Partnering with Women through Health Education: Q&A with Devina Shah

“A transformed woman is the starting point of change for other women in this community.”

– Rehema Mohammed, SCOPE Care Group Volunteer

Reproductive health is often considered a taboo subject in many communities around the world. And yet, working with key influencers within a community can improve a woman’s understanding of reproductive health and can lead to thriving communities.

World Relief partners with communities to help reduce maternal and child mortality through SCOPE project. Today, Devina Shah, Senior Technical Advisor, shares more about the project and how it is enabling World Relief to go further, connecting more women and children to quality health care.

As we look forward to International Women’s Day on March 8 and Women’s History Month, we are committed to partnering with women through health education and leadership development and to creating lasting change for generations to come.

Can you start by telling us a bit about your background and why you are passionate about this project?

I have been interested in health care since I was young. I was born and raised in Kenya where access to medical care can be limited. I was 14 when my father died suddenly of a heart attack. Due to a lack of outpatient care, we couldn’t get him to the hospital in time. This first formative experience was fundamental to my understanding of health inequalities and accessibility to medical care – I began to understand that access to health care (a basic human right) was highly dependent on geography and socioeconomic status. I wanted to work to change that.

After my family moved to the United States, I went to college and studied biology with dreams of going to medical school. Along the way, I learned about public health and decided to get my Masters in Public Health instead. I really became enthralled with the work. After about a decade of working on global mother-child public health programs in various settings, I returned to school to pursue a degree in nursing. I spent time on the labor and delivery floor, assisting midwives and obstetrician-gynecologists with deliveries, before returning to global public health. I now work as a birth doula a few times a year, supporting women giving birth in the hospital and providing prenatal and postpartum support.

For me, the SCOPE project really brings together all my passions from clinical and public health backgrounds to ensure that women and children in remote areas of the world have equitable access to quality health services.

It’s incredible. So what is SCOPE and why is it so important?

SCOPE stands for Strengthening Community Health Outcomes Through Positive Engagement. This is a five-year project funded by YOU SAID. In Haiti, Kenya, Malawi and South Sudan, 170,000 maternal and child deaths occur every year. The SCOPE project addresses this problem by helping to reduce preventable maternal and child deaths and illnesses.

SCOPE fills an important need because community health is an essential part of the primary care continuum to meet people’s health needs. The extension of preventive, promotional and curative health services to communities is essential to ensure access to quality primary care.

Much of World Relief’s work is carried out in partnership with local religious and community leaders. As part of the SCOPE project, we work through community groups such as care groups, men’s groups and couples’ groups to bring people together to disseminate evidence-based information on reproductive, maternal, neonatal and infant.

We also train religious leaders who are influential actors within their respective communities to convey the same messages. Finally, we are building the capacity of community health workers, like Rehema, to counsel and deliver effective services within their respective communities.

Rehema is a SCOPE Care Group promoter in Kajiado, Kenya. Reproductive health and family planning have long been taboo subjects in her community. But, as a young mother with a degree in community and social development, Rehema has become a trusted voice in her community. After receiving training through World Relief’s SCOPE project, Rehema began mobilizing women to share key lessons on maternal and child health. Today, these women are mobilizing more other women in their neighborhood to share what they have learned.

Rehema leads a care group for young mothers in Kajiado.

This project was launched in 2020. Has COVID-19 affected any of our planned programs?

Yes. COVID-19 has delayed some of our activities. But we were able to pivot and find other ways to implement our planned programs by holding meetings outdoors, limiting training class sizes, ensuring physical distancing, etc. We were also able to easily integrate COVID-19 prevention messages into our existing programs, and thus help flatten the pandemic curve in the geographies where we operate. Because World Relief is a community-based organization, hiring local staff on the ground, we were able to reach people in hard-to-reach remote areas with key messages about COVID prevention.

If you could only share one thing about this project to get people excited, what would it be?

As a mother, I always remember the woman giving birth in her village. As I breastfeed my own 16 month old baby, I think of the mother breastfeeding her baby. I think of the family who worries that their child is sick or not growing well. Or the couple wondering how to avoid the next pregnancy so they can focus on their current family. These realities and concerns are not unique to families in the United States. These concerns are universal.

World Relief does incredible community health work, reaching communities that other organizations don’t reach. This kind of basic last mile work is tough. Community work in hard-to-reach rural communities requires ingenuity, local solutions, and teams that persevere and work hard in often challenging circumstances and terrain. By building long-term partnerships with local faith communities and local leaders, World Relief is able to create real, lasting change for mothers and their children. We invite you to join us to learn more about what SCOPE does and how you can partner with us!

guessed Shah, MPH, RN is Senior Technical Advisor at World Relief and Technical Lead for a USAID-funded RMNCH project in four countries. With a focus on family planning and maternal and child health programs, Devina’s 15-year career in global health has included a variety of settings both international and U.S. Devina graduated from a MPH from Boston University School Public Health, BS in Biology from the University of Florida, and a BSN (Nursing) from George Mason University. She grew up in Mombasa, Kenya and is fluent in four languages: Swahili, English, Gujarati and Hindi. Her biggest job is wife to her gentle, gentle giant of a husband, and mother to a 4-year-old, 16-month-old daughter – all of whom teach her new things every day!

Rachel Claire is a content manager at World Relief. Alongside an incredible team of marketing colleagues, she manages the curation and creation of written and multimedia content for World Relief’s global platforms. With over 10 years of experience creating content for churches and nonprofits, she is passionate about developing content that challenges individuals and communities to lean on all those God created them. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Stephens College and is currently pursuing a Spiritual Training Certificate at the Transforming Center in Wheaton, Illinois.

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