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PWRDF project puts Burundian women’s futures in their own hands

Alphonsine sitting with her twins and older son at a Village Health Works clinic.

April 18, 2019

By Mike Ziemerink

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In parts of Burundi, a cultural belief persists that the more children a woman bears is an important sign of personal accomplishment. Most women hope to have at least eight children. This means feeding, clothing and caring for all of these children, often on their own.

Alphonsine Akizimana is a beneficiary of PWRDF’s All Mothers and Children Count (AMCC) project in Burundi and has seven children. She most recently gave birth to twins. After their birth however, her husband abandoned her. Alphonsine now struggles to keep herself and her children healthy and relies on support from a community health worker from PWRDF partner Village Health Works (VHW).

Alphonsine’s story is not unlike other women’s in Burundi, many of whom struggle to provide adequate nutrition and health for multiple children without the aid of a husband or partner. This is why the AMCC project focuses on putting women in control of their own lives.

In her community, Burikukiye Desire has been trained as a model farmer. She shares her newfound farming expertise with others.

“Previously, I had to sit down and put on paper a budget to buy the seeds, and the manure, and then I planted these seeds in piles, I did not know how to plant by digging furrows and in a straight line,” said Desire.

After growing frustrated by small harvests, Desire heard about training happening in nearby Kigutu and asked her local leader about attending.

The training, being run by VHW, helped increase Desire’s knowledge about farming and she was even appointed to be a model farmer because of her commitment. After a few days of training, the participants were given seeds, a watering can, a wheelbarrow as well as other farming supplies and before she knew it, Desire’s harvests were increasing.

“Those cabbages that you see I will harvest more than 90 kg, whereas before I did not even get 10 kg.”

Thanks to these increased harvests, Burikukiye Desire was able to feed her children a balanced diet and sell surplus crops for income. The additional income allowed her to build her family a new home and pay her children’s school fees.

“Village Health Works is like a parent who gives their children a future without waiting for a return,” says Desire. “Now I teach others who come to me to ask me advice. Everyone here in Mayengo knows me now as a model farmer.”

Village Health Works does much more than agriculture training. Through the AMCC program, it runs programs that encourage husbands to be more involved in women’s pregnancy and raising children.

“I did not get pregnant on my own,” says Ada Nsabiyumva in the presence of her husband at the Village Health Works Clinic in Kigutu. “In our community, there are few people who understand that it is his duty as my husband to accompany me.”

Through the AMCC project, Village Health Works entices men to accompany their wives to antenatal appointments as they provide vital information regarding nutrition, family planning, delivery and physical activities that are necessary for a healthy pregnancy.

Some men are beginning to see the value in attending care visits with their spouses, such as Nimenya Audace, who accompanied his wife to an antenatal consultation for the second time.

“Now we Burundian men, we are aware that we have to change mentalities because accompanying our wives in antenatal consultations is for the sake of the whole family,” said Audace.

Unfortunately not all men share Audace’s view, many are not involved in their wife’s pregnancy and even prevent their wives from seeking antenatal care.

Mbazumutima Florida is a community health worker (CHW) in Burundi who travels throughout communities providing home visits. Whenever Florida encounters a pregnant women, she immediately advises her to go see a doctor to ensure her own health and that of the baby.

“Nevertheless, not everyone follows my advice,” said Florida. Many women she encounters do not seek antenatal care, mostly because they or their husbands do not understand the importance and view antenatal care as a waste of time.

Even Florida’s neighbour, Ntunzwenimana Alice, waited until her eighth month of pregnancy before seeking care despite repeated appeals from Florida. When she was feeling nauseous or weak, Florida would rush over and try to convince her husband to take her to the clinic until he agreed.

“I thank the CHW for having the courage to come here until my husband can give me permission,” said Alice. “I wish to join the CHW team to give my humble contribution to sensitize fellow mothers and their husbands on the importance of antenatal care. It could spare many lives.”

Despite the progress the AMCC project is making on empowering women in Burundi, there is still a long way to go. One community health worker says the lack of community education and interest in maternal and newborn health is greatly affecting women and children.

“The best ways we can ensure the sustainability of AMCC interventions is by working with, educating, and convincing village leaders to place a greater emphasis on the health and wellbeing of mothers and children,” says Christine Niyinzima, a VHW community health worker.

“Women do the vast majority of work, especially on farms, whereas men do less work and yet control the assets. Improving the divisions of labour, and increasing women’s roles in decision-making and asset control need to play a greater role.”

-with files from Bart Dickinson