Submitted by Rachelle Milam
Lately I've been reading a book by Barbara Kingsolver about a family working in the Congo in the 1960's, and as I've been reading it, I've been reminded of one of the challenges that we face when we try to teach people in Ghana about health care. One of the problems the man faced when originally trying to reach out to the villagers was in his use of their language - one word that he used over and over in their language meant "beloved" or "wonderful"...however, the same word in a different tone meant "poisonwood tree", a tree that would make a person sick just by touching it. So instead of convincing the people that the changes he wanted to bring about were wonderful and good for them, he was telling them that these changes were like the poisonwood tree...a terrible mix-up to make when trying to gain the trust of the people you want to work with!
When I read this, I was reminded of some of the things we here at MoM have to consider when we're reaching out to people. It's not uncommon here to find that a parent has, in all good intentions and faith, slapped cow dung onto their child's wound and thought that was sufficient in treating it. To many of them, germs are a thing unheard of, so there's not reason why cow dung shouldn't work in healing if it covers up the wound. When trying to give new information to communities about sicknesses or wound treatment, the first and last thing that is considered is communication. Is what we're telling them very different from what they already do? Do we understand why they use the practices that they do? Has our information been communicated in such a way that those who may have a limited understanding of English might be able to understand? Has it been checked for cultural consideration? Before our last drop, when talking about nausea, we had used the phrase "sick to your stomach" at first. However, after showing it to some locals on the airfield, we discovered that this is not a phrase used in Ghana and might be misunderstood. Knowing that, we were able to reword it using terms and phrases that those in the communities could understand.
This is just one of the steps in reaching communities with information, but it is vital. If people cannot understand why we're telling them to do or not do certain things, and if they don't understand how we're telling them to change their practices, they might be less inclined to believe that what we've told them will really help them and their communities. If a person in a village has no concept of germs, what reason has he to believe that cleaning a wound and bandaging it properly will produce any different results than just slapping cow dung on it? This is why what MoM does is so important - many people in these communities simply don't know there are ways that they can improve the health of their families. They don't realize that it doesn't take a doctor to practice good health. This is why we do what we do. We're trying to change their ways of thinking about public health one community, one family, one person at a time.