Child birth in Sierra Leone is a risky affair – one in 23 women die as a result of pregnancy-related causes.
The West Africa nation has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world and women also suffer from having a low social and economic status.
It’s within this context that the Sierra Leone Red Cross, with support from the British Red Cross, is working with men and women to promote maternal and child health, as well as disease prevention and treatment.
With International Women’s Day on 8 March celebrating the achievements of women from every walk of life, we take a look at how women in Sierra Leone are leading the way to improve health care in rural communities.
The Sierra Leone Red Cross has been running a community-based health programme for more than two decades.
The programme empowers women by giving them the skills and knowledge to prevent disease and ensure a healthy diet for their families.
To help achieve this, the Red Cross created mothers’ clubs to offer an environment in which women can come together to receive the necessary health support from trained Red Cross volunteers.
The success of the mothers’ clubs led to their male counterparts forming fathers’ clubs to encourage men to take part in community health care.
Social customs in Sierra Leone can prevent women from eating a well-balanced diet; usually food is served first to the father and whatever remains to the mother and children.
To overcome this problem and ensure good nutrition for their families, women from the mothers’ clubs work together to grow vegetables and cultivate land.
The Red Cross facilitates this by distributing seeds and tools for backyard gardens, but these are no small patches of land.
Sometimes the gardens cover several acres, making it nearly impossible for one person to manage. So women work together to cultivate the land, sow seeds and harvest crops.
Given the large areas of land, surplus crops are often generated. These can then be sold at market raising money to cover family costs.
The Red Cross has also helped to construct seed banks to store produce and provide seeds for the next planting season.
The project has had several benefits:
- More food is produced, ensuring the availability of food even during rainy season
- The average price of locally produced food is lower
- The nutritional, social and economic status of the women has improved
- The incidence of minor illnesses such as anaemia and malnutrition has reduced
- Women actively participate in decision making processes and are able to contribute to the welfare of their homes
‘Now we eat decent food’
Yei Mamie, 67, from Gibina, explained how the backyard gardens have helped her community.
“We do communal farming in Gibina and participate in the weekly market in Gondama where we sell our harvests and livestock to take care of other family welfare needs,” she said.
“We received cassava cuttings, potato vines, and seed rice. We worked with these on nearly one acre of land and they multiplied.
“We are able to get our daily meals from it for almost the whole year round, particularly during the rains, which was very difficult to do in the past.
“Over the years, we lived on wild yams and forest leaves to prepare our meals when things got bad, but now we eat decent food. Thanks to the Red Cross for giving life to our children.”
Visit our website to find out more about our work in Sierra Leone.