Keeping track of The Road Less Travelled

We are pleased to announce the publication of The Road Less Travelled Annual Report for 2013-14.

Cover of Annual Report

The report provides detailed feedback about the impact of the project in Ethiopia and Kenya, as well as narrative stories of transformation and life-change. Of paramount importance is the engagement with, and benefit for, the most marginalised people within the project communities, especially women.

This is done through a strengths-based approach to community development, in which communities are at the centre of their own development vision and recognise and draw on their existing assets to achieve their development aims.

“People want to live a good life, so they see the value of our work in the community.
The level of knowledge in the community is slowly increasing.
People are beginning to change.”

Cecilia, a Community Health Worker in Longewan, Samburu County, Kenya

Significant progress has been made, with:

  • 2584 additional people having access to sustainable, safe water.
  • 3283 additional people having access to appropriate sanitation.
  • 506 additional people accessing a modern family planning method.
  • 1278 additional children receiving vaccines within the first 12 months of life.
  • 379 child deliveries occurred with a skilled birth attendant present.
  • 317,150 people received vital health education messages around measles, malaria, diarrhea, pneumonia and nutrition.

“Mille hospital has changed the lives of mothers. There is less threat of abnormal presentations and good food is supplied to expectant mothers.”
(Response from a men’s Focus Group Discussion)

You can read the report here: The Road Less Travelled Annual Report 2013-14

The Road Less Travelled: Update

As you are likely aware, this blog has been somewhat dormant over the past few months as we have transitioned its management from Australian Volunteers International (AVI) to the lead project partner, Anglican Overseas Aid.

Changes in Federal Government funding meant that AVI could no longer undertake the communications component of the project. We offer our deep gratitude to AVI, and particularly to Hannah Ford, for the amazing work they have done to run this blog. We highly recommend reading Hannah’s powerful final blog post ‘If these hands could talk’.

We regret that the transition has taken longer than expected, but we are looking forward to sharing a range of new stories over the coming weeks and months.

Of particular note, we recently completed our Annual Report for 2013-14, which outlines the progress made through the project. We will make it available here soon.

Over the coming weeks and months we will be sharing:

  • interviews with voluntary and professional health workers in Kenya
  • an article about cultural shifts among the pastoralists of Ethiopia and Kenya
  • video news stories about our work from National TV in Kenya
  • an article about small steps creating big changes through women’s empowerment
We hope you will continue the journey with us along The Road Less Travelled.

If these hands could talk

I remember gazing at the hands of a traditional birth attendant in pastoralist Laikipia, Kenya, and wondering about the stories they might hold. How many newborns had these hands supported into the world? What challenges had been faced by the women they helped through childbirth, in their remote rural homes far from any health clinic? Beneath the rough and wrinkled surface, how much loss had they absorbed through these experiences?

The hands of a traditional birth attendant in Laikipia County, Kenya.  Image: Hannah Ford / AVI

The hands of a traditional birth attendant in Laikipia County, Kenya. Image: Hannah Ford / AVI

Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest maternal mortality rate, bearing the burden of more than 50 per cent of the world’s maternal deaths. One in 39 women in this region faces the risk of dying in childbirth in their lifetime.

Yet less than half of all mothers in sub-Saharan Africa have the support of a trained midwife, nurse or doctor during childbirth. Even fewer mothers from the marginalised nomadic pastoralist communities of Kenya and Ethiopia have access to skilled birth attendants. While evidence has shown that access to skilled care during pregnancy, birth and post-delivery, is key to saving lives, many women don’t have an option.

For the past two years, I’ve had the privilege of working on The Road Less Travelled project and coordinating this blog. I have learnt so much during this time. As I reflect on my experiences, what stands out to me most is the strength and resilience of the pastoralist communities at the heart of the project – and especially that of the mothers. They want what all women want for their children: the chance to survive and thrive.

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Providing water in Naibor: building businesses in return

This post was written by Loretta Pilla, an Australian volunteer who is currently working in Kenya as a Program Management Officer with Anglican Overseas Aid’s The Road Less Travelled project.

