Ethiopia’s model families hailed as agents of social transformation

Ethiopia is boosting its healthcare statistics by enouraging rural households to adopt and disseminate a range of good habits

by The Guardian

Wudinesh Demisse, right, and her model family, part of the Ethiopia’s so-called health development army. Photograph: Lauren McKown/Pathfinder International

Wudinesh Demisse raises her hand above her head, showing off the matchstick-sized birth-control implant embedded just beneath the skin of her upper arm.

Wudinesh, 28, is a farmer in rural West Arsi, in Ethiopia’s central Oromia region. With three children already, Wudinesh says it is time to stop. “For me, three is enough,” she says, through a translator. “If they are too many, they are too expensive.”

Wudinesh, who lives in a small village 200km south of the capital, Addis Ababa, is one of millions of Ethiopian women who have gained access to modern forms of birth control over the past decade. Today, her local health post stocks a range of products, from condoms and pills to longer-acting injections and implants.

Ethiopia is increasingly touted as a family planning success story. The government, which has made maternal and child health national priorities, is proud of its statistics – the country’s contraceptive prevalence rate, for example, jumped from 15% in 2005 to 29% in 2011 – and says efforts to reach remote, rural areas lie at the heart of its success.

Along with trained, salaried health extension workers – all of whom are female, a step to make families more comfortable with door-to-door visits – thousands of volunteers have been enlisted nationwide in the government’s “health development army”. Read more

The story of a girl activist – Ethiopia

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When I was seven years old, I visited my parents’ rural hometown of Axum, and was staying with my grandmother. There was a young girl around my age there, and I became very good friends with her. Before I left, I wanted to keep in touch with her as a pen pal, but my parents explained to me that she did not have the pencils or materials to do so.

I knew in that moment that advocating for girls like me to have equal opportunities in education would be an important part of my life. I created a resource mobilisation project called Pencil Mountain that has delivered over half a million school resources to Ethiopian children.

Girls living in rural areas of Ethiopia are treated as an asset. A family values a girl for her ability to work. Girls do not have equal access to education with boys. There is a great disparity in literacy and if a parent has an opportunity to choose between sending a boy or girl to school, it is almost always the boy that is chosen.

The most difficult challenge I’ve faced is promoting this idea to rural communities where it a conflict of interest for community leaders. Tradition dictates that young girls at my age should be married, or stay home and support the family. It is not always easy to break through this mentality. However, the leadership in Ethiopia, and several NGOs have committed themselves to changing this longstanding mindset.

Biggest challenge: It’s been hard to balance my school and my advocacy work. I have learned to put my own education first, so that I can create a bigger impact later on. I strongly believe that every action for change, no matter how small, counts.

Proudest moment: I met Canada’s prime minister, Stephen Harper and the Ethiopian prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn. They are in a great position to implement change in educational rights.

My greatest achievement was being named Unicef goodwill ambassador for Ethiopia, because I have had an opportunity to bring a girl’s voice to an international level and raise awareness about education issues. Read Full story on The Guardian

Read more about Hannah Godefa