House to house

Zinet knows this path well. She has walked it her whole life. Every week, she walks through her village, from house to house, visiting up to eight pregnant and breastfeeding mothers in their homes.

From the centre of the village, she takes a small path only a foot wide to the houses that are scattered like dice down the hill.

Zinet lives in Ethiopia’s green northern mountains, in a small village called Deledeye. She is 19 years old, a girl who wants to grow up to be a nurse, and she volunteers with Save the Children as a Health Development Army worker.

“Previously, we lost many mothers and children due to complications related to pregnancy and birth,” says Zinet.

One in every 17 Ethiopian children dies before their first birthday and one in every 11 dies before their fifth birthday. [1] Only 14 percent of births are currently delivered by a skilled birth assistant.[2]

“I go house to house to educate them (mothers) on keeping children healthy and I help to protect them,” says Zinet.

Keshen, a 35-year-old mother of five, is a participant in the program and is one of the mothers in Zinet’s care.

“I am very happy to have a volunteer health worker visit me,” says Keshen. “Earlier, many mothers died due to lack of knowledge. She is more than a friend to me. I see her as a mother.

“They teach us everything about maternal health problems. They educate us not to give birth at home. They also tell us that no woman should die while giving birth. So they educate us very well.”

Working in close partnership with the Ethiopian government, Save the Children provides quality training for Health Development Army (HDA) volunteers and provides them with illustrated manuals to use when visiting. If a mother can’t read, the volunteer will explain the pictures for her.

Every week, small groups of HDA volunteers gather to discuss the last week’s activities and support each other. Then, every fortnight, a big group of six HDA volunteers and their groups of mothers gather to show everyone how to cook baby food (using locally available foods) and they ask questions of health workers.

Because these volunteers live in the communities they serve, HDA volunteers like Zinet can also educate mothers in social settings, like coffee ceremonies. At a coffee ceremony, five households come together to drink and chat. These volunteers take any opportunity to educate their community and they use almost any gathering.

“I did not wait for an ambulance, but I chose to walk to the health centre since I could have laboured anytime,” says Keshen. “The services at the centre were very friendly. After I had given birth there, they provided us with porridge and prepared a coffee ceremony (as per our culture). I am happy with their facilities.”

In this district, there are four villages with 116 Health Development Army volunteers supporting thousands of mothers to give birth safely.

Save the Children’s Child and Maternal Health program is funded by the Australian Government. Through the government’s overseas aid program, Australians are providing vulnerable children in Ethiopia and around the world with the chance to survive and succeed in life.

[1] Ethiopian Demographic and Health Survey (EDHS, 2011)

[2] Mini Ethiopian Demographic and Health Survey (EDHS, 2014)