Monday, August 15, 2011

Celebrate Solutions: Integrating Family Planning and Fuel Efficiency for Better Health, Environment

Source: Women Deliver

By Rati Bishnoi, Special Projects Intern at Women Delivertanzania.gif

Rukia Seif holds an unusual place in her community.

In addition, to being a mother of three, Seif is a population, health, and environment (PHE) peer educator in her Tanzanian village on the outskirts of Saadani National Park.

In the role, Seif meets and talks to people in her village daily about simple solutions for improving their health and protecting the natural resources they depend upon. Two of these solutions include promoting fuel-efficient cooking stoves and family planning.

She tells her neighbors how mud stoves use less fuel than earlier models and help conserve forests for the future. Even though it is illegal, villagers cut wood for fuel to be used in more energy-reliant stoves. As a result, the neighboring forests are being depleted, smoke from stoves is worsening air quality, and unsustainable pressure is being placed on the very resources that provide Seif and her community food and livelihood.

Seif also talks to villages about modern contraceptive methods, focusing particularly on women who have closely-spaced pregnancies. Large family sizes which are caused by a high unmet need for family planning not only endanger the overall health of the family and mothers but also exacerbate the pressure on natural resources. 
Seif is one of more than 140 PHE peer educators, PHE-oriented community-based distributors, and PHE providers or small shop owners that have been trained by USAID’s Building Actors and Leaders for Advancing Community Excellence in Development (BALANCED) program to deliver messages to the community that focus on the link between health and conservation. Once trained, PHE peer educators like Seif educate and advise villagers to take actions, such as going to PHE shops to buy low-cost condoms or contacting a community-based distributor to receive free-of-charge family planning services and other reproductive health services.  These educators, owners, and distributors are particularly helpful because they compensate for a shortage of health staff and primary health care in the village. The BALANCED program trains educators, owners, and distributors in this integrated approach because it seeks to tackle the root cause and not only the symptoms of health issues, food insecurity, and natural resource depletion.

As a result of their presence, the distance for villagers to access family planning commodities has been reduced from an average of 7.8 kilometers to less than one kilometer. There also have been increased referrals to health centers, more than 1,000 new contraception users, more than 190 mud stove built, and a 69 percent increase in women participating in natural resource and economic livelihood activities.

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