It has been just over two years and one sees a dramatic change that is sweeping this small village, Bulaya, about 50 Kms from the main town of Lufwanyama, the second biggest district town in Zambia and in the middle of the copper belt. The 50 Kms drive looked like for ever as our vehicle jumped and crossed the terrain, driving through the natural forest and the human habitation.
Mothers have shown exemplary strength and leadership when it comes to providing motivation and care, not only for their own children but to the society at large. This has been through the time known to humankind and will continue into the eternity.
As we see in many other places across regions and countries, villages which are far away from the district or provincial head quarters lack some of the basic amenities, sometimes such amenities are not even available. Bulaya too is not very different. Lack of access and poor delivery of services characterizes this village, and all the neighboring villages in the zones (A zone comprises of anything between one to five villages). Access to health facilities and services are neither easy nor dependable, there are no out reach services and only one primary school catering to a number of villages. High prevalence of maternal and child malnutrition exist and so are pneumonia and diarrhea, some of the main causes for maternal and child deaths. It is in this situation that the communities supported by Save the Children came together to discuss some of the problems associated with the maternal and child health and developed plans to addressed them.
It was a joy and music to the ears to hear some of the mothers who took charge of the situation and became volunteers. They received training and coaching. A young mother, member of the Safe Motherhood Action Group narrated her experience as she learned to undertake pre natal checks, and provides care during pregnancy and escorts expecting mothers to the health centre during the labour. The pride in her eyes and jubilation was evident as she narrated that there are fewer complications during delivery now. Another mother, Community Health Worker and trained to identify malnutrition among children and mothers is working to improve health seeking behavior of the community. She said, “first, we wanted to improve mothers health…as that is key to the health of the new born”. Many such testimonials followed one after another, and possibly one of the best reflections came from a young mother, “It is sad to see a child falling sick and dying. The entire community gets affected. And, when we understand the causes, we realize that these could have been prevented and taken care of.”
These groups of volunteers, I met some 30 of them (and there are more than 50 volunteers covering 10 zones), move from one village to another providing training, checking health condition of the mother and child, monitor growth of young infants, escorting mothers to the health centres at the time of labour, guiding mothers on breastfeeding and raising awareness on food habits and child health. One of the male members, who heads one of the Neighborhoods Health Committees, said, more community health workers will drastically improve the situation of mother and child health, not only in this village but in the entire region! Very promising indeed!!
At a short distance from where the meeting took place, a group of men and women were busy constructing an Early Childhood Centre. They provide two days of voluntary labour every week and keen to complete the centre as early as possible. Few of the mothers were taking rest after some hard work and as I approached them on the topic, in one voice they said, “we want our children to study and go to school. This centre will help these toddlers to get ready and learn better in the primary school. Children should go to school”. Six similar centres are being constructed in and around this village and we hear similar enthusiasm from all the different corners. What an impressive story of commitment, love and affection!
And I wonder how many times, and from how many places, we will need to hear such stories of mothers taking charge of their communities before Governments, donors, change makers, private sectors can act together to ensure that every mother and child in this world lives a healthy and educated life? We have heard this before and this was my own exploration of how mothers, being in the front line, are giving hope and aspirations to so many lives.
As we took the long ride back home, my mind wavered between whether what I saw and experienced are simple and easy and, how such significant change can take place in every community across the country, and across the region? Is there a simple answer? Many Governments are investing to improve health and education services but we still have many children and mothers who die every day primarily because basic services are not easily available. I know this exploration will continue, understanding and learning from such experiences here in Zambia and elsewhere, and I also know that Bulaya is now ready to embrace a healthy and good life for their children, mothers, actually the entire community.