Behind Plan’s Because I am a Girl initiative are many experts that focus on Plan’s different program areas. One of those experts is Health Advisor, Magalie Nelson.
We sat down with Magalie to ask her about her job and how Plan is helping girls around the world stay healthy.
Growing up in Haiti, did you face any challenges accessing health care as a child?
Yes, I was one of seven children in my family and the cost of health services and paying for health care was quite difficult. There was also a lack of knowledge growing up as a child because as a child, I was not seen as an actor in my own life. That’s one thing I really love about Plan and our focus on Child-Centred Community Development. We involve kids, ask them questions, educate them and listen to them.
What are some of the top challenges girls face in staying healthy?
Apart from all the challenges also faced by boys, a top challenge for girls is early pregnancy, for which girls can suffer the consequence for their lifetime. If a girl gets pregnant, she is the one that will stay home and the baby’s father will continue at school. But it’s not just education. Complications from pregnancy and childbirth are also major health challenges.
How do Plan programs work to improve girls’ health?
There is a difference in healthcare access for boys and girls. That’s why in our programs we do an analysis of the challenges girls and boys are facing, and then we focus on what is needed for each of them. We adjust the programs based on the gender of the children and what country we work in.
Focusing on education, improvement of cultural habits, and behavior changes are also essential parts of the work. For instance, in some cultures, girls are more at risk of malnutrition. Mothers may feed boys more than girls. That affects how her body develops and how she grows up. And then it goes from generation to generation from there.
Plan is working on empowering women and getting them involved in community activities. Programs are designed to be sure that their needs are being addressed, but also raising awareness within the communities and involving the men so they can see what the consequences are for their daughters’ health.
We also have girls’ clubs where girls can learn about their health, reproductive health and understanding their body, and know what can happen and how to choose what’s best for her body. There are different programs for boys because they need to know the challenges of girls, so they are part of the solution. I think we’ve done a lot but there is a lot more to do and it’s a great part of our work.
What’s your favourite part of your job?
I have a family now, so I don’t travel as much as I used to, but I really like working in the field. I really like that part. You go to the field, you see a child who has been malnourished, and then you see that child get healthy. Making the change and feeling that change in people’s lives – that’s what I really like most.