- Focus Areas
Innovation by Solar Lamp Powers Family Planning Services, Poverty Reduction, and Clean Energy Use
Lucy Shillingi, Pathfinder’s Country Representative in Uganda, speaks about the STRIDES project, which is funded by USAID through Management Sciences for Health. The project brings critical services—family planning, maternal and newborn care, child immunization, and HIV services—to underserved families in Western Uganda.
Please set the scene for us.
I wish you could have seen what I saw on Friday evening. We took family planning and child survival services, like immunization, from the health facility and brought them to those who would otherwise be forced to go without.
Our team—health service providers, Pathfinder field staff, and our local partners—drove out to a village, whose needs are not met by any health facility because they live too far away. The roads are very bad, and transport is expensive. People would never reach the facility from their homes.
We set up tents and provided family planning counseling and methods. HIV testing, a very important integrated service for family planning. Also, antenatal and postnatal care. Immunization for children. All of these were provided at one site. And the community chose the site: just outside the trading center, near the school and a beach compound.
Why do you choose to go overnight? Why do Pathfinder and your partners choose to make a camp there?
Now that’s the whole difference. Pathfinder does our work by becoming very flexible and understanding the context. We first make sure we understand what the community's problems are. What are they going through?
Pathfinder does our work by becoming very flexible and understanding the context.We know that the usual routine of providing outside services is during a few daylight hours. But you quickly realize: it took us more than four hours just to drive from the small town onto that site. So if it is going to take another four hours to drive back, then it looks like you are checking in and checking out of the community, with one hour of service provision.
We have changed this by understanding the community. Camping in the night has really helped us. We stay with the community to be part of them. Also, they realize that we care. And that’s what is different about Pathfinder.
Lastly, and this is crucial: at night, we have a much different type of group. The majority of people we see during the daytime are children and their mothers, or single people coming in. But we don’t see couples. We don’t see men. Here, most men do not seek services unless they are sick. Around the campfire, you’ll see the men.
But when we started this initiative, local men began coming to sit by the fire and talk about family planning, asking questions. So we realized this is a great way to do more and reach more people, with limited resources.
What’s the Young Mothers’ Club?
At Pathfinder, one of our key areas is working with adolescents and young people because we know that they are a very vulnerable group. We know their rights are abused. We understand the stigma they go through when they are trying to address their reproductive health needs, especially issues related to early pregnancies and dropping out of school. The whole health service delivery system is not favorable for young people. Take the young mothers Pathfinder supports. In Uganda, we are talking about mothers as young as 15. They have very different needs from the older women.
So, through "Young Mothers’ Clubs," we actually encourage young mothers to come together. They have peer-to-peer psychosocial support activities and talk to each other.
Yesterday, I met Clara, who is just 19 years old and dropped out of school with teenage pregnancy. But look at the network for mothers she has around her, within her group of about 32 young women. They are now talking among themselves. They are looking at their livelihoods. They are looking at their lives and how to prevent HIV, how to prevent further unintended pregnancies.
How do these young mothers have a ripple effect in their communities?
They do a number of things; one of the most important is door-to-door outreach. Actually, the original design of this project began with "mapping;" young mothers would identify which households have adolescents who are expecting or have just delivered, so they can lend support. But they also do family planning education.
Take