A Resourceful Woman Advocates for Her Community

{Photo credit: Alison Baggen}Solange with her young son and 10-month-old daughter, envisions a healthier future for her town and is working for the betterment of all who live there.Photo credit: Alison Baggen
The USAID Mikolo Project trained 120 women in 111 villages on leadership and gender equality to serve as leaders of women’s groups around the country, and one very resourceful and hard-working individual stands out for her dedication to her community. The village of Masiakakoho in the commune of Tataho lies only a few kilometers north of the town of Manakara in southeast Madagascar, however that distance becomes far more than just a physical obstacle when the village is cut off from simple medical resources and information. Solange Hélène is a 27-year-old mother of two who has been trying to develop her community of Masiakakoho and further her own knowledge so she can be a better resource for them. 
 
In 2013 Solange was elected president of a Village Savings and Loans Association which still operates today with 22 members. These groups are now known as Savings and Internal Lending Communities (SILC) under the USAID Mikolo Project. Using this position as a launching point she joined a beekeeping association in Manakara and encouraged others in her group to do the same so they could make money with a local honey exporter and improve their living conditions. 
 
She was trained with the USAID Mikolo Project in 2015 as a women’s group leader (a group also successfully operating today with 25 members). She used this platform to start sensitizing and mobilizing the community members on healthy living and the importance of utilizing the local health center. During this time she did all she could without proper health worker training; she sought out new information, helped weigh and track nutrition status of babies, instructed parents to take their children to the health center for vaccines and when sick, encouraged women to complete prenatal consults and give birth at the health center, and helped the village President and local CHV Roger Randriantsontso treat sick children.
 
“The health center is far and people here were not used to going when they needed to, I wanted to provoke community members into realizing the awful health conditions we were in, and that we needed a change.” - Solange Hélène
 
The health center in the commune of Tataho (8 km on a rough footpath from Masiakakoho) used to not even have regular stock of medicine due to lack of buyers, and those who did want to buy medicine bought it at pharmacies without consultation of a health professional, often wasting money or even worsening their medical condition. Children often died of preventable diseases, malaria especially, as well as diarrheal diseases, pneumonia, and simple colds. Solange credits her initial interest in community health to two people in her life. Although neither were health workers, they believed in the progression of their community and encouraged others to do the same, they sought out proper health care for themselves and their children, a difficult task in a village with limited health resources.
 
Solange became a trained, USAID Mikolo CHV in 2016 and began treating children. She still holds monthly meetings with her women’s group during which they discuss health topics, such as family planning, clean water, and vaccines. Her SILC group meets weekly, continuing to increase their savings and self-sufficiency. She wants to continue to seek opportunities to learn and gain experience, whether from coworkers, health professionals, or projects like USAID Mikolo. 
 
Already a huge drop in child mortality has been seen, as well as a visible shift in how community members view the health center and how to protect their family’s health. Roger believes if she continues her path, the village of Masiakakoho will see sustainable development and a healthy population that utilizes their resources. Solange demonstrates to her groups and her entire community that women have the power to change the world around them.