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Inspired by Real Heroes

When we listen to the news, read the papers, or follow social media, we hear so much about people committing atrocious crimes against each other. But going to a rural health facility that has too few personnel for the number of people it serves has reminded me that there are still good people in this world—people who help others without even being paid. 

During the data collection process for a formative assessment of community health services in Zambia I came across many such volunteers.

When these projects ended, the incentives ended with them, and most volunteers stopped delivering the services. But not all of them stopped.

Some were first recruited by organizations leading projects designed to help solve one health problem or another that needed volunteers to help. The projects trained these volunteers and often provided some form of incentive for the work. But when these projects ended, the incentives ended with them, and most volunteers stopped delivering the services.

But not all of them stopped. One lady I met had been a volunteer for over 20 years. Her children all work in the medical field. She never finished primary education, but this didn’t stop her from helping pregnant women and mothers in her community. She has been trained by different organizations on maternal health and has helped women understand the importance of delivering their babies in a health facility. Even though she is not a professional health worker like her children, she is still helping women.In community after community we found individuals like her who continued the work. Most were women and of the older generation. As they worked, they saw the health status and quality of health care in their communities improve. They saw how their efforts helped the professional health workers, who were no longer so tired and overworked.  

These are the reasons most of the volunteers we interviewed gave when we asked why they continued to help. Most have to walk miles to serve their communities and sometimes move at night to take women in labor to the health facility. In most cases, they do not have transportation or even torches to light the way. In the rainy season, they do not have gumboots or rain coats, but still they do the job. This is dedication beyond measure.

This is dedication beyond measure.

These are the heroes of this world. Most of them are never appreciated or given that pat on the back for a job well done, but every day, they come back to work for the love of their communities, often at the expense of their own needs.We must appreciate and recognize these individuals. We also must make sure they have materials and equipment that can help them execute their duties better and with ease. That would go a long way.

Thank you, volunteer community health workers, for being who you are and for caring for others.   

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