Bounthone Kongphongma knows family planning arrived too late for his generation in rural Laos. The former military medic and his wife had 14 children, the youngest of whom they raised during the country's secret war, often escaping to the jungle on the outskirts of their village to avoid airstrikes. Only eight of his children survived to adulthood, and those who died were not victims of war, but of what Kongphongma thinks was malaria.
"It was hard for us to raise a large family and we were poor," he says. "This [family planning] project came too late for us, but not for our children."
Kongphongma has advised his four daughters to space their pregnancies, as he has all the young people he counsels in Lao Luang, in the Vilabouly district of southern Laos. He is a voluntary community-based distribution (CBD) worker, trained by the Laotian government and the UN population fund (UNFPA) to spread the word about family planning and distribute free contraceptives in his community. Kongphongma considers this his national duty. "Contraception, or we can say family planning, can help reduce poverty in our country," he says.