International Rescue Committee (IRC)

Volunteer health workers give mothers in northern Uganda a lifeline

Since 2009, the International Rescue Committee has trained and equipped nearly 700 volunteers in northern Uganda to provide lifesaving health care to children in remote communities struggling to recover from a decade of civil war. With IRC-supplied medicines, thermometers and even bicycles to travel to patients’ homes, the volunteers have treated 200,000 children since the program began. They provide a critical first line of defense against three childhood killers—malaria, diarrhea, pneumonia—that local clinics are underequipped to handle.

Since funding for the program ended in March, the IRC has been looking for ways to extend support for the volunteers so that their vital work can continue. A few months ago, the IRC's Sophia Jones-Mwangi had a chance to meet some of these dedicated health workers. 
 
KITGUM, Uganda—On a September morning last year, Beatrice Alanyo woke up to see her toddler Bernard convulsing. “We didn’t know what to do,” says the 25-year-old who lives in Beyo-Goya, a remote village of about 900 people in northern Uganda. “I had put a jacket on him earlier because he was cold, and just a few hours later he started fitting. I was just crying and crying and then my Mum told me to call Harriet.”
 
Harriet Adokorach, the IRC volunteer health worker in Beyo-Goya, rushed to help. “The first thing she did was to apply a cold sponge all over his body,” says Beatrice. “After that she brought him to her home and gave him suppositories.” Harriet then escorted the boy and his mother to the nearest health center in Anaka, “On our way, he had already started to improve,” recalls Beatrice. “The fever had gone and he had gained consciousness. The doctor there gave him quinine.” 
 
Beatrice is certain that Bernard would have died from malaria had not Harriet intervened. “Us mothers always thank her,” she says. “We are all so very happy with what she is doing here.”
 
Also age 25, Harriet has been a village health worker since 2006. She treats about seven children a week. “Common sicknesses include diarrhea, fever, malaria and coughing,” she explains. “Between July and November, when people come here to farm, I will see more children, up to 40 a week.”
 
She receives training every year on a variety of topics, from general hygiene to specific illnesses. “I enjoy my work,” she says. “I find it very nice because I am self-motivated, and if I didn’t do it, people would be suffering.” The nearest health clinic is 10 kilometers (more than six miles) from Beyo-Goya, and the better equipped center is 26 kilometers away.
 
IRC-trained health volunteer Mary Lakot in her northern Uganda village
Mary Lakot is proud of her work as a village health volunteer. She treats children mainly for coughs and malaria. “The children around here call me Doctor! Doctor!” she says.

Photo: Sophia Jones-Mwangi/IRC
Like Harriet, 53-year-old Mary Lakot enjoys serving her community in Locken East Village. “The children around here call me Doctor! Doctor!” she laughs. But their mothers are extremely grateful to have her nearby. “If I was not here the young ones would die,” says Mary. “Mothers tell me that going to the health center can take up to three days on foot, so they come to me to check their children and I am so very proud of that.” 
 
Mary was living in a camp for displaced people when she was selected to train as a health worker. “I was selected by my community. The initial training took five days. I learned how to give medicine to a person with diarrhea, how to treat rashes, coughs, eye infection, fever and injuries,” she recalls. “We were also trained to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS. These were the main concerns around health in the camp.” 
 
In Locken East Village, Mary treats children mainly for coughs and malaria. One of her steady clients, Grace Ayoo, has five children ranging in age from six to 20. For her, Mary is a true lifeline. “Even at night I can go and get the medicine from her,” Grace says. “If I am away, someone can take the child to her because Mary knows her.” 
 
Jasper Abor, IRC’s health team leader in Kitgum and Lamwo districts, underscores the importance of the volunteer health workers in northern Uganda, where villages are struggling to rebuild after years of devastation wrought by the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army. “The work of the volunteers is very important in northern Uganda,” says Jasper. “When this place was at war and many people were in the camps, it was relatively easy to address their health needs. But when they returned to their homes, which are very far from the health centers, the volunteers became crucial.”
 

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6 comments

Comments

I am so glad to read that you

I am so glad to read that you have trained women in local villages as front-line health workers. What a great cost-effective way to address the problem with routine health issues.

Thanks very much, Margaret.

Thanks very much, Margaret.  The IRC works with local health volunteers in other places, including South Sudan. Here are two health worker profiles in case you are interested in reading more:
 
http://www.rescue.org/blog/community-health-volunteers-provide-crucial-care-south-sudan
 
http://www.rescue.org/blog/south-sudan-catching-my-friend-nyibol-akol-padiet
 
Best,
 
Kate,
IRC blog editor

What wonderful work you are

What wonderful work you are doing and reaching so many in such good basic ways... Will send what I can... You are all wonderful and I am so grateful for your work and caring so that we can look forward to a more healthy and equal world and therefore a peace someday for all nations and all people as a family on this one earth... God bless you all and especially those learning the new skills to help others and share their knowledge and training... Truly a bucket brigade to put out the fire of disease...Thank you thank you thank you... Peace and love to all of you and to those you touch...

Thanks so much, Cheryl. We

Thanks so much, Cheryl. We truly appreciate your kind words and support.

Best,

Kate,
IRC blog editor

I WOULD LIKE TO ASK WHERE

I WOULD LIKE TO ASK WHERE DOES THIS MONEY GO? THAT THE PEOPLE ARE SENDING TO THESE CORPORATION AND HOW WILL WE KNOW THAT THE PEOPLE THAT IS NEEDING THIS HELP ARE GETTING WHAT THE PEOPLE ARE SENDING THEM? AND WHEN WILL WE GET THAT MESSAGE THAT THEY HAVE RECIEVE WHAT WE THE PEOPLE HAVE SEND.

Dear George:Thanks very much

Dear George:

Thanks very much for your question. The IRC is consistently awarded high marks by charity watchdog groups and respected publications for the efficient use of our financial support and the effectiveness of our work. We do our best through this website, our annual report, and other publications to report back to our donors about the impact their support has had in the communities where we work.

You can read our annual report and ratings at http://www.rescue.org/about/financial-information

And if you are interested in receiving news of our work by email, you can sign up at https://www.rescue.org/user/register

Thanks again,

Kate,
IRC blog editor

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