For many rural communities in the Kolda region of southern Senegal, health services can only be accessed by traveling on foot, by bicycle, or by horse cart to the nearest health post. Hamdallaye Diéga does not have its own health post, and the long walks community members took to get vaccinations for their children sparked a powerful initiative to bring health services to their village.
The people of Hamdallaye Diéga learned more about the importance of child vaccination during the first year of their participation in Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP), which began in their community in December 2008. As in all communities that implement the CEP, participants in this village democratically-select 17 people to a Community Management Committee (CMC). Over the course of the program, CMC members and participants gained project and money management skills in addition to information about ways to improve the overall health and hygiene of the community. Inspired by this knowledge, the CMC decided to address the health challenges that their community had been facing.
Local CMC member Adama Diao explained to me that one day in 2009, the village assembled those children needing vaccines and walked early one morning to a neighboring village where the vaccines were being distributed. They waited from nine in the morning to six at night before receiving the vaccinations.
Hamdallaye Diéga’s CMC found this to be unacceptable and voiced their concerns to the head nurse at the post. This nurse is the person in charge of the health services for the area, and he was impressed by the interest in community health demonstrated by the residents of Hamdallaye Diéga. He told them that health care professionals would now come directly to their village to provide services.
Upon hearing this news, the CMC decided to use money from their community funds to construct their own health post where these services could be administered. When the head post nurse saw that the CMC considered health such a priority that they used their own funds to build this facility, he announced that the district would help them improve this health post, promising to equip it with medications and supplies.
Since the construction of their health post in 2009, Hamdallaye Diéga has been receiving monthly visits from a health care professional who can administer vaccinations, conduct routine health checks, and discuss family planning. None of this would have come about without the dedication and initiative of this community’s CMC. Through their participation in Tostan’s CEP, they learned ways to improve the health of their community and to advocate for better services. The CMC was then able to construct the health post using their project and money management skills.
Hamdallaye Diéga completed the Tostan program in 2011. The progress around good health practices achieved by the community during the three years in the program has been sustained – the community’s 300 residents, as well as neighboring community members, now have regular access to health services.
Story by Allyson Fritz, Tostan