Dalanda is beaming at me. She's just interrupted me for the third time since I began my lesson on oral rehydration solution. "Fatou mi andi dum", Fatou I know this she says. And she does. Dalanda, a mother of five, who never got to go to school couldn't be prouder. She takes over my lesson and explains to the six other women in our circle how to make the rehydration drink with eight spoon fulls of sugar and one of salt. Now I am the one who is smiling, still shocked at how well this is going.
Dalanda, along with four other women from my village, was selected to be a ‘leading mother’- a teacher in our Care Group. The Care Group model is a structure for health education used by Peace Corps all over the world. It is a way to teach information by spreading it to every compound through a trained teacher. My counterparts and I work with our leading mothers to discuss a health topic, and then these mothers are responsible for passing the information to the rest of the village by re-teaching the lesson in every compound.
The Care Group model by far has been the most successful form of Health Education that I have done in my village. In the past I would try to teach about health by having large health talks. Women would be invited from all the villages in my area so no one would be offended. These talks would turn in to all day events where we had to wait most of the day for everyone to finally show up. Because these meetings ending up taking all day, lunch would have to be provided and there was of course no funding for that. Since it was impossible for every woman in the area to attend each village would send representatives. These women were not necessarily eager to learn but were the most respect members of their community. I would come home from giving these health talks with a huge headache, not feeling like everyone listened and uncertain that the information would be passed along.
Our Care Group is different. Our leading mothers were selected by their peers for how active they are in the village and how eager they are to learn more about health. Our group consists of our five leading mothers, the village’s two traditional birth attendants, the village health care worker (who translates) and myself. When we meet to discuss a new topic we all work to learn together as a group. I act as more of a facilitator than a teacher and remind the women at the beginning of every session that they have a lot of knowledge already, as health workers and as mothers. We go slow, allowing every woman to contribute her thoughts to the discussion. Every time we meet I learn something new too. I make visual aids on rice bags for each woman to take along when she re teaching the lesson to the village. Aside from the juice I bring to the gatherings the rice bags are the projects only expense.
The Care Group model is effective on many levels. Every woman hears the information, including young women who often miss meetings due to their heavy workloads. The leading mothers teach when they have free time after lunch when the villages relaxes, so no one is inconvenienced. Our leading mothers chose how they wanted to organize the compound talks. They decided to divide themselves into two teams that would each be responsible for half the compounds in the village. The traditional birth attends teach with the leading mothers to offer support. I feel that these mothers teach their friends better than I ever could. They don’t have to struggle through a foreign language and they can explain in ways that their peers will understand. The leading mothers are fully trusted and respected by their community and they allow the health information to become a discussion between friends instead of a something told at them by an outsider. When the women of the village see their friends teaching about health they gain confidence and know that they are capable of learning about health too. It’s also hard to miss the pride and confidence that the leading mothers are getting from becoming new resources for health in the village. Capacity building and sustainability…. Check.
I started this project at the beginning of February. So far we’ve covered easy topic like Exclusive Breastfeeding and ORS. I know the challenge is going to come as we move into more difficult topics. I know its going to evolve as we move along (we just started doing dramas to recap the lesson for the village). I hope that I can set up Care Groups in more villages in the area. I think the model could be adapted by any volunteer who wants to do some kind of education. I’ve finally found a project that I really believe in. When my host mom came up to me the other day and began explaining to me how I have to wait till my future children are six months old to give them water all I could do was smile.