Stories from the field

26 Mar 2015

Recent training in the Afar Desert funded by the Birthing Kit Foundation (Australia) and run by the Afar Pastoral Development Association (APDA) has achieved outstanding results. In a one year a comprehensive program, directed by the indefatigable Valerie Browning in 10 kebeles (neighborhoods) of Dullassa, has empowered whole communities to stop harmful practices affecting females and leading to an improvement in their reproductive health.

Steeped in illiteracy these communities clung to traditional practices that harmed birthing mothers leading to maternal and newborn death and injury Women extension workers along with traditional birth attendants (TBAs) were trained and deployed as agents of change. They led guided discussions designed to improve reproductive health and to stop FGM (genital mutilation), early marriage and marriage by force. 19,740 women and girls and their families were taught life skills in health, hygiene and nutrition. 13,200 pastoralist women and their families gained awareness and assistance in stopping harmful practices and 960 mothers achieved a safer and cleaner birth by using a delivery set or, as we know it, a birthing kit.

Those affected by the harmful practices were assisted, protected and counseled, while those who performed the practices were advised and reminded that the government can prosecute them. The APDA also employed three women to assemble a total of 5,000 birthing sets or birthing kits in their field office. They were distributed to the trained TBAs in the program.

All of this was achieved despite challenges which included mediating with neighboring communities, flooding rains and convincing skeptical mothers that a trained TBA is better than giving birth with no assistance at all.

The whole program, created from the experience and earlier successes of Valerie Browning and the APDA, has highlighted the enormous value of training and birthing kits in this challenging desert environment.