A song to empower

Nsipe, Malawi — Bibiyana Leo and her granddaughter sit on a straw mat outside of her home in Nsipe. The coos of her doves and the rustle of drying tobacco leaves provide an evening serenade to their quiet moment together. Earlier in the day, it was Leo who was providing a song, humming and singing as she completed chores and attended community meetings. Leo was married at 16 years old.

Unfortunately, Leo’s story is not uncommon in Nsipe. To change this, the Nsipe community members, health providers and district government embarked on the Community Score Card process. Through this process they have jointly identified and overcome obstacles costing women and newborns their lives.

One issue that community members and health provides identified was that pregnant women and new mothers in Nsipe were not receiving adequate maternal and newborn health support, information and services leading to poor health outcomes. The community decided to take action, forming a Community Action Group.

Leo is the leader of the Community Action Group and spends much of her time visiting and counseling pregnant women and new mothers in her community on healthy behaviors and practices. “I was naïve when I was young, I did things that I regret,” Leo said. “[My] experience motivates me to empower other women as they learn from my mistakes.”

“Community Action Group and Safe Motherhood are helping people to know the number of children they can have so that they can manage feeding them,” Leo said. Family planning is another function of Leo’s role in the community.

Through the Community Score Card process, the community also identified another barrier to good maternal and newborn health outcomes; that women faced financial barriers in accessing and utilizing health services. To solve this problem the community decided to form a Village Loans and Savings Group for women.

“We had agreed that the women should be saving money to be independent,” Leo said. “They should be using the money when going to the hospital and for payment of fees for their children.”

“I am involved in different groups (Community Action Group and Village Savings and Loans Group) to help reach out to women so that they do not go through what I went through when I was young,” Leo said. “Through this work, I hope to be part of a healthier future generation as I pass out knowledge on maternal health.”

VIDEOGRAPHER | Isabella Bartolucci

WRITER | Josie Hollingsworth

CONTRIBUTORS | Telson Magombo and Lyton Chunga