Ethiopia: My first visit to the field
The landscape of South Wollo, a ten hour drive from the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, is beautiful – sort of like a lush green Grand Canyon with the most incredible views from the high mountain roads. It’s were I embarked on my first field trip.
We start with a briefing session at the regional office in the town of Dessie. The staff in Dessie are welcoming, knowledgeable and very proud of the work they do.
South Wollo was badly affected by the 1984 famine, but the current emergency in East Africa doesn’t involve this area, and the projects Save the Children are running there now are all about longer term development in health and hygiene.
We visit six projects in total; maternity units, health posts and schools implementing sanitation facilities.
The health posts are local clinics offering basic services and health education, designed to reach the most rural communities. They are staffed by health extension workers who are a bit like a grade below a nurse, but can diagnose and treat or refer cases of pneumonia and other illnesses that are the main killers of children under five here.
So their impact can be significant. The health extension workers are supported by a team of community health promoters, who provide unpaid support at linking the health post with the community, often walking for miles to reach people.
I chatted to both a health extension worker and a community health promoter, and was so impressed at their motivation to improve the health of their communities, and their dedication to what they do.
The grass-roots approach is much talked about in this type of work, and it became evident that it is the best approach to making cultural and behavioural changes within such established communities.
These health workers are known and respected as they come from the communities they serve, not outsiders imposing unfamiliar new ways. Scaling up to reach even more people is the next challenge.
At one of the other health projects I also get to speak to three mothers about the difference the local centre has made to their anti-natal care and other services such as family planning and child immunisations which have great uptake.
This week one of my best friends had her first baby. I couldn’t imagine her going through the same birthing experience that women do here. Each year, 22,000 women die in Ethiopia due to pregnancy, as well as 320,000 children under five. We are so lucky to be able to take healthcare for granted in the UK.
The trip to the field has given me a richness of context for the communications strategy I’m working on in Addis, as well as the opportunity to write some case studies. The chance to meet with people who tell you directly that their lives have been improved/their baby delivered safely/their child treated as a result of the work Save the Children do will stay with me for a very long time.