On the Road with Bella Lam
Written By: Tatiana Hayek, JGI Canada Volunteer
Category: From The Field
Following two days of travel, three international flights, a UN helicopter trip and a couple of bumpy car rides, JGI Canada’s Director of Africa Programs Bella Lam finally arrived in the territory of Walikale deep in the forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) last September. Over the next five days, Bella visited communities throughout the area despite roads that had been washed out due to recent heavy rains.
Bella was in eastern DRC to monitor JGI Canada’s Delivering Healthy Futures project, which aims to reduce child and maternal mortality rates in 20 villages that border an important wildlife corridor.
By improving access to health care, JGI Canada is building trusting relationships with local communities. In this way, we engage the people we work with in conservation by raising awareness about the importance of protecting the ecosystems villages depend on. Educating communities about family planning also helps reduce human population growth and associated demands for natural resources. Building healthy communities promotes healthy habitats and wildlife populations.
But these goals aren’t achieved overnight. Two years into the four-year project, Bella traveled to the DRC to check on progress to date, speak with local communities, and plan for the future. In each village, Bella headed for the community’s health centre to meet with staff eager to talk about project plans. Existing local health facilities often serve more patients than they can manage, and are lacking basic supplies and sanitation. Consequently, we are building seven new maternity wards that will be fully stocked and have access to clean water. During Bella’s trip, local contractors broke ground for three of the new maternity wards. People living in the area were so encouraged by this development, they formed groups to help make bricks for construction.
Education and public outreach are also important in building healthy, sustainable communities. Local volunteers are being trained in maternal health and family planning to provide support to the rest of their community.
One woman Bella spoke with Valerie, mother of 3 children living in the village of Mukwanyama and is pregnant with a fourth child, who explained that after learning more about family planning, she realized the importance of child-spacing for the health of both mother and children. She also determined that her family cannot provide for any more children. However, she cannot access birth control without her husband’s permission. Part of our outreach efforts is shifting the conversation about family size so that it includes men and allows for women to have a say in such decisions.
Over the next two years, more maternal wards will be built and, we will be rolling out a new vaccination campaign, which aims to ensure that infants in even the most remote areas receive life-saving vaccines.
Learn more about Delivering Healthy Futures and how saving people, saves chimps.