Rural Health and Women’s Leadership in Lusaka, Zambia

Rural Health and Women’s Leadership in Lusaka, Zambia

Now in the final months of their placements in Lusaka, Zambia, Emma and Stephen Yates have contributed on two fronts to the Palms Vision. Stephen, a Senior MO, gives his account of the challenges faced by a fledgling referral hospital team – including fears should the Ebola epidemic spread –  while Emma speaks of her experience assisting the the Zambia Episcopal Conference’s commitment to gender equality and advancing the participation of women. Emma writes.

As always, one of the highlights of my work in the Women in Governance (WIG) Programme is monitoring the implementation and impact of the programme in the five dioceses where we are working. In the third year of the programme we can see that it is having a significant impact in attaining the goal of increasing women’s participation in leadership and decision making in the Catholic Church in Zambia. For example, in 14 of the 15 parishes where monitoring has been done so far this year, the proportion of women in parish council executive leadership positions is now 50% or more.

Over the last few months we have been dealing with some difficult programme management and accountability issues, and working out how to do that best within both Zambian and Catholic Church cultures has been challenging. My role has come to involve institutional, as well as individual, capacity building. I have been instrumental in establishing guidelines for the financial management of the WIG programme at national and diocese level and in driving a process for the development of a Workplace Gender policy for the Catholic Secretariat.

This week we held a 2 day Review and Planning meeting, where we started to develop the programme proposal for 2015. In the past WIG National Office staff have come up with a draft proposal which the implementing dioceses then comment on. This year Catherine and I decided to do the whole thing with them from scratch, building on training done in late 2013. We spent hours trying to get consensus on just one of the objectives for next year, as everyone wanted to give their input. A very slow process, but I was delighted to get feedback at the end like “For the first time I understand that when I am planning activities I always have to remember the objectives of the programme” and “You (National Office staff) have really listened to our concerns. It will be so much easier for me now to explain the programme to people in the parishes because I really understand it better too.” The processes we use in the programme have become so much more participatory, building ownership and hopefully also sustainability when the funding ends. Very satisfying to see and be part of!

Stephen writes:

The development of Cardinal Adam Hospital continues, though slowly. The inpatient ward is nearing completion, and may be opened by the end of October, which will result in a significant expansion of services. I have found being at Cardinal Adam a challenge in terms of the low volume of work, but thankfully our host organization has graciously allowed me the opportunity to offer my services to the national hospital (University Teaching Hospital), and to the University of Zambia Medical School. I have also spent several weeks this year working in a small mission hospital, providing relief for the volunteer Italian doctor; working as a rural doctor in Australia has been valuable preparation for working in the Zambian bush, though of course the spectrum of common diseases is different!

The end of our two years is approaching, and I am reflecting on the challenges of my Palms placement in Zambia. Resources are very limited, which have slowed the pace of developing a new service. I am quite a goal-orientated person, with a focus on the job at hand. This approach is in marked contrast to the relational focus of my Zambian co-workers, who are also more accustomed to the slower pace of getting things done, as well as more philosophical when it comes to the setbacks and delays.

As we write this newsletter, reports of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa dominate the news, highlighting the vulnerability of this region to health threats that spiral out of control due to weak health systems and poor resources. Zambia and other countries in sub-Saharan Africa continue to need any assistance to develop better health systems. The Palms approach has been to partner with an indigenous organisation, which sets the agenda. Hopefully, longer term objectives are then developed that will better meet needs in the long run.
It helps to remember that I am not setting the agenda, and that my role is to work with the locals, with the resources at their disposal, to accomplish in their own time something of perhaps more lasting value.