Tracey Goldner / Dr. Yoosuff Alam | Aug 18, 2008
Sri Lanka - As a volunteer health promoter in her hometown, Lalitha Ranjini cares for the families she knows most about--her own and those in her village. "Working with Medical Teams International changed my life," says this 33-year-old wife and mother of two.
Sri Lanka - As a volunteer health promoter in her hometown, Lalitha Ranjini cares for the families she knows most about—her own and those in her village. "Working with Medical Teams International changed my life," says this 33-year-old wife and mother of two.
“You name any village activity or gathering and the community leaders come searching for me to be involved,” she says. Our community health project in Uhana empowers women like Ranjini with health, nutrition and hygiene training so they can educate their community about important health issues.
Ranjini embraces her role with enthusiasm and dedication. Recently, Dr. Yoosuff Alam, our community health deputy manager in Sri Lanka, spoke with Ranjini about her experiences as a health facilitator. Excerpts from Ranjini's interview follow:
Why do you want to volunteer?
Lilitha Ranjini (left) teaches women about the life cycle of mosquitoes. (Photo by Kecia Bertermann)
I enjoy working with people. Most of them are my relatives and I know the whole area. It is a pleasure to work toward the betterment of my village. I get the chance to speak with many mothers and other health staff also. Somebody has to do this work and I think I am the best person to do it. I also learn new things when I work with the public health midwives.
What do you get from being a volunteer?
Most of the time, I feel happiness and satisfaction when I can do something good for others. Sometimes, I also get scolded by the community. But I accept their response patiently; they yell at me or scold me because of their own unawareness about health. Still they are our people, aren’t they?
How do you maintain the roles of being a busy housewife, mother and volunteer?
I am glad that I have a husband who understands me. He helps me a lot in my duties. He used to transport me around the village on his motorbike and he will sometimes carry messages to other mothers. More importantly, he will not blame me for not being home all the time. There are instances where I haven’t been able to prepare food for him and when I request that he cook for our family. My eldest son also helps with my household work. So, I have fewer responsibilities than some women.
What is the impact Medical Teams International has made on your life?
Health facilitators at a training session. (Photo by Kecia Bertermann)
I am so fortunate to be part of the community activities conducted through this project. Working with Medical Teams International has changed my life. Earlier, I was just another woman helping the public health midwives. Now, it is much different. I have learned a lot at the various trainings, teachings and sessions. I am being valued as an expert by many other community members and I think there has been some recognition for what I do.
For example, the temple priest wants to discuss matters with me, the school principal talks to me, the public health midwife values me more, and the community knows that I am making an impact. I have learned so much and have changed a lot.
Life before “health facilitator”
When Medical Teams International began implementing a community health program in Uhana in 2007, our staff recruited Ranjini as a health facilitator. “She was one of the outstanding health facilitators chosen,” says Dr. Alam.
She volunteered previously with the public health midwives, but never received any formal training. Ranjini didn’t have input on health-related decisions at the community level either, despite all the time and effort she devoted to her work.
“Many of our volunteers have similar stories,” Dr. Alam says. There are 25 women just like her working as health facilitators in Uhana right now. Many of them have volunteered for several years—dedicating all of their free time to the well-being of their village.
Our health facilitators know the needs and desires of the women they serve intimately because they are the same as their own. The women they work with are their mothers, sisters, cousins, neighbors and friends.
Through the Medical Teams International training courses, the health facilitators have become powerful "change agents in the community," says Dr. Alam.
Since the project launched in 2007, Ranjini and her fellow facilitators have attended several different types of health trainings. They received training in 13 health-related topics like breastfeeding, nutrition, hygiene and disease prevention.
Mothers and children are the ultimate beneficiaries of our community health project in Uhana. (Photo by Kecia Bertermann)
Medical Teams International's health communication skill trainings also teach the women how to share key child nutrition and health messages with local mothers effectively. They form groups in their respective health areas and meet often.
"Each woman networks with as many as 200 mothers in their own health area," says Dr. Alam. That means that by the end of the project, they will have built and worked within a network of more than 5,000 mothers in Uhana—a subdistrict of about 50,000 people. Most importantly, these women trust the health facilitators and take their knowledge to heart.
“She knows us better than anyone else," say the women who know Ranjini. "She understands our responsibilities, like paddy field work, schooling children, having husbands and household duties."
"Ranjini is always friendly, speaks very kindly and is very close to us, even at night," say others.