Discovery, Motivation and Possibility

Last week I was in Angola, in southern Africa, visiting our field programs. Child mortality rates in Angola are among the highest in the world, with almost one child in five not surviving to age five . The major causes of death for these children include malaria, diarrhea, respiratory infections and neonatal problems compounded by low birth weights.

Since 2007, Episcopal Relief & Development and NetsforLife® have been working with the Anglican Diocese in Angola to reduce childhood illness and mortality through malaria prevention, and clean water and sanitation programs.  In January 2011 Episcopal Relief & Development also teamed up with the Angolan União das Mães (Mothers’ Union) on a new child survival approach that focuses not simply on education, but also on creating sustainable behavior change.

This approach is based on a belief that real behavior change, that moves people from reflection to action, requires a combination of discovery, motivation and possibility. 

  • Discovery of information from a person’s own experiences, reflections and participation in discussion.
  • Motivation to act from her or his internal examination of what is important and why.
  • Possibility to create change from the person’s recognition and respect for the resources (e.g., ideas, skills, relationships, and materials) he or she already has.
Using this approach, and building upon the premise that public health depends on everyone’s participation, the Mothers’ Union is enabling women to keep themselves and their families healthier through joining community-based learning groups. 

I met a woman named Inês who belongs to a learning group in Viana, a municipality of Luanda, where sprawling informal urban settlements grew during Angola’s 27-year-long civil war. Given the lack of formal water and sanitation systems in these areas, good hygiene and potable water are major challenges. Inês and her group have not only discovered together the importance of treating their drinking water to prevent diarrhea and other waterborne diseases, but they are also taking action to start a group savings and revolving fund initiative to support their purchase of water-treatment products.

The Mothers’ Union is mobilizing its members to create such learning groups, typically including seven to 10 women from their neighborhood or wider community.  These groups become the place where women discuss, debate and discover important child and public health issues, become motivated to take action, and then work together to affirm and employ their existing resources to create possibilities and change. 

Just since January, the Mothers’ Union members have already mobilized 654 learning groups – including over 4,700 women – in both Luanda, the capital city, and the northern province of Uige, which has very high rates of malaria. 
Like Inês’ group, other groups across the program are working within the context of their own family and community situations, identifying and acting on possibilities. Women are collaborating to overcome individual impediments to child health such as poor water and waste disposal systems, as well as to protect good health through the use of formal health services and adherence to vaccination schedules.
Through their recognition of the importance of discovery, motivation and possibility, the Mothers’ Union in Angola is creating spaces where women’s existing knowledge and skills are being affirmed and exchanged, and where women are working in solidarity to ensure the survival of their children and better public health for all.

Tammi Mott is a Program Officer at Episcopal Relief & Development.

Photo: Inês (center) shows her children, Agusto and Marlene, how to stay healthier through proper hand washing.