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From volunteer to aspiring health worker: Community Educators from CARE's local partner in actio

Bunthoeun, 27, has been working with Indigenous Peoples’ Health Improvement Association (IPHIA), CARE’s local partner in Mondul Kiri, for the past five years.

A member of the Phnong ethnic minority, he has always been an active member of his village. Bunthoeun began his education efforts with fellow villagers as a member of the Village Health Support Group (VHSG). Connecting his community with the local health centre, he conducted health awareness sessions and gathered people when health centre staff visited to perform vaccinations. Bunthoeun says he was motivated to volunteer for this role by a desire to help people improve their knowledge about their health and to access their rights, as some of the indigenous population can find it difficult to access healthcare services.

His commitment to this led Bunthoeun to gain his position as a community educator with IPHIA. Now he is the one training the VHSGs on topics such as malaria prevention, the symptoms of tuberculosis, good hygiene practices and their rights as clients of the health centre. This includes conducting meetings for the Community Score Card, where feedback from the community is shared with health centre staff to improve the services available. He is also responsible for keeping records of these activities and sharing this data with the team.

Bunthoeun says that his work can sometimes be challenging. Not all the VHSGs are as motivated as he was so he puts a lot of effort into making his training with them as effective as possible. However, these efforts are rewarded by the satisfaction he feels when his activities go well―he says his best day at IPHIA was at the end of a three-day training on malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS where all the participants had remained really engaged and he felt he had really had an impact on their knowledge and understanding.

Having received training from CARE not only on health topics but also key skills like communication and facilitating meetings, Bunthoeun has also been able to continue to improve his own knowledge. His aim is to become a nurse or health worker himself and is currently savings hard for his studies. Perhaps one day he will be running the health centre and able to implement improvements from within Cambodia’s health system.

CARE’s work is not about replacing local systems or services with externally-managed substitutes or donations. We aim to ensure that community members themselves have opportunities to develop their skills so that they can achieve their goals and ultimately become part of the driving force to improve the services available in their country. Bunthoeun is a great example of how we hope to make that happen.

Chanthai, 22, is a Community Educator for CARE’s local partner in Mondulkiri at Indigenous Peoples’ Health Improvement Association (IPHIA).

An incredibly motivated young lady, Chanthai started her career by volunteering with a local research project before gaining her role with IPHIA over a year ago. She is from the Phnong ethnic minority and her bilingual skills help her to work well with both Phnong and Khmer community members.

Through trainings, meetings, health awareness events and coaching support, Chanthai shares key health knowledge with villager representatives and helps ensure that communities are able to access the healthcare they are entitled to. She is especially proud of the Community Score Card events she has organised. These offer villagers the opportunity to provide feedback on the health services they receive and Chanthai helps to ensure these are addressed through activities like health centre management committee meetings and interface meetings between staff and the community.

Chanthai is very happy she has been able to help health centre staff members commit to make changes. One issue the communities had with visiting the health centre was that they found the user fees to be too high. She has observed that these have now decreased to a more acceptable level following IPHIA’s involvement. Chanthai has also noticed that the attitude of health centre staff has changed so that she feels more welcomed, as do patients.

Her work keeps her very busy; every month Chanthai will head out to remote communities for days at a time, travelling long distances of up to 100km along dirt roads which are very challenging in rainy season. Traversing flooded roads mired in mud on a motorbike may seem daunting to some women, but petite Chanthai takes this all in her stride. She recalls one day when a blocked road meant their two-hour journey was stretched to six and the rainy conditions meant her motorbike slid into the mud multiple times. Undeterred, her dedication and perseverance kept her going to reach their destination.

Chanthai is soon to be married, which in Cambodian culture can often lead women to resign from their jobs to take up responsibilities in the home. However, she is adamant that she will continue working. She aspires to be a manager in the future so she is keen to keep on learning through the projects she works on and by studying to improve her English. In a few years time, it could be motivated women like Chanthai who are leading these programs to improve their health services.

CARE’s work in communities aims to go much further than just improving the services they can access. We aim to develop local leaders such as Chanthai who can then take local organisations such as IPHIA to the next level and ensure the sustainable development of their own country. Chanthai seems ideally placed to become a strong female leader from an ethnic minority group

Bunthoeun and Chanthai’s work at IPHIA is part of CARE’s Health Strengthening Systems project through the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

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