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Health Promoters in Rural Sierra Leone: Helping others help themselves

Musa’s ambition to not only help further his own studies in health, but to also give back to his community and the surrounding villages speaks to his character and the type of communal relations that Sustainable Nutrition and Agriculture Promotion (SNAP) is committed to fostering in the most remote regions of Sierra Leone. Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Food for Peace, SNAP is a five-year program being implemented by a consortium of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including International Medical Corps, to improve the long-term health and nutrition of more than 50,000 children and mothers in Sierra Leone.

Soft spoken, Musa commands respect at the young age of 21. He started volunteering for local humanitarian organizations in addition to his daily work as a Health Assistant at the Periphery Health Unit (PHU) in Kondaebaia in Koinadugu District in Sierra Leone. Recently, the elders and chief of his village chose Musa to be a SNAP Health Promoter based on his good standing in the community and high-level of education (which includes some high school courses).

As a Health Promoter, he is responsible for 24 communities where he organizes four Mother Care Groups, consisting of 38 Lead Mothers each, in addition to his daily work at the PHU. During the bi-weekly meetings, he trains lead mothers on essential health and essential hygiene actions, such as hand-washing and exclusive and immediate breast-feeding. Musa’s literacy skills allow him to be the link between a large number of illiterate, pregnant women and the critical messaging SNAP provides regarding family hygiene practices, safe pregnancies, child nutrition, and antenatal care.

The role of a Health Promoter is vital in the SNAP program and for Musa’s community. He is one of only two Health Promoters who service a large area. A Health Promoter’s education and ability to gain the Lead Mothers’ trust is important.

I asked Musa if it was awkward to speak about such sensitive subjects such as breast-feeding with a group of women, but he smiled shyly and said he always introduces himself with an acknowledgement of his perhaps unusual role as a man teaching traditionally female topics. Musa possesses an uncanny ability to communicate both his humility and knowledge to a group of women simultaneously.

His motivation for becoming a Health Promoter is two-fold: (1) he wants to improve the overall health and well being of the children in his community, and (2) he plans to use his newly-acquired skills to further his education and resume.

Amid a brutal civil war in Sierra Leone, International Medical Corps arrived in 1999 to deliver lifesaving emergency medical services – and has remained a key player in rehabilitating the health care system after the war ended. The organization’s services in the country have included primary and secondary health care, nutrition, maternal/child care, mental health care, water/sanitation and training.

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