CHANJAVU, Democratic Republic Of The Congo — When faced with an increased incidence of waterborne diseases, a health center in the village of Chanjavu, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, took a novel approach to addressing the issue by promoting a local discourse on health.
“For efforts to be sustainable, we knew that many people had to be involved in the conversation about health, including causes of illnesses” says Alexis Powe Kindi, a clinician who has been supporting the health center established by Bahá’ís in the South Kivu region of the country.
“The management committee of the health center,” he continues, “consulted with the village chief and the Bahá’í Local Spiritual Assembly to identify people who could be trained to promote a discourse on health at the local level.” Thirteen people were trained last year as health educators, each of whom has been creating discussion spaces for large groupings of families to consult together on health-related issues.
Elizabeth Balibuno, one of the health educators trained by the clinic, describes the effects of these conversations on the well-being of the village. “We all see the changes. The riverbanks are being kept clean, which has improved water quality and led to a reduction in cases of waterborne diseases since June.”
As more people participate in the discussion spaces—while maintaining safety measures put in place by the government—other collective initiatives in the village of Chanjavu are emerging. For example, scores of people recently came together to improve a three-kilometer stretch of road used by an ambulance from a nearby hospital.
Health educators have also been instrumental in raising awareness about the coronavirus, including by facilitating meetings where critical information is shared.
Mr. Powe comments on the growing capacity of the community to consult on health-related matters: “The structure of family groups and health educators is stimulating a local discourse about health among a growing number of inhabitants of the village. The community has found that the most potent tool for improving its overall health includes not only access to certain medicines or technologies, but also the ability to read its own reality and consult as a community in order to enact solutions.”
Leon Karma, chief of the village, reflects on these developments, stating: “These efforts are creating a new consciousness about health. Indeed, we want the number of health educators to increase.”
Joséphine Tshiova Tshibonga, another health educator trained by the clinic, explains how patterns of community life—such as reflecting, praying, consulting, and acting together—fostered over the decades through educational efforts of the Bahá’ís of the region have enhanced these health-related initiatives.
“When we gather, we look at certain themes such as understanding the causes and symptoms of illness and child nutrition. These gatherings have also become a space where we pray together and reflect about broader societal issues, including the equality of women and men.”
Further commenting on the broader effects of community-building efforts in Chanjavu, Mashiyyat Bulonda Roussa, a member of the Bahá’í Local Spiritual Assembly, states: “I see that unity and collaboration are evident in our community of Chanjavu. We meet and gather together, we work together without religious or tribal prejudice, and we are also in collaboration with the chief of our locality. By being united the community has been able to take charge of its own well-being.”