Mien Sothea, 33, has been a Village Health Support Group (VHSG) member for the past nine years. Her role is to help educate villagers about health and act as a link between the community and the local health centre.
For a number of years, Sothea worked with small clusters of 10 people to provide education sessions encouraging good hygiene and providing basic health instruction. She found this very time consuming both in terms of motivating people to attend and devising what topics to cover, as without refresher training her knowledge was limited.
Following CARE’s project to improve the capacity of local health workers, funded by GSK, Sothea has received training to improve her knowledge and increase her confidence when speaking to large groups of people, so she now includes more than 30 people in her sessions. The new flipcharts and training materials provided to her make it easier to educate villagers – these have 12 key messages and she aims to deliver one each month. Sessions cover topics such as: the importance of immunizations; symptoms of diseases such as malaria and dengue; vitamins and nutrition; breast-feeding; and the care of minor ailments in children.
The provision of prizes – in the form of practical sanitation items such as soap – by the project has increased the enthusiasm and motivation of villagers attending these sessions as well as contributed to increasing more washing and cleaning by the community people. This has made it easier for Sothea to gather people to join in and ensures they learn more by participating in the activities with enthusiasm. Sothea has noticed that as community members’ knowledge has increased, they have been more likely to take family members to the health centre when they get sick.
Another aspect of her role as a VHSG member is to bring people to receive vaccinations from visiting health workers. Sothea has found that since the project started, outreach visits from the health centre have been much more regular and reliable and as a result the community has much greater trust in these. Previously, she would gather those due for vaccinations but the outreach staff would not always show up, leading many villagers to become angry at Sothea for wasting their time. Now, villagers have increased confidence that the health workers will attend and she has been coordinating her education sessions with these visits to ensure as many people are reached as possible.
Providing a link between the local people and health workers is vitally important to ensure the relevant health centres are informed about pregnancies, outbreaks of disease and other health concerns within the community which may require medical support. Living within the village and interacting with her neighbors on a daily basis allows Sothea to compile this information more effectively than a visiting health worker and she acts as a focal point for the health centre within the village. The project organizes bi-monthly meetings for VHSG members to meet with health centre staff, offering them the opportunity to discuss the health issues faced by their communities and for medical staff to look for any trends that may need to be addressed.
Although Sothea doesn’t have a high level of education, having dropped out of school at grade 7 after her father died, she is still able to play a vital role within her community by actively encouraging more people to seek the right medical attention when they need it and supporting them to lead a healthier lifestyle.