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Returning to the Land of Milk and Honey

In this week’s blog, CHGN’s co-leader Elizabeth reports back on what our Zambia Cluster in Gwembe have been up to lately.

I always look forward to visiting the CHGN Cluster in Zambia, or the ‘Chabbs’ Cluster as they are known. Having previously lived in Southern Zambia, I enjoy returning to visit the people and the landscape.

The Cluster is our most rural Cluster. They meet in an area called ‘Chabbobboma’, in Gwembe district, in the South. There are 28 people in the group, made up of Community Health Volunteers, teachers, elders, birth attendants, and farmers.

Community conversations: impacting maternal health, sanitation, nutrition and more

During our time together, we talk about the group’s latest achievements, learning, and challenges. We dream of the area reclaiming its past identity as a ‘land of milk and honey’ (the area is affected by poverty and drought, but was once prosperous and fertile).

The group are comprised of various ‘zones’, representing different communities and villages. One of the zones is a community on the islands of Lake Kariba — they canoe over to come to Cluster meetings.

Chabbs Cluster have seen progress by using the ‘SALT’ methodology (a process of community conversation, used to understand and transfer local learning and strengths). Chabbs Cluster have led community sanitation and hygiene awareness drives (resulting in increased coverage and use of pit latrines, dish racks and refuse pits). They have supported visually impaired and disabled farmers to grow crops, harvest them, and take them to market.

The region has a high rate of maternal mortality. And so the Cluster have responded by initiating maternal health awareness and learning events and visits. As a result, they have seen increased health centre deliveries. This means women (and importantly, their husbands) now recognise signs of birth and related complications, and can get to a health centre rather than give birth at home. There are stories of men taking a much greater interest and responsibility in caring for their wives than is heard of locally.

The Cluster raised funds to source a fleet of bicycles, which are being used by Cluster members and Community Health Volunteers. The bikes are enabling Cluster members to travel in the area, and have improved the reach of health volunteers, meaning better access to medicines and health facilities.

More creatively and unexpectedly, the Cluster are compiling a catalogue of local wild fruits and the health and wellbeing benefits they bring. The CHGN network will be able to supplement this local initiative with additional information and evidence, and the catalogue can be distributed to families — a great way of using local assets for good! I was happy to participate in this initiative, and tried the Usika fruit — a small, suckable, sour fruit in long dry shell, packed with vitamin C. Delicious.

Influence spreads

The local chiefs and traditional leadership know about the Cluster, and have welcomed its presence. Two young women in the Cluster who were struggling to find work are now employed by the local health centre, because of the reputation the Cluster has.

During my visit, I visited a local businessman with the Cluster Mobilser, Mathews, and our local Associate, Elvis. The business owner is keen to support the Cluster somehow. Hearing of their plans to improve water access for communities with boreholes and solar pumped water pipelines, he has offered to fund a borehole.

Planning ahead

With some success under their belt, the Cluster are now deepening and strategising their plans for maternal health, youth empowerment, and water and sanitation. They plan to develop their ideas for income generation, and are now looking for specific training on entrepreneurship and business.

Jane, one of the wonderful women leaders in the Cluster, says the Cluster has helped her realise that “there is power in unity”, and Robert who lives in the island community says he is “hungry for more of what the Cluster can achieve.”

Before I left, we had a good meeting with Karen Sichinga, who is the head of CHAZ (the Churches Health Association of Zambia). She re-affirmed her commitment to encourage the Cluster, as well as provide some logistical support when needed.

In March we held our first ever international gathering in India, where representatives from all of our Clusters gathered to learn, share, encourage, plan, and strengthen the network. Feedback highlighted the immense value of being together in person, and sharing learning, knowledge and stories between Clusters. We are following this up with annual regional gatherings, and so in Africa, we hope that representatives of Clusters in Kenya, Tanzania and Sierra Leone will gather together in Zambia in 2017, hosted by the Chabbs Cluster. We are looking for sponsors to help make this happen — please get in touch if you can help.

Chabbs Cluster are also looking for business and entrepreneurship mentors and training, as well as information to fill gaps in their maternal health knowledge and practice. They are also seeking funding to initiate phase one of a plan to reduce teenage pregnancies and early marriage. Please get in touch if any of this resonates.

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