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Ethiopia: educating women for a healthier future

06-11-2005 Feature

At the beginning of 2004, the ICRC launched a community health project to support the regions of Afar and Western Shinile. It complements other assistance programmes in the field of animal health, water and agriculture. ICRC health delegate, Regula Frei reports.

Through its Awash sub-delegation, the ICRC has been present in Afar and Western Shinile since September 2002. Until April 2003, it provided emergency food aid to 118'000 people in Afar and Shinile.

Afar girl 

The ICRC subsequently conducted an assessment where these communities were asked about their problems and needs. On the basis of this evaluation, the ICRC decided to start a community-based health project in Boromodaitou Woreda, Afar zone 3 .

The health project consists of the training and monitoring of two community health workers and two traditional birth attendants for each of the 15 villages in the region. The project also includes the construction of one health clinic in West Boromodaitou and the establishment of a system for the efficient supply of drugs and medicines, all with the full participation of the communities and in close cooperation with local and regional authorities.

 The selection of the trainees  

In remote and pastoral semi-nomadic societies, women have many more tasks than they might in urban settings. They are responsible for fetching water, food and firewood whilst also caring for children and livestock. In light of this, it was clear that the selection of suitable candidates for the training programme would not be easy.

The communities themselves chose the candidates with the support of the ICRC health team. During the selection process, some women had to struggle for their right to take part. Sometimes, the men did not to want the women to leave, afraid that they might not come back. Many meetings and discussions were necessary until women received permission to participate alongside their male colleagues.

Afar women: participants to the literacy training organized by ICRC 

 The literacy training  

Those selected first followed a 3 month literacy training programme organised by a local NGO in Asaïta. The first big change in the lives of the men and women chosen was clearly the bus journey from their remote homes up the Djibouti highway to Asaïta. It was the first time they had travelled by bus but after a while all were laughing and joking.

At the beginning of the training session most of the women felt homesick and wanted to go home to see their children. After a couple of weeks, these feelings subsided and they began to feel more comfortable. In the following months, their self-confidence blossomed.

" We were in the dark and now have come into the light because of this new knowledge, " said one participant after completing the literacy course. 

 The medical training  

The medical training was organized in collaboration with the local health office and was based on a curriculum adapted for a pastoralist population. The course lasted 84 days.

Students sat the final exam on September 1 and 56 people, 29 men and 27 women, graduated. They each received a certificate and a personal ID card that will allow them to purchase drugs from the local health clinic. Each of the community health workers or trained traditional birth attendants will be incorporated into the minis try of health structure. 

The ICRC furnished each graduate with the necessary items for their work in the bush: basic drugs, dressing materials, disinfectants, jerry cans, a wash-bowl, apron, forceps and a rucksack to carry the items between villages.

This community-based project not only improves primary health care in a conflict and drought-prone area, it also helps women to obtain access to education. With their new skills, these educated women will be able to influence the well-being of their population, to improve the health of children, women and men and to lower the female and infant mortality rate.