Ilam will remain in my heart forever

गते ००:०० मा प्रकाशित

Ilam will remain in my heart forever


Rebecca Gibbons (22) was born in Hong Kong in 1990 and now lives in Ottawa, Canada. She has recently completed her Bachelors of Arts in Health Studies from Queen\'s University in Kingston, Ontario. During her graduating year, she was given an opportunity to travel to Ilam, Nepal to facilitate the development and implementation of an 8-month health education project, called "Action for Health (A4H)." Namsaling Community Development Centre (NCDC) is the local partner and a Canadian NGO is providing the financial support through Queen\'s University. Rebecca has now been in Ilam for over 8 months working with NCDC on the A4H project. She will be leaving Ilam in 1 week and will be returning to Canada shortly after. On this occasion, executive editor, Sudip Shrestha, has taken her interview.

Q: Tell me about the "Action for Health" project.

A: "Action for Health" is a project that focuses on health education for behavior change. It is being implemented through NCDC by our A4H team, which includes Pradeep Madan Ghimire, Bhupal Khatiwada, and Rashmina Dhakal. In Nepal, communicable diseases such as diarrhea are a leading cause of death and illness. With regards to this challenge, it is our every day behaviors that can make a huge difference. For example, the simple act of hand washing with soap at critical times is one of the top three ways to prevent diarrhea. This is why the promotion and practice of proper hand washing techniques underlies all of our A4H programs.

Menstrual hygiene management, a topic that is often neglected in health and hygiene education initiatives, has also been a priority of A4H. The goals of A4H tie into the broader goals of the Green City Initiative, the national priority to make the municipalities and villages of Nepal more green and sustainable places for people to live.

Q: Why did you want to work on a health education project?

A: Since I was a child, I have been passionate about living a healthy, active lifestyle. I am also interested in promoting health and healthy behaviours to others. I believe that strong health education and health promotion initiatives are critical to having healthy communities. I was lucky to have the opportunity to channel my interest and passions through my work with NCDC.

Q: Who were the target groups of each of the programs?

A: In the A4H programs, we target schools, Female Community Health Volunteers (FCHVs), and community members. At the schools, we have implemented a 2-phase Health and Hygiene Education program at 9 schools in Ilam municipality in addition to Menstrual Hygiene Management Trainings. We have also visited several schools in Namsaling VDC to conduct our program activities. Secondly, we have our FCHV 2-Day Training Program. This program targets women who play a key role in the public health programs in the community and can promote positive health behavior change. Finally, A4H targets community members through large community events and our Health and Hygiene Radio Program.

Q: How many villages did the programs cover?

A: The A4H project implemented programs in Ilam municipality, Namsaling VDC, Mabu VDC, Maimajuwa VDC, Godak VDC and Panchakanya VDC. In addition to this, all of the communities that are covered by Nepal Radio Bani FM were targeted through the radio program.

Q: What was the impact of the A4H programs?

A: It is always a challenge to measure the impact of health education projects. However, there are several indicators that our programs have had a strong impact in the targeted communities. For example, since the implementation of our school programs, students have been practicing the 6 steps of hand-washing with soap and are teaching this skill to their fellow classmates and to their families. When we show up to the schools, we often see students starting to practice the 6 steps before we even say anything! In terms of our community programs, the strong attendance of our ODF Health and Sanitation trainings (approx.150 people) and Global Hand washing Day Program (over 250 people) were great signs of the wide reach of our programs. We have even received a request from Radio Nepal Bani FM to extend our radio program because they have been receiving calls from community members who want to hear more!

Q: Can you tell the readers about the 6 steps of hand washing?

A: We have been teaching the UNICEF 6 steps of hand washing. All you need is soap and water! The purpose of following all of the steps is so that all of the different parts of the hands can be clean and germ-free! Soap is an important part of the process because it is what gets rid of the germs. Even though germs are often invisible to the naked eye, they are there!

Q: What is the difference between a local facilitator and someone coming from outside?

A: For the majority of our program activities, our local NCDC staffs have been doing the teaching (in Nepali). My role in the programs has been mostly facilitating the practice of the 6 steps of hand washing.

In terms of differences, one thing that I noticed (that is often the case for facilitators coming from outside) is that the program participants were immediately curious about me and what I had to say. In terms of facilitating, my style has been mostly focused on having fun as we learn the hand washing technique. Since it is my main interaction with the target groups, I love to connect with the group by making them laugh where we can enjoy learning in a fun environment.

Q: Back in September, there was a Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) Program lead by the youth of Ilam. As you were directly involved in that program, in your opinion, how did the people of Ilam react to the program?

A: Yes, this was the 10 Days of Activism (DoA) program in Ilam all about Sexual and Reproductive Health. I had just recently arrived in Ilam at that time and was excited to learn about this initiative that was organized by the Ilam youth. It was really cool for me to see some of the innovative ideas that were implemented. The 2 minutes for SRH program where the youth travelled around the bazaar area asking questions to community members was great!!! It definitely was a great way to spread awareness about SHR. I think the community reacted really positively and had a lot of fun!

Q: What tools are important to usein trainings with community members?

A: There are a few things that our A4H team has learned over the past 8 months. First, never underestimate the value of planning. Secondly, with regards to activities in the trainings, it is important to find a good balance between fun and content. Finally, it is critical to understand the target group- what are their needs, what keeps them engaged, what motivates their behaviour etc.

Q: How easy is it to change the health behaviour of guardians?

A: It is not easy! We all have habits that, after a certain point in time, seem so engrained in us that they are almost automatic. And as we get older, behaviours are definitely harder to change. But it is possible! When we talk about behavior change, we must think about what motivates people\'s behaviours. What might be true for one person may not be true for the next.

Q: What about the willingness of the parents to change their behaviors? Do they want to learn from their children?

A: That is a great question. I have heard from several students that they have gone home and taught their families the 6 steps of hand washing. To be honest, I am not quite sure how the parents reacted to this. Our A4H team knows how important it is to target parents in the community as well with health education initiatives. This is why in addition to encouraging students to promote hand-washing at their homes, we also conducted the Health and Hygiene Radio Program. Most families in the community listen to the radio, and we tried to tailor our radio program so that it would engage the parents.

Q: What is your further plan to help Ilam?

A: A couple of months ago, I was able to assist our A4H team with submitting a proposal to the Canadian NGO for a one-year A4H project extension. We just heard back and were successful at receiving some more funds! I will continue to stay connected to the Ilam community through my connection to NCDC\'s A4H project! Additionally, I hope to connect motivated and hardworking individuals from my community in Canada to Ilam and NCDC. What is my personal plan? I have no concrete plans right now! My tentative plan is to return to Canada and to complete a Master\'s Degree in the health sector. I hope to apply what I have learned from my experiences here in Ilam to my life back in Canada.

Q:What do you want the final message to be for the readers?

A:I am so thankful for my experience here in Ilam, Nepal. I have experienced Nepali culture from birth to death and everything in between. The Ilam community has truly been my home for the past 8 months. Community members have seen me as a sister, daughter, aunt and friend. I want to thank the NCDC family and all of my dear A4H team members. The memories that have been created here will remain in my heart forever. I look forward to my future adventures in Nepal!

Thanks Sudip!

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