In the pastoral woredas of the South Omo Zone, the Hailemariam & Roman Foundation (HRF) has been dedicatedly implementing a Maternal and Child Health Program for the past three years. With a primary focus on improving maternal and child health services. The Foundation, in collaboration with the local government bodies, has taken a comprehensive approach to address the challenges associated with home deliveries in these pastoral areas.

Through community engagement and awareness-building efforts, the HRF has successfully created a sense of ownership among the community regarding the importance of enhanced skilled birth attendance (SBA). The community has embraced the message and actively mobilized expectant mothers to deliver at health posts and centers, where skilled healthcare professionals can provide essential care. Furthermore, the community has also played a pivotal role in the construction of Maternal Waiting Homes (MWHs). In these intervention areas, there are 11 Health Centers (HC), with 9 of them having MWHs constructed through community engagement. These homes serve as safe and comfortable spaces for expectant mothers to reside in the days leading up to their delivery, ensuring proximity to healthcare facilities. While significant progress has been made in promoting SBA, the unavailability of food in the MWHs has posed a challenge for expectant mothers in this HC. Shanko Health Center, located in Hamer Woreda, has emerged as the best performing HC that effectively integrates deliveries with MWHs.

The Shanko Health Center, effective integration of deliveries with Maternal Waiting Homes (MWHs) in Hamer Woreda is undoubtedly commendable, representing a crucial step towards improving maternal and child health outcomes in the region. However, the challenge of food unavailability in the MWHs presents a significant barrier to the comprehensive care and well-being of expectant mothers utilizing these facilities.

Recognizing the challenges of food shortage in the MWHs, the HC management team made a decision to utilize the spacious idle farmland within the HC compound as a resource for addressing food shortages in the Maternal Waiting Homes (MWHs) is a proactive and commendable approach to ensuring the well-being of expectant mothers and their unborn children.  The decision to convert the idle farmland into a productive resource was driven by the understanding that proper nutrition is vital for expectant mothers during their stay at the MWHs. By providing nutritious food, the HC aims to ensure the well-being of both the mothers and their unborn children. With the support of the HC staff and the leadership of the Head of the HC, the decision was implemented, and a small farm was established to provide food for the expectant mothers in the MWHs. The active participation of HC staff, many of whom have farming backgrounds, underscores their dedication to the well-being of the community they serve. By willingly engaging in farm activities and leveraging their agricultural expertise, the staff members demonstrate a strong sense of commitment and ownership towards the initiative. Borrowing oxen and farm equipment from local farmers further exemplifies the spirit of collaboration and partnership within the community, fostering mutual support and solidarity.

Mr. Sanbeto Ekulle, a dedicated staff member at Shanko Health Center, has shared the progress made in response to the intervention by the HRF in the area. While there was initially an encouraging  increased number of pastoral mothers choosing to give birth at the health center, the subsequent decline in numbers due to a shortage of food in the Maternal Waiting Homes (MWHs) highlights a critical issue that needs to be addressed to sustain positive outcomes.

To address this issue, they reported the situation to the Zonal Health Department and partnered with the HRF. The advocacy conference organized by the HRF in collaboration with the Zonal Health Department served as a catalyst for mobilizing the community and fostering a collective commitment to addressing the food shortage issue.  According to Mr. Sanbeto, this conference provided valuable insights on mobilizing the community and utilizing available resources to tackle the pressing issues at the health center. “Following the conference, a management meeting was conducted, during which all we made a commitment to finding a solution to the food shortage in the MWHs. We then decided to engage both the staff and the community in farming the idle land within the HC compound as a means to address the issue effectively,” he added.

The staff members’ commitment to the initiative at Shanko Health Center is truly commendable, and their adoption of the slogan “Our food from our garden/field” reflects their dedication to ensuring the well-being of expectant mothers in the Maternal Waiting Homes (MWHs). By actively engaging in farming activities, they aim to ensure that expectant mothers have access to nutritious food during their stay at the MWHs.

The “Our food from our garden/field” initiative at Shanko Health Center stands as a shining example of the transformative power of community-driven approaches in healthcare. This initiative, driven by the dedication and commitment of staff members, exemplifies the profound impact that collaboration, innovation, and a shared sense of purpose can have on addressing healthcare challenges. The success of the “Our food from our garden/field” initiative at Shanko Health Center serves  as an inspiration for other healthcare facilities and communities facing similar challenges.  By coming together with a shared sense of purpose, healthcare providers, community members, and stakeholders can create positive change and improve health outcomes for all.

Hailemariam & Roman Foundation

April 2024, South Omo