Empowering Indigenous Communities in Ethiopia to Make Healthy Decisions

“I was treated worse than a baboon in the forest. I had no rights and no say,” said Gulo Bolu.

Gulo, a mother of six, was a founding student of the the USAID supported Global Team for Local Initiatives (GTLI) Integrated Functional Vocational Literacy course. photo credit: GTLI
Gulo, a mother of six, was a founding student of the the USAID-supported Global Team for Local Initiatives (GTLI) Integrated Functional Vocational Literacy course. photo credit: GTLI

Gulo’s story is an inspiring tale of how one woman’s courage has had an impact on the lives of 30,000 Hamar women. Gulo lives in Wassemu village, Minogelti kebele in southwest Ethiopia. She is the first wife of Dobe Dina and has four sons and two daughters. Until two years ago, Gulo had to walk one and a half days to Turmi, the nearest village, to buy goods. Gulo’s workload was overwhelming since she was responsible for all of the cooking, cleaning, hauling of water and firewood, and caring for six children. Hungry to learn, Gulo became the founding student of the USAID-supported  Global Team for Local Initiatives (GTLI) Integrated Functional Vocational Literacy course. Her husband, Dobe, threatened her repeatedly, insisting she forget school. However, Gulo persisted and became the first Hamar woman to speak Amharic and keep simple records. Gulo is now on the path to become a community leader and advocate for education and healthy behaviors in her village.

We are gaining confidence now that we are equal to men because in the former time, men and women never sat together but in the Female Integrated Functional Vocational Literacy class, we are all treated as equals. This is making it much easier for us to participate as equals in other community meetings. Plus, we have increased knowledge of different things which gives us more respect.” Female Integrated Functional Vocational Literacy Course Participant

In the lower Omo valley of Ethiopia, ongoing inter-ethnic conflict generates tension between neighboring pastoralist groups in the region. Scarce resources, a growing population, and environmental changes have steadily increased the pressure on the Hamar and Desanech tribes to defend their resources, particularly pasture and water points on the borders of these communities.

Gulo and Dobi pose with Lori Pappas, GTLI Founder in Wassemu village, Minogelti kebele, Ethiopia. photo credit: GTLI
Gulo and Dobi pose with Lori Pappas, GTLI Founder in Wassemu village, Minogelti kebele, Ethiopia. photo credit: GTLI

USAID’s commitment to strengthening capacity for health and livelihoods, amongst other crucial areas, is exhibited in its investment in the Advancing Partners & Communities (APC) project’s and GTLI’s community-level work. USAID’s support to GTLI in southwest Ethiopia improves access to clean water, promotes disease prevention behavior, increases access to voluntary family planning services, and trains emergent leaders as teachers and community leaders in the region. The scarcity of resources and increased population in this region requires a unique approach to implementing behavioral change. GTLI works closely with these indigenous communities to help them adapt to the changing world while maintaining their cultural values. Through these programs, USAID is working to build resilience in the community and reduce reliance on these increasingly limited resources.

In March of 2014, GTLI was awarded an integration grant by APC to integrate family planning (FP) into an existing WASH and livelihoods program. Community-based family planning is a central focus of APC’s work and through this subaward GTLI is able to increase demand for FP services within the tribes of SW Ethiopia.

A culturally-relevant approach to behavior change is critical in communities such as these with long-standing traditions and strong cultural values. Through their integrated programs, GTLI is able to educate the community about the health benefits of choosing the number, timing and spacing of pregnancies. By transforming the notion that large families are better, GTLI generates interest in voluntary family planning. The family planning program focuses on literacy and livelihoods so that women and girls can learn to advocate for themselves and participate in household and community decision making. As a result, male community members are empowered to see women from a different perspective.

GTLI’s empowerment-based approach includes community conversations, adult literacy, and cultural competence work for local government. The program shifts cultural conventions and empowers communities to embrace new norms and healthier behaviors, ultimately seeking out family planning and life-saving medical care.

 

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