International Volunteers Day

Volunteering with a purpose

Published On: December 5, 2017 01:14 PM NPT By: Pratik Rimal  | @@eyes_8miles

KATHMANDU, Dec 5: Today, the world marks the International Volunteers Day.

In a congratulatory message, Dr. Swarnim Wagle of the National Planning Commission, today, extended hearty congratulations and thanked national development volunteers and Female Community Health Volunteers for their contribution in national development.

One of the most treasured volunteers of the country is Female Community Health Volunteers (FCHVs). In Nepal’s rough terrains, FCHVs play an important role to strengthen the national health system.

The goal of FCHV program is to support the national goal on health through community involvement in public health activities. This includes imparting knowledge and skills for empowerment of women, increasing awareness on health related issues and involvement of local institutions in promoting health care.  

Nepal’s FCHV program started in 1988 where they were initially assigned to promote and distribute the use of family planning contraceptives such as condoms and pills. However, in the past three decades, their roles have increased extensively. Now, it encompasses areas of maternal and neonatal health, nutrition, immunization, sanitation, hygiene, and promoting health seeking behaviors by raising awareness in their communities.

In their distinct blue sari, FCHVs are easily identified. During illness, disasters or disease outbreaks, they are often one of the first responders.  For this reason, the government and international agencies continually strengthen FCHVs.

For their contribution in the society, the government provides Rs. 7,000 as uniform allowance, a revolving fund of Rs. 50,000 in each ward and Rs. 400 as transportation allowance when they attend meetings.

Giving life a purpose

During interactions with numerous FCHVs in Dolakha, Sindhupalchowk, Kavre and Kapilvastu, I could see how the volunteering role had given women a purpose in life. Many of the FCHVs lacked formal education. However, with their engagements in health sector, they have acquired skills and knowledge to identify minor illnesses and prescribe medicines accordingly. As their knowledge increased, so did their confidence.

“I am contributing to improve health care in the district and I am proud of it,” Fatima Khatun, a FCHV from Kapilvastu said. Coming from a Muslim community, it wasn’t easy for her. “People would back bite me and accused me of infidelity when I walked with a male colleague,” Khatun recalled the struggles she overcame. 

Khatun is only an example of the 50,000 FCHVs that the country presently has. Ramrati Harijan, another FCHV from the same district also suffered hardship in her journey. However, the hardships and the backbiting didn’t break them down. Instead, they became firmer, persistent and confident to pursue their role. 

For Harijan, being an FCHV has given her recognition in her society. “It has given me a purpose in my life and I will continue as long as my age permits,” she said.

“If I had listened to my community, I would never be where I now am,” Khatun said.

Empowering women

Apart from helping to improve the country’s health system, the role is also empowering women to come out of their houses.

In their blue saris, they are instantly recognized by their communities for their contributions and respected. These FCHVs have helped to save a baby and its mother, helped immunize children amongst others. In one way or the other, FCHVs have touched upon the lives of their communities.

Government and international agencies continually strengthen FCHVs with new knowledge and skills.  Trainings on facilitation, social mobilization, immunization amongst others have enabled FCHVs to contribute with higher motivations. Moreover, they have even been vocal.

“I barely spoke before. Now, I can express myself and give suggestions in my family and in my community,” Bimala Parajuli, an FCHV of Sindhupalchowk said. Parajuli’s house had collapsed during the earthquake of April 25, 2015 and she sustained a fracture on her left ankle. Yet, she limped and volunteered to search and rescue many of her community members, one of whom was her dead niece.  

For Khatun, it has empowered her a lot. In Kapilvastu, where girls are married as early as 12 years old, Khatun has been able to stand against it and educate her daughter. A widow, she also has been able to look after her children and eke out a living on her own.  

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