HealthEd Connect

from Sherri Kirkpatrick, Co-founder and Executive Director

HealthEd Connect is a nonprofit organization affiliated with Community of Christ.  It has 20 years of experience with volunteer Community Health Workers who are directly involved with the families and special needs in their villages. Many of these villages are now facing incredible challenges as the number of orphaned children, primarily due to HIV/AIDS, has grown dramatically and the typical surviving caregiver is an aging grandmother who has lost both her husband and children. Going forward, HealthEd Connect will remain flexible and adaptive by connecting villagers and their leaders to expanding visions of possibilities, targeted training, and access to resources.

HealthEd Connect is currently operating in 4 countries:  Zambia, Malawi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Nepal.

The real heroes in each country are the health workers.  These are the village women who:

  • get up at 4:30 in the morning to walk by moonlight to carry water from the river or well;
  • gather and carry large bundles of firewood on their heads;
  • pound or grind casava or cornmeal for the family’s staple food;
  • cook one-pot meals over an outdoor smoky fire,
  • spend hours each day planting and hoeing in the fields,
  • wash clothes in the river and lay them on the banks to dry,
  • These same women are volunteers who walk long distances – some as far as 20-30 kilometers – to bring health education to remote villages.  All with a baby frequently strapped to their backs.

Last year our health workers saw over 30,000 babies and pregnant women.  They weighed the babies, monitored their growth, and taught mothers how to prepare life-saving oral rehydration solutions (ORS) from sugar/salt/water.  Approximately 8,000 babies around the world die everyday from diarrhea.  The health workers are saving many of those little lives by teaching the mothers how to prepare ORS.  Some have also agreed to be trained to provide clean, safe deliveries for the first time in many villages.

Community health workers (called Kafwa in Zambia) conduct weekly baby monitoring sessions and mother-education classes in local communities.  They also provide home based care for AIDS patients.  In 2009, they worked jointly with community members to establish two community schools for orphans and vulnerable children.  The schools are organized and run by the local community and are housed free of charge in Community of Christ churches.  The community leaders donate their time to the two schools which were organized in 2009.  There are currently over 450 children, ages 6-12 enrolled in the two schools.  The children span a large age range but are all in the first grade since they’ve never attended school before.  HealthEd Connect is working jointly with the schools to obtain funding to construct classrooms, provide school lunches, pay teachers and buy school supplies.

Malawi is a narrow land-locked country in Sub-Sahara Africa.  Desperately poor, Malawi has struggled with years of famine because of cycles of drought and floods.  Although still very poor, recent years have seen some progress in the overall well-being of the country.

Two groups of community health workers provide first line primary health care in the little town of Mzimba and the remote village of Chisemphere..  Trained as health workers in 1992, the volunteer women and one man provide weekly health services to their communities.  The health workers, or Sinkhani, weigh the babies and provide health teaching to the mothers who come to the government-run well-baby clinics.  In 2010, the Sinkhani monitored over 30,000 babies.  They also independently provide educational sessions to care-giver grandmothers who want to learn how to feed their grandbabies left orphaned by AIDS.  This initiative has focused on teaching and promoting the use of high-nutrition soy bean porridge for malnourished children.

The Democratic Republic of Congo
Acknowledged by most as the poorest country in the world, the Democratic Republic of Congo is a mineral-rich, war-torn country that has seen 2.7 million people die as a direct result of its civil war or from the resulting famine and wide-spread disease.1 Originally trained in 1992 as Community Health Workers, or Wasaidizi, local conditions frequently prevented outside communications and support for months at a time.  In spite of the obstacles, the Wasaidizi maintained their role as volunteer health workers providing whatever minimal health services they could.  At one point, the Wasaidizi mobilized the entire community to combat the disease Bilharzia through the building of latrines and the clearing of snail-harboring habitat from the river. They provided leadership to treat a debilitating tropical leg ulcer epidemic that affected hundreds of children throughout the region.  They subsequently became celebrities up and down the river and where even invited to be consultants in neighboring countries because of their successful use of a local traditional remedy of guava leaf antiseptic.  Also, a 6-month Traditional Birth Attendant training program was arranged at the local hospital for 20 women who now safely deliver hundreds of babies annually.

Sandwiched between China and India, the tiny Himalayan country of Nepal is listed as one of the poorest countries in the world.  At the community’s request, Health Worker training was initiated in Kathmandu in 2000 with women walking hours from villages high in the Himalayas to attend the sessions.  Most of the women were Hindu; a few were Christians.  All, however, were resolved to bring better health care to their communities.  At the end of the first training, one of the attendees who had been especially attentive came up to express her appreciation.  She had only 2 years of formal schooling (not unusual since as much as 90% of Nepali women are considered to be illiterate).  It was apparent from her calloused hands that she regularly guided plows in the rice fields behind the water buffalo.  Her simple but profound statement was this:  “I can’t believe that someone with my low-level of education has been entrusted with such valuable information.”  She expressed well the seriousness with which most women take their volunteer role as a health worker. The community health worker program is now registered with the government as Hope for the Himalaya.  The CHWs provide first line primary health care in their villages by weighing and monitoring babies and pregnant women.

 1 BBC, October 3, 2009 report

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