“Being there” – A blog by intern Esther Geurts

Esther recently joined the Health[e]Foundation team as a first year Global Health master student at the VU University Amsterdam. For her internship she is evaluating the impact of the Female&Family[e]Education course in Ethiopia by interviewing midwives and local community members. She writes about her first experiences in Ethiopia:

“Female&Family Health Education is like a Bible to me.” I’m a little taken aback by this blunt statement, but he is very serious. “A Bible is always in your heart and whenever you pray, whenever you do something […] you can refer back to it.” He goes on by explaining to me that just like the Bible the course consists of various chapters discussing a variety of topics, not just one, together forming a comprehensive manual which you can consult anytime and anywhere.

In the two weeks that I have been in Ethiopia I have been talking to midwives who are at different stages of the Female&Family[e]Education course. Some finished the course years ago, while others have just attended the kick-off workshop and are yet to start the 3-month e-learning phase. I am here to explore the impact of the training on the participating midwives and the communities they serve. Health[e]Foundation has collected a tremendous amount of data since the start of the project three years ago. The statistics show that in all participating cities midwives have significantly improved their knowledge. However, some insights can only be explored and understood by what in anthropology is called “being there”. And that is exactly what I am going to do for the coming 6 weeks.

In the short time I have been here, I have attended kick-off and follow-up workshops, visited health centres and interviewed midwives across the country. The midwives I have spoken to all agree that their knowledge and skills have been updated and improved since starting the training. However, there is more to it. For some, the training has increased their confidence, because they feel more competent in dealing with complications and emergency situations. One midwife told me that his attitude has also changed. Whereas before the training he would be anxious and wary of helping mothers infected with HIV or STIs, he learnt how to protect himself and this has changed the way he sees and treats this already marginalized group of women. Another midwife and newly father confessed that his wife felt much more comfortable with breastfeeding, because he was able to give helpful and evidence-based advice. He was certain that he would be a better father for his baby girl.

Although I have already collected these inspiring stories and anecdotes, I am sure there is so much more we do not know about the different ways the course has affected the lives of the midwives and the women they attend to. Therefore, I am glad I still have five more weeks before leaving this beautiful country with its kind and welcoming people.