Grandmother Project Uses Elders to Help Educate Community on Health Issues
There's an Italian proverb that says 'If nothing is going well, call your grandmother.' It's sound advice taken to heart by an American living in Rome. Judi Aubel is tapping into grandmothers to assist community health programs in the developing world. She's recognized the power of older women to help educate the young about health and wellness. Nancy Greenleese has this profile.
However, Aubel is a trained observer, an anthropologist, who spent 20 years of living and working in community health programs in Africa and Southeast Asia. She recalls noting that development programs routinely ignored older women, focusing their attention primarily on the young.
|Laotian women perform a song they learned about how to treat children with diarrhea|
Iyabo Larinde is one of Aubel's close friends and a supporter of The Grandmother Project. The Nigerian woman says her grandmother taught her everything she knows about health and life, from the importance of drinking milk every day to tips on juggling housework with child rearing. She says Aubel recognizes the realities. "The grandparents are the backbone of the family, they are the core of the family in Africa. People listen to them. You listen to the adults."
|Malawi women act out a scene about how to care for the newborn child, as part of a project with Save the Children|
Aubel says the women noticed that they were pushed aside. She recalls a conversation with a Malian grandmother. "She said that when the development workers arrive, before they even get out of the four-wheel drive car, we know who they want to talk to. They want to talk to the young people who've been to school. So automatically that excludes us."
|A Senegalese grandmother holds a calabash to illustrate the lyrics of a song she learned about the importance of feeding nutritious vegetables like this to young children to make them healthy|
In her Rome apartment, Aubel shows off a small gallery of photographs of grandmothers from different cultures, evidence, she says, that older women served by The Grandmother Project are willing to learn and change. "I think all these show the dynamism and the openness of grandmothers."
|A project facilitator plays a board game about health with grandmothers in the village of Olo Ologa, Mauritania|
Sarah Bodian, a Peace Corps volunteer in Senegal, met Aubel by chance in the remote village where she was working. She recently returned to Senegal as a consultant to The Grandmother Project, to discuss the issue of female genital mutilation with older women. Judi Aubel, she says, has respect for the people she's serving, "so rather than just … Judi sitting in a corner office saying 'I think it would be really great if they abandoned female circumcision,' having the ideas come from the people. Which I think is really innovative and valuable. And the people that we worked with thought the same."
But Bodian observes that sometimes, it's difficult to get the women to open up, especially when discussing this controversial practice. Grandmothers, she says, are at the heart of the illegal secretive tradition, often doing the cutting. When Bodian tried to get one Senegalese woman to talk about it, she got a tongue-lashing. "She yelled at me!" she recalls. "That happened at two sites. They said, 'You don't know what I'm talking about, you have no right to take away our practices.' And I was being very non-direct with them, non-judgmental, but they had kind of anticipated us coming in and telling them 'you must abandon this practice.'"
The Grandmother Project knows it will take years of listening, talking and working with grandmothers to eliminate this and many other harmful health practices. Aubel says it's about time the older generation was brought into the discussion. She didn't have to be a grandmother to see that they were being ignored, a point missed even by locals, including a Senegalese nurse. "He said, 'You know it's so sad … because the senior women are part of our families and communities but in our programs — in our community health programs — we've never seen them.' He said 'It's so sad that you had to come from somewhere else to help us see this resource that we had neglected.'"
Judi Aubel and The Grandmother Project have recognized that Grandma knows best. Never the retiring type, she's continuing her efforts to involve grandmothers with trips planned to Senegal and Djibouti.
SOURCE: VOA News
AUTHOR: Nancy Greenleese
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