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September 19, 2014

Volunteering with VSO: good for Ethiopia

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Susan Davies Jones, midwife and VSO volunteer

VSO Ireland’s Donnacha Maguire examines how Irish volunteers can begin ‘The Ripple Effect’, whereby local communities can upskill and end their dependence on external assistance.

Ethiopia is an inspiring and ancient nation close to the Eastern Horn of Africa. The only African nation to largely escape being colonised (apart from Mussolini’s occupation from 1936-41), its people are proud and resilient and eager to develop their own communities for the better.

Since 1996, Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) has been working in partnership with local Ethiopian organisations and the federal government to build capacity in the areas of health and education provision.

VSO volunteers continue to spend time away from their homes in Ireland, sharing ideas, skills and experiences with local Ethiopian partners with a view to ending poverty and fighting the factors that cause it.

With a population in excess of 85 million, Ethiopia faces significant health capacity problems. VSO is working to ensure that every woman in Ethiopia has access to a qualified midwife at the birth of her child.

At present, there is one midwife for every 20,000 women of reproductive age and VSO has agreed with the Ethiopian authorities regarding a 10-year plan to train 8,635 midwives, 233 anaesthetists and 820 obstetricians.

Maternal health

Susan Davies Jones is a midwife and VSO volunteer working in one of 20 new universities established in the past five years. Specialising in training local midwives in best practice, she has been responsible for training more than 250 local midwifery students.

In her 18 months on placement, Susan has designed and facilitated a new community midwifery programme for 4th-year students and developed a demonstration room to aid learning. “VSO has allowed me to use my clinical skills in a country where there is so much to do. My work here is ensuring that future generations of Ethiopians will have better maternal healthcare outcomes and fewer women will lose their lives during childbirth. As a midwife, this is why I do it,” she explained.

In urgent need

Earlier this year, VSO signed agreements with the Regional Health Bureaus in Tigray Province in North Eastern Ethiopia and in the Souther Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region in the South West to provide experienced health professionals for its programmes. They urgently need, not just midwives like Susan, but also paediatricians, anaesthesiologists, gynaecologists and nurses, along with health managers.

“VSO works differently to other development organisations. We believe that by sharing the skills and experiences of Irish volunteers with local people, we begin what we call ‘The Ripple Effect’ — the process by which knowledge and ideas are multiplied in communities and countries, resulting in the building of local capacity and the ending of dependence on external assistance,” commented VSO Ireland Director Nick Gallagher.

“At present, 40 per cent of VSO Ireland volunteers in Ethiopia are working on health programmes and this is due to increase to more than 60 per cent by mid-2014, when new health programmes go on-stream. We need more people like Susan Davies Jones to share their skills and experiences with Ethiopian health professionals and ensure that our vision of equal access to maternal healthcare becomes a reality for millions of Ethiopian women.

“Our volunteers must have at least three years’ post qualification experience and must be willing to work in challenging yet rewarding situations. They receive a local salary and accommodation and have their flights, visas, vaccinations and training paid for by VSO.

“A recent survey by VSO of its returned volunteers has shown us that taking up a volunteering position in the developing world is good for volunteers, as well as the communities they work in. The results were clear, with 57 per cent saying that their professional skills were enhanced as a result of their volunteering activities.

“VSO works at every level of the health system — making use of different professionals such as doctors, nurses and midwives to effect real change. VSO volunteers create a ripple of change in a community that lasts long after they finish their placement,” concluded Gallagher.

• To learn more about opportunities with VSO for health professionals, please look for our recruitment advert in this issue of Irish Medical Times, visit vso.ie or call us on 01 640 1060.