Here is Niger, one of the most crippling factors in the life of many women is the lack of access and capacity. Sometimes this is due to ignorance, shame, uncertainty and fear, rather than a lack of actual physical facilities or programs.
This week we tried to break down one of those barriers in our community of young women by taking them all on a field trip to the local “CSI”. CSI stands for Centre de Santé Intégré (Integrated Health Unit). There are little health units like this is most communities in town and many larger villages as well. What is shocking is the lack of awareness that many women have to this facility right in their own community.
We walked the 1 km together down the dirt roads. While it was still scorching hot (42 degrees) we were thankful for the breeze and hazy clouds, even though it carried dirt and thus we had gritty teeth and eyes in short order!
When we arrived we were waiting for a few minutes for the head nurse to be free to start our program. A young man was sitting on his moto in the shade of the tree and came over and asked if he could have permission to present to our Girls. He was from Doctors Without Borders and was doing community awareness training on the recent meningitis outbreak. We gave permission and he spent the next ten minutes telling the girls all about what meningitis was, how it was treated, how it was transmitted from person to person and how to avoid it. He was thrilled to hear we had just vaccinated all our girls last month and said “You are protecting the next generation- and they are all so pretty!” Haha! At any rate, it was great for the girls to hear first hand and to witness some of the government health programs being rolled out.
We broke the girls into 4 groups. Each group was responsible for one specific section to present to the rest of the class later, even if all the groups saw every section. They had to find out what the primary services were, who was the target population, how much it cost, and anything else they thought was note worthy.
1) We started in the Prenatal clinic where they chart and track mother’s progress as well as testing for HIV, gestational diabetes and other things. Then we also toured the birthing area! We went into the labour room where there were three women in active labour. I tried to hurry us out of that room quickly as it felt awkward to me, but apparently it did not phase the nurses and they said the women were just “working” but not ready to deliver. Tell that to the poor woman laying on the floor holding onto the metal feet of the bed while she had a contraction! (there was a bed by the way- i think she just prefered the cool tile of the floor) We quickly went into the delivery room because there was no one actively giving birth. The nurse explained the room and equipment to the girls and how neat for them to have a chance to see this room before they show up for the real deal one day! Then we went into the recovery room. We saw a baby who was only 30 minutes old! We also saw a brand new set of twins! I wanted to take photos of their sweet faces but wanted to respect the privacy of the mothers so just imagine in your heads 🙂
And the cost for delivery? Just $2.50 Cdn to get you a bed! It’s true you need to bring your own supplies like gloves, bed plastic, razor, baby bathtub etc, but still…..$2.50!!!
2) Malnutrition program. This area was also staffed with a couple young men who were happy to explain everything to our class of pretty young ladies. They learned how each child who is experiencing signs of malnutrition is measured, weighed and charted and tracked once a month for growth. They have some interventions of corn/soy blend flour and a product called “plumpy nut” (basically a peanut butter bar type thing) to help give extra calories to malnourished mothers and children.
A medieval torture device or the weigh station? The baby is put in a sling and clipped to this hanging scale.
Learning how the curved growth charts work for children. A captive audience!
3) Vaccination program. Here they saw how children from 0-24 months come in for regular vaccinations that are almost free! Such a great program that so few people are aware of. The government of Niger makes the attempt to have free medications for all children under the age of 5. Sometimes the pharmacies or clinics are out of stock, but our team is partnering with this specific health centre to try to augment their stock so that they do not run out.
4) General clinic! Even though this centre focuses mostly on women and children, anyone who is sick can come and see a doctor. There was a long line up of patients so no pictures of this either.
I hope our tour of the local health unit was an encouragement to the girls. So many of the staff were women and it is great for them to see that women can be in professional situations and be active in their community. I also want them to know there are places to go in their communities other than pricey private clinics and that they can have their babies somewhere other than their hut, and they can make sure their children are growing and healthy. What a blessing!
A “fada” is the name of a hangout place. So this spot was “Fada Bad boyz” which was decked out in pink and bright blue with benches and often in the evenings has groups of young men hanging out. But in the middle of the day it was quiet and the girls were happy to invade for a photo-op!
Women’s empowerment- sometimes it is just a field trip away!