Jchabure Lengunya is a mother of six children between four and 16 years of age. In addition to her family responsibilities, she is also an active member of the Naibor Water Committee. With Jchabure’s youngest child wrapped tightly around her neck, we sit beneath the shade of an acacia tree 50 metres uphill from the recently built rock water catchment in Naibor group ranch, in Laikipia County of Kenya.

“We are now entering the wet season,” she explains, pointing at the vast red clay landscape stretching to the horizon. It is barely flecked with green foliage, with even less houses in between.

Before the water catchment was built the women of Naibor travelled long distances during the wet season to the Naibor open spring to dig for water, and even further during the dry season to the Nanyuki River.

Image: Loretta Pilla / Anglican Overseas Aid

Women of Naibor in Laikipia, Kenya, wait to collect water from the tank at the base of the rock water catchment built by the community with support from The Road Less Travelled project. Image: Loretta Pilla / Anglican Overseas Aid

Jchabure explains that the water committee is responsible for ensuring the sustainable use of water by community members. This is an important role given the pressures the harsh weather conditions and often extended dry seasons can have on water availability.

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Australia-Africa partnership delivers life-saving results

Anglican Overseas Aid is honored to work in partnership with the Australian Government and nine other Australian non-government organisations to deliver a program in Africa that is saving lives and helping communities take control of their futures.

The latest annual report has been released for the Australia Africa Community Engagement Scheme (AACES), now in its second year. Through this scheme, Anglican Overseas Aid delivers The Road Less Travelled project with partners the Afar Pastoralist Development Association in Ethiopia, the Mothers’ Union of the Anglican Church of Kenya, the Nossal Institute for Global Health and Australian Volunteers International.

The AACES Annual Report 2012-2013 is now available on the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) website. It highlights the impressive achievements of the 10 Australian NGOs and their African partners in the program’s second year.

To read the summary or download the report, visit: http://aid.dfat.gov.au/Publications/Pages/aaces-annual-report.aspx

Or read the news feature on the DFAT website here.

AACES Annual Report 2012-2013

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Top tweeting for maternal health

This week, The Road Less Travelled project (@ARLTAfrica) was honoured to be featured on The Huffington Post blog, in a list of 25 Leading Tweeters on Maternal Health.

The author, Jennifer James, is the Founder of Mom Bloggers for Social Good, a global coalition of over 2,000 mothers who care about the world’s most pressing issues.

The organisations and individuals that made Jennifer’s top 25 are united by their efforts in “sharing information that is focused on keeping more mothers alive during and after childbirth.”

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The Afar tradition of disability inclusiveness

Teacher Humaid Said shared his experiences of disability inclusiveness in the Afar community of Ethiopia with Tanya Caulfield of the Nossal Institute for Global Health – Anglican Overseas Aid’s partner in The Road Less Travelled project.

When he was 12, Humaid Said contracted polio and lost the use of his leg.

In many developing countries, Humaid would have been consigned to a life on the margins of his community. People with disabilities are among the poorest and most vulnerable and are often at greater risk of social exclusion.1 This, in turn, reduces their access to education and healthcare, along with opportunities to participate in decision-making and provide for themselves and their families.

But for Humaid, growing up in the rural Afar region of Ethiopia was an entirely different experience that challenges the notion that development work must always teach people about how to include people with disabilities.

The nomadic pastoralists of the Afar have a deeply embedded traditional social support network, and the concept of excluding an individual from family and community life based on their disability is perceived to be counter to Afar cultural laws.

Teacher Humaid says that in Afar culture, people with disabilities are active participants in the community.  Image: Tanya Caulfield / Nossal

Teacher Humaid says that in Afar culture, the community perception is that no one should be treated differently.
Image: Loretta Pilla

“When I was younger, I would see others participating in activities when I couldn’t, so I wished to be like them,” he explained. “But the community perception is that no one should be treated differently – there is a law in Afar tradition not to treat people differently in the family and the clan.”

Despite wishing at times that he had full use of both legs, Humaid said that in Afar culture people with disabilities are active participants in the community and are involved in different ways in socioeconomic activities.

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Community at the core of development

This post was written by Mothers’ Union Project Officers in Kenya, James Senjura (Laikipia) and Sarah Lansanyane (Samburu), and Africa Program Advisor for Anglican Overseas Aid, Phillip Walker.

