Pamoja is a Swahili word meaning “together”. Aside from karibu, meaning “welcome”, which without doubt I heard on a daily basis, pamoja is definitely the one word in the East African language that sticks in my mind, after my recent trip to Tanzania. To explain this, I feel that I need to paint a scene.
Imagine that you are in a lecture hall or a conference room with at least 30 people around you. A lecturer or facilitator has just finished her presentation that you deem to be of great quality. The natural response is to applaud – to clap. Right? Well now, I am going to “beam” you to a conference room in Dar es Salaam. With the same great facilitator. The same great presentation. But as your hands move to make that standard clapping motion, everybody else around you stands. One person in the group even moves to take centre stage. It seems that some kind of decision needs to be made – should we make a favourite local meal or should we present a bouquet of flowers?
Confused much? Well you see, what you don’t realise is that a pamoja is about to take place! All you can do is watch, as without inhibition, the group of 30 or so adults enthusiastically mimic picking different types of flowers out of thin air. Roses, carnations, lilies. They are all chosen. Next a ribbon has to be tied around these flowers. Again, 30 pairs of hands move about in the hilarious motion of ribbon-tying. Then with a shout of pamoja from the leader, a single, thunder-cracking clap is made by everyone in the direction of the facilitator, signifying the passing of the flowers from them, to her. A visual thank you and show of appreciation in Africa!
I can tell you this as I have just returned from World Vision’s AIM Health Programme Conference in Dar es Salaam where I not only witnessed but took part in just that. This Learning Event was attended not just by myself from the Dublin office, but also by the AIM Health Programme Co-ordinator (Magnus Conteh) and the Programmes Director (Sheila Garry), as well as by representatives from World Vision and the Ministries of Health from each of our programme countries (Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Mauritania and Sierra Leone). The point of this conference was threefold:
And it was a fantastic occasion. For the enthusiasm of the pamojas flowed seamlessly from each of the participants into the event and it was with great positivity and hopefulness that everyone approached the learning topics. The first of these was the implementation of World Vision’s models that enable Community Health Workers to reach pregnant women and their children (< 2 years) to encourage health related behaviour changes, such as delivering in a health facility in the presence of a trained birth attendant or exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of a child’s life. On top of this, the participants were introduced to the necessary tools to ensure that there is adequate monitoring and reporting of the work being done in the field – for only then can we see and understand the positive downward movement in the numbers of child and maternal deaths that we are striving so hard to achieve. Interactive presentations on these areas were delivered by 2 engaging facilitators, Dr. Beulah Jayakumar (Public Health Consultant and formerly of World Vision India) and Annette Ghee, PhD (Senior Advisor for Monitoring and Evaluation, World Vision Global Centre).
With room for just one positive story to tell, I feel that it has to be Mauritania’s tale. Situated in West Africa, Mauritania is an Arabic and French speaking country that struggles with severe and recurrent droughts that create serious shortages in the supply of food. Our AIM Health team is working in two of our ADPs there and they informed us how they have been successful in training Community Health Workers, who are now out in their communities bringing our health messages directly into the homes of pregnant women and children (<2). While this is exactly what we are hoping to achieve, what is really great is that our Mauritanian team have witnessed that their messages are reaching more pregnant women than initially targeted in their communities and as such, the overall impact of the AIM Health Programme has the potential to be even greater than initially expected!
It was with this feeling of success and expectation that I left Dar es Salaam. Collectively, we learnt so much that we hope will make the AIM Health Programme perform better in the months and years ahead. In fact as one participant said, “This was a very productive meeting and the learning will be shared with other Maternal and Child Health projects.” Now that I am back on Irish soil, I look forward to putting these learnings into practice. But as well as that, I think I might need to instigate some sort of a review of the bualadh bos!
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