Meet Dahbaya: Our Report From International Medical Corps in South Sudan
We sat down to talk with Margaret Aguirre, Director of Global Communications for International Medical Corps on her recent trip to South Sudan and the role of community health workers there.
Margaret reflects on meeting a mother, Dahbaya, in Gendrassa Refugee camp:
“The world “resilience” is used a lot in humanitarian parlance, but looking around there is no doubt these people of Gendrassa camp are strikingly resilient, despite facing the most devastating of life circumstances.
Dahbaya is one. Eight months pregnant, she and her husband decided to leave the relentless violence in their village in Blue Nile State after a man was shot and killed before their eyes, in front of their home. They trekked eight days by foot from Sudan to here, their three young children in tow. Dahbaya should be –probably often is – despondent with worry and fear. She left her family behind and has no way of knowing if they’re alright. But when I first come upon her outside her tent she is laughing and tickling her children, cooking porridge over the fire. If she has problems – and I know she does – she is not showing it. She is eager to tell me her story, what she has experienced, eager to show off her baby for my camera, quick to flash her super-wattage smile.”
The International Medical Corps team was able to vaccinate Dahbaya’s children who’d gotten very sick on the long walk, and immediately get fortified nutrients into their diet. Dahbaya was also able to begin prenatal care in preparation for her imminent delivery.
80 percent of those affected by war, conflict, and natural disasters are women and children. This is why International Medical Corps prioritizes maternal and child health in its emergency responses. They provide primary health care, prenatal, delivery and postnatal care, vaccinations, nutrition, water and sanitation in the most vulnerable communities, like refugee camps.
“In many of the areas where we work there is no other health care. We consider ourselves a gap organization and go where others are not. We are also a training organization so we focus on passing on health care skills to locals for sustainability.”
In Kajo Keji for example, where International Medical Corps has been training midwives for several years, they have trained 10 percent of the health workers in that region. Their focus is always on passing on those skills. While foreign staff and volunteers go into areas during acute emergencies, 96 percent of International Medical Corps’ 4,500 staff worldwide, are local. In South Sudan it’s also 96 percent – that translates to almost 600 local health workers.
Why Do Community Health Workers Matter So Much?
“The way you get community buy-in for a health program is if it’s coming from the community itself – listen to what they need and to their suggestions for how to fix the issues. Imagine if there were a huge earthquake in LA, and the Norwegians came in and said – we’re going to fix it this way, ignoring all local knowledge of the needs and issues.”
A lot of what the community health workers undertake in South Sudan is assessing needs and solution implementation. They mobilize in the refugee camps and stop at each tent or shelter, asking, “How are you doing, what do you need. Your little one needs nutrition, let’s get that taken care of.”
Health workers create mother care groups, gathering women to sit down and talk about what’s needed. They recruit new volunteers, train locals and expand mobilization. There is a checking-in process that happens among the mother care groups – they are powerful wherever they are.
“In times of crisis, women and children bear the burden of famine, drought and war. They are the ones fetching the water and food, getting kids to clinics. They are the ones who make sure these essential steps happen. The father may be tending cattle, earning a living, fighting, working in another country or no longer with the family, but the mother is the stakeholder when it comes to health care and her buy-in is essential.
“Once you get to know a woman, they speak the same language -- they want their kids to have healthy, constructive and fulfilling lives and they don’t want to be a burden on others.”
The Take Action Challenge: Take one moment to look at Dahbaya and think about the very difficult circumstances she and other mothers in her community are enduring. Remind yourself to be grateful and to appreciate and acknowledge what’s going on the world. Share the work of International Medical Corps on Facebook or Twitter and with your networks. And if you think the work they are doing is good work, please consider donating here.
Photo credits: Margaret Aguirre, used with permission
Take the ChallengeEvery 90 seconds a woman needlessly loses her life in pregnancy or childbirth. But 80% of these are preventable. Take action now:
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