At the heart of The Road Less Travelled’s (TRLT) community development work in Kenya are the Maasai and Samburu nomadic pastoralists. The project uses a strength-based approach, which is based on the understanding that each community has its own skills and assets, and often unrealised potential, which can assist them in identifying and achieving solutions to the challenges they face. While certain activities require specialist facilitation and access to external expertise, the aim is for all members of a community to become central in making the decisions that affect their lives. This puts them in a position to drive their own development agenda.

In Kenya, the communities TRLT works with have some history of engagement with aid organisations and consequently hold expectations of financial handouts to solve ‘problems’. Previous interventions have mostly, not completely, been based upon an outside agency providing resources and expertise, with the community making a counterpart contribution, usually labor. Any project committee formation has been non-inclusive and short-term; that is, lasting only until the project is completed. Often the existing (predominantly male) power structures have filled the role of a project committee.

For The Road Less Travelled, the formation of inclusive Community Development Committees (CDCs) is a cornerstone of the project. This represents a significant change process in itself for these communities, as for the first time they have an inclusive developmental structure to voice their issues.

Daniela, a TRLT Link Person in Samburu, Kenya, meets with the Community Development Committee twice a month to discuss their development priorities and progress.  Image: Matthew Willman / Anglican Overseas Aid

Daniela, a TRLT Link Person in Samburu, Kenya, meets with the Community Development Committee twice a month discuss their development priorities and progress.
Image: Matthew Willman / Anglican Overseas Aid

Before the CDCs were formed, the TRLT Project Officers visited each community, obtaining permission from authorities and traditional leaders to proceed. They held meetings to discuss the project and its aims, along with the role and function of the committee, and the criteria for its formation. This process culminated in a community wide meeting where the CDC was elected.

At least 40 per cent of the CDC must be women; however this is an inadequate measure, given that cultural norms often result in women remaining silent and deferring to males for key decisions. To combat this, the project team has been working patiently to strengthen the confidence and ability of elected women to take active leading roles, as well as promoting women who already have the confidence to challenge male authority. Literacy training has helped women overcome the constraints that prevent them from being actively engaged when minutes are taken or written materials distributed.

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Reflections on the progress of a partnership

Last month saw the release of the inaugural Annual Report for AusAID’s Australia Africa Community Engagement Scheme (AACES). The Road Less Travelled is being delivered by Anglican Overseas Aid (AOA) as part of this program.

The report is available on AusAID’s website and it highlights the progress made by all the partners in the first year of the program. Our Africa Program Advisor, Phillip Walker, is Chair of the AACES Program Steering Committee. He explains the partnership on the Engage blog, saying:

“AACES is unlike typical grant/donor relationships; it is a partnership agreement between AusAID, 10 Australian NGOs and their African partners. All parties value and support one another to get the best development outcomes in the African countries where we work.

“[It] recognises Australian NGOs’ positive record of working in Africa for some fifty years. Australian NGOs provide unique skills, have a strong base within the communities they work with and are there for the long haul.”

Naatena Lenayora, a mother from the pastoralist community of Samburu, Kenya, where The Road Less Travelled is supporting community-led initiatives to improve the health of women and children. Image: Jay Maheswaran

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Visit to Ethiopia

Afar pastoralists on the move to find water, a scarce resource in the region.
Image: Christof Krackhardt.

Whenever I visit our project partner, the Afar Pastoralist Development Association (APDA), in Ethiopia we undertake a field trip to meet with the communities we are working with. APDA is a community-based organisation which was established by and for the community.  To ensure our joint partnership is successful, it is important to obtain the communities perspective on the effectiveness of The Road Less Travelled project.

On previous journeys we have left APDA headquarters in Logia and, on the road to Djibouti, travelled either northeast or south, into the Afar Desert. Here we meet APDA’s core constituency, the nomadic pastoralists and their family groupings, living in one of the poorest regions, in one of the poorest countries of the world.  Our visits highlight some of the challenges faced by those nomadic communities, and the vulnerabilities associated with a lack of education and resources. This situation is also perpetuated by the difficulties the government and other service providers have in reaching these minority groups.

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