A Peer Educator in Rural Malawi
Emily Njerengo is a peer educator in rural Malawi. She is living with HIV; she lost her two children and husband to AIDS-related illnesses. Emily credits a safe motherhood support group with having helped her move past her grief and find a purpose educating and counseling other women. She was trained by the Foundation for Community and Capacity Development (FOCCAD), a community-based organization that receives technical assistance from the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF).
“I visit several women of childbearing age each week,” says Emily. “I speak with them about how they can ‘live positively’ with HIV, and particularly about PMTCT [prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV], with the intention of sensitizing them on the long-term implications of the virus while emphasising the availability of treatment.
“FOCCAD helps us peer educators in our efforts by providing our clients with transportation to health centres and ensuring that the process is consistent.
“Agatha is one of my clients. She is an HIV-positive woman who has been through two home [births]. It took me five visits before she finally accepted the value of testing and counselling, so my friendly perseverance was crucial.
“As a peer educator interested in ensuring the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, I assist women like Agatha through the duration of the maternity process, from referring them to a doctor and ensuring their strict compliance with antiretroviral therapy, to assisting them through the process of breastfeeding and post-natal care.
“Maintaining comprehensive records helps me in scheduling my days, particularly in the light of the long distances I have to travel on foot. I can see up to two women every day.
“Apart from my job as a peer educator, I also engage in farming and operating a small eatery business that sells fritters. This is necessary because that my job as a peer educator is completely voluntary and I earn no income from it. This is worth it because it means I can share essential life-saving information with my community. It allows me to play my part in curbing the spread of HIV/AIDS, ensuring the community’s survival through future generations.
“I think of my late husband every day, and regularly say a prayer for him; it is in his memory that I dedicate myself to this work, in the hope that each of the people I touch can be saved from a similar demise.”
Rural women, the majority of whom depend on natural resources and agriculture for their livelihoods, make up over a quarter of the total world population. The first International Day of Rural Women was observed on October 15, 2008. This day is meant to recognize “the critical role and contribution of rural women, including indigenous women, in enhancing agricultural and rural development, improving food security and eradicating rural poverty.”
Rural women are key agents for achieving the transformational economic, environmental and social changes required for sustainable development. But limited access to credit, health care and education are among the many challenges they face, which are further aggravated by the global food and economic crises and climate change. Ensuring their empowerment is key not only to the well-being of individuals, families and rural communities, but also to overall economic productivity, given women’s large presence in the agricultural workforce worldwide.