BY LIZ CROSS
Betty, Anna, Fiona and Harriet really are a force for a change in their communities. Joy radiates from them and they are constantly laughing and joking around with one another.
These are four of our volunteer peer health educators who I have the privilege of meeting whilst visiting Uganda. Going for a walk around Bwaise, one of Kampala’s slums, and having a chance to talk to them was one of the highlights of my trip. These women are just ordinary people who are changing lives in their communities… and sometimes saving them too!
Betty tells me the story of how she recently met a woman expecting her first child. The mother gave birth by C-section but after returning home from hospital continued to do all the hard work around the house. About a week later, her stitches re-opened. The doctors operated on her quickly and she was fine.
Even after this, the doctor neglected to tell her basic post-op advice. He didn’t mention the importance of rest or how she should not do any heavy work. So again, the mother went home and continued as before.
Thankfully, Betty stopped by to visit and, because of the training she had received from our partner network CRANE, she knew the importance of resting after giving birth and basic ways to prevent infection. This is so essential, especially considering the poor hygiene conditions in the slum. Betty shared this with the family and the father temporarily took on the house chores. Now the mother is back to full health.
This is one of many stories the peer educators share with me. In everything they tell me their passion and commitment shines through. Perhaps it is because they have all personally benefitted from the messages they have learnt, even before they begin passing them on to others…
Anna shares with me how she always wanted to have a large family with over eight children. When she became a peer educator, she already had four. CRANE’s training in family planning challenged her to see how she could handle life with those four, and to ensure they had the best care and opportunities before having more children. She ends her story by proudly telling me that she still has only four children!
There are 21 peer educators in total who come together every month to receive training from CRANE. In the last year they have been taught 11 topics including malaria prevention, anti-natal and post-natal care, HIV and Aids, First Aid and counselling. What they learn is often simple but so important.
The peer educators then take their messages and share them with their communities. Fiona tells me that this happens naturally, as part of daily life. For example, she goes to the market and says hello to a stall vender. Every time she meets this person out and about, a new layer of trust is built until problems are naturally shared.
It’s because these ladies live in the community that people trust and listen to them. They have legitimacy that no outsider could and they are there for the long term, making it sustainable.
I think this is what I love most about this project – it very much follows a bottom-up approach. Meeting Betty, Anna, Fiona and Harriet really highlights the strength that empowered local people have to bring change to their communities.