Samaritan’s Purse is teaching rural women how to care for their children and prevent diseases through healthy practices.
Floramae Esapebong is a public health intern at the Samaritan’s Purse Niger office.
Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world and has one of the highest illiteracy rates. Girls typically get married as soon as they hit puberty, so their parents see educating them as a waste of resources. They must learn directly from their mothers by helping out with chores like cooking, cleaning, fetching water, and looking after their siblings. Boys typically grow up tending the animals and assisting their fathers in the field.
Most people in these rural communities never even think of sending their children to school. Many of them have never even seen a pencil. That’s why Samaritan’s Purse is offering a unique learning experience for health education.
We are promoting health and preventing diseases by educating village women in rural Niger. The women are partitioned into groups of 14, and one is chosen from each group as Leader Mother. These women are chosen because they have healthy, breastfed children and are role models in their communities.
Samaritan’s Purse health promoters educate the Leader Mothers on the advantages of exclusively breastfeeding from birth to 6 months, timely complementary feeding from 6 to 8 months, diarrhea management and prevention, hand washing with soap, malaria prevention though the proper use of insecticide-treated mosquito nets, utilization of health care services, birth spacing, and immunization. The leaders in turn teach the other women in their groups.
Some of these health practices may seem basic, but to these ladies who have never been in a classroom, it is everything.
“This actually gives the women the ability to learn and teach others,” said Grace Nganga, health and nutrition program manager. “It’s something they’ve never had before.”
The lessons are taught orally with only pictures to illustrate topics. But when I was on a recent field visit, they left me in awe as they recited some of the lessons as though they were reading from a book.
Each one of them tried to impress us by outdoing their friends as they explained the importance of feeding their babies with breast milk during the first 6 months of their lives and the reasons why and when they should wash their hands with soap (or wood ash for those who can’t afford soap).
Being with these women has been a real blessing, and one look at little Oubeida, a chubby little girl, melted our hearts as her mother proudly told us she had been given nothing but breast milk from birth.
Even the men are embracing these teachings. Younoussa, a health promoter with Samaritan’s Purse, called to inform us his wife had given birth and he had told her to begin breastfeeding immediately. During one of our field visits, he proudly showed off his healthy baby, saying his family was setting a good example.
“We are really happy to learn all of this,” one beneficiary said. “We didn’t know about this before. Now I know how to keep my baby and family healthy.”