Kavita is a Plan International Canada staff member working in the Communications department.
Recently, I had the opportunity to meet an incredibly inspiring woman named Rebecca. She works as a Health Coordinator on a Government of Canada funded reproductive health project. ” She was in Toronto for our “Change the Birth Story” campaign launch and spoke about her experiences working in the field. Her stories were certainly a highlight of the event.
People often wonder what working “in the field” for an international development agency means. I had a chance to sit down with Rebecca and find out.
“I have passion for seeing a change in women. I love to see them doing well. I love to see children going back to school and happy.”
Rebecca started off by mentioning how pleased she is with the Ghanaian Government’s recent commitment to get adolescents back in school. Even when girls become pregnant, the government is encouraging them to stay in school for as long as possible and return once they have delivered their child. Girls are being encouraged to get a basic education and learn a trade or vocation.
This ties in well with Plan International’s child-centered approach to development. We believe every child should have the opportunity to reach their full potential and this means we work towards transformative change for girls.
Spreading knowledge, one community at a time
Rebecca supports 120 communities, which means she spends a lot of her time on the road. Each community is made up of 300-1000 people and some are quite remote, which requires her to stay in the community. She is often away from home for weeks at a time.
She spends about 2.5 hours in each community hosting meetings, doing home and health facility visits, counseling, etc. Meetings might be hosted under a tree or shed, sometimes really early in the morning because most of the community members are farmers.
Rebecca is a trained nurse and has vast experience working in communities but I think her passion and friendly demeanour enable her to build genuine connections. She smiled while mentioning that community members often ask her to visit more and spend more time with them.
Improving access to lifesaving healthcare
In partnership with Ghana Health Services and Plan International Ghana we are working to improve access to healthcare in each community. One of the ways in which we do this is by training volunteers.
Volunteers are trained in a few different roles:
- Community Health Volunteer: manages minor ailments like diarrhea, pneumonia, malaria, etc and refer patients to health facilities for more serious healthcare needs.
- Community Emergency Transport Team: a community member with a motorcycle is trained to be on this team. Almost all pregnant women have their number in case of an emergency. (This team is vital as health centers can often be up to 10km away)
- General volunteer: In addition to the Community Health Volunteers, two people per community are trained on first aid.
Empowering the community to tackle gender inequality
Rebecca explained how our holistic approach to achieving gender equality means that we tackle more than just access to healthcare. Traditionally, men in Ghana make all of the decisions and control all of the money and resources. Married women are often unable to make decisions about their health without their husband’s permission.
By establishing community led peer groups that provide safe spaces, we are tackling gender inequality and improving access to health simultaneously. Volunteers are trained to lead the groups (often referred to as clubs) and facilitate conversation and educate members. The clubs meet once a month and their objective is to engage boys, girls, mothers, fathers, and grandmothers to share their stories and learn about financial savings, reproductive health, gender equality, etc.
Slowly but surely, gender norms are changing because of the supportive environment. Women gain confidence and become more vocal. Daddies Clubs engage men to support their partners and encourage a more involved relationship with their children.
Stories of inspiration
Rebecca also took the time to share stories of girls that she met in the field. One of the stories was about a teen girl named Mercy, who lost her parents at a young age. Mercy ended up living on the street, doing menial jobs to survive.
While roaming the streets, she met Edem and moved in with him. Soon after, she became pregnant. He considered pregnancy to be a woman’s issue and never supported her. Due to her workload, she didn’t have the time, the money or Edem’s permission to access enough antenatal care. Mercy suffered through a painful childbirth at home, with no skilled attendant present and received no postnatal care.
After having the baby Mercy and Edem moved to the village, where our reproductive health programming had begun. Now Mercy is an adolescent leader and an aspiring business owner. Edem is on the Community Emergency Transport team and a part of the local Daddy’s Club.
I never doubted that we were doing meaningful work across the globe. But after meeting Rebecca and hearing her stories, I’m convinced that our impact is truly powerful.
By signing your name on the form below you’re letting the Government of Canada know that this type of programming is worth investing in. Help Rebecca empower youth to #Changethebirthstory and give girls like Mercy a chance to a happy, healthy and thriving life.