFPRI research program in rural Peru, however, is studying how children themselves can be the catalysts for change.
The Happy Faces program explores how giving schoolchildren information can improve the health and welfare not only of children themselves, but of entire households. “The advantage of working with kids,” says Maximo Torero, lead researcher and director of IFPRI’s Markets, Trade, and Institutions Division, “is that kids have a higher level of education, and therefore it’s easy to transfer information to them and from them to their parents.” The project team hopes that by directly targeting kids, it can increase households’ access to information.
From Kids to Parents
“Children have had a strong impact on marketing campaigns and other information dissemination strategies, such as a Thai anti-smoking campaign,” says IFPRI Research Fellow Eduardo Maruyama. “But while children’s influence on adult decisionmaking has been studied in other disciplines for a long time, the subject has remained largely unexplored in development economics until recently.”
In the Peru project’s first phase, researchers were curious to see if children change their own behavior in response to simple messages given to them at school. The team found that showing public service announcements—particularly those featuring well-known personalities like soccer players—increased children’s consumption of iron supplements. The results got researchers thinking. Getting complex public health messages to rural households can be difficult and costly, often involving door-to-door campaigns. “We thought, instead of going to about 100 households per village, what if we could use another way to disseminate information?” says Maruyama. “Going to schools is a much cheaper way to spread a message.”
Happy Faces public health message
Getting the Message
The second phase of the project looked at whether children effectively transmit information to adults in their household, and whether those adults then change their own behavior and household decisions based on the new information.
Children received lessons on diagnosing and preventing cysticercosis, an infection spread by tapeworms in raw or undercooked pork. The disease is endemic in rural areas of the northern coast of Peru and is the leading cause of adult-onset epilepsy in much of the developing world. Although many people are aware of the link between household livestock and cysticercosis, they often don’t know that the disease can lead to seizures and death or that contamination can be reduced by proper hand washing. In collaboration with the Cysticercosis Working Group in Peru, project researchers launched a community health campaign involving posters and free access to testing and treatment. At the same time, they used games, slideshows, and other visual aids to teach schoolchildren about the importance of testing for and preventing cysticercosis.
The results show that children talked with their parents about what they had learned, and in turn these adults demanded more testing than did the adults who received only the community health campaign. This growing demand could lead to a fall in the levels of infected livestock and could substantially improve cysticercosis prevention.
Now Happy Faces is in its third phase, in which children are shown simple Internet messages that teach low-cost solutions to common agricultural problems found in their households’ plots. “If children pass on these messages to their parents,” says Torero, “they could play a vital role in resolving these problems and in improving their family’s agricultural productivity and nutrition at a very small cost.”
For more information on this topic:
IFPRI blog post on Happy Faces, including video interview with Maximo Torero