A Road Taken: Why We Do the Work We Do

The Road Taken, Ethiopia

"2014 and the years beyond it don’t have to mirror our past. They don’t have to mirror our present. Together, we can mould the future that we want to see."

This blog was originally posted on UNAIDS' blog, Daily Development.

From time to time, I’m asked the question, “Why do you do the work that you do?”

In turn, I ask “Why wouldn’t I want to do the work I do?”

The numbers tell part of the story.

If this year looks like the last, 14 million girls will be robbed of their childhood, married before the age of 18. Ten million women will die in childbirth (and mostly of preventable causes). More than 1.6 million people will die of AIDS-related causes. And without access to contraception, 222 million women will be denied the choice of when, whether, if, and how many children to have.

But how can we stay hopeful while taking on such colossal challenges? How can we balance idealism in wanting to make a difference with harsh realities and the need to be pragmatic?

It starts with understanding that 2014 and the years beyond it don’t have to mirror our past. They don’t have to mirror our present. Together, we can mould the future that we want to see.

At Pathfinder, we know that sexual and reproductive health matters. We know that our work means the difference between life and death for millions of people around the globe.

Every day, I am reminded that our work makes a significant difference to people I don’t even know. People who I’ll likely never meet.

Why does that matter?

Because each day spent dedicated to fulfilling Pathfinder’s mission and vision means lives bettered, lives protected, and lives saved. And that’s incredibly satisfying.

In November, I travelled to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for the third International Conference on Family Planning. The energy and dynamism at the conference was palpable.

Going beyond the “usual suspects,” this year’s conference brought together a unique group of advocates, donors, young people, journalists, and world leaders for an open and frank discussion on where we are today and how we can create the world we imagine for tomorrow.

One thing was clear: things are getting better. Together, we are making a difference and creating healthier sexual and reproductive lives for men, women, and young people everywhere.

"The sexual and reproductive health movement wouldn’t be a movement without you, without me, without our peers."Just take the conference’s backdrop as an example. Ethiopia is a beautiful country with a rich history and culture unlike any other. It is also a country that has made tremendous progress on the family planning front, doubling national contraception use twice in the last decade. And contraception use and availability continues to grow today thanks to a strong commitment to family planning by the government of Ethiopia and the impact of the Health Extension Program.

Ethiopia has also made incredible strides on the AIDS front. Between 2009 and 2012 new HIV infections among infants in Ethiopia fell by 50 percent thanks to a concerted effort by the national government and the global health community to reach mothers with information about prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV. We also see positive changes in the approach to HIV and AIDS work in Ethiopia and around the world. Today, we approach HIV and AIDS work more comprehensively, with a better understanding of the linkages between prevention, treatment, and care, with compassion and without stigma.

Pathfinder is very proud to have been a part of that progress.

And we are proud to be part of a cohesive movement so fiercely dedicated to the idea that every person has the right to a healthy sexual and reproductive life.

This year’s International Conference on Family Planning served as a poignant reminder that while each organization and advocate has a unique role to play, our collective action is what matters at the end of the day.

The sexual and reproductive health movement wouldn’t be a movement without you, without me, without our peers.

Together, our work goes further for the people who need it most each and every day. And that’s why Pathfinder and I do what we do.

Purnima Mane

Purnima Mane is Pathfinder's President and Chief Executive Officer. She oversees more than 1,000 staff around the world, an annual budget exceeding $100 million, and sexual and reproductive health programs in more than 20 developing countries.

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Pathfinder International is on the ground around the world working to tear down these barriers and we need you to help.
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stephen September 27, 2014
Than you for doing all that you do. You are saving lives.
chris September 27, 2014
This is very crucial topic mentioned here, really appreciate your initiative to talk about those girls who become victim of the ruthlessness of the society.
dinar September 27, 2014
Can't imagine how life would be if I married a guy I didn't even fell in love with, by the age of 18 or even younger. It would drive me crazy. I am so impressed with how well the women take it. And we all have to fight against these types of things. Females have rights too.
sinar September 27, 2014
Marrying before 18 is really implemented in those cultures of Africa and Muslim countries. Not sure if this is wrong or right but if it is against the woman/girls/s will it is always wrong, but how to control that? how to get it out of the cultures , it is a hard long way.
moldman September 27, 2014
well-done Purnima Mane. Maternal and Child Mortality is still a great concern in Nigeria. Most parts of Northern Nigeria is still face with the problem of low patronage to Health Facilities as against high patronage to TBA homes for ANC and deliveries. Complications and deaths of mothers and children are hardly reported or documented. We are working in Rural communities with TBAs to reduce Maternal and Child deaths. We have proposals on use of TBAs volunteers as Sexual Reproductive Health promoters in Rural Communities in order to strengthen referrals from community to Health Facilities. How can Pathfinder International assist in linking us up to funding agencies across the Globe?
jahi September 27, 2014
Hi Purnima, this was a great article. Love Humanity International in India is doing its part by offering sexual and reproductive health education to parents who attend Responsible Childcare, a program developed by us for India. If there is anyway we can partner, let me know.
luois September 27, 2014
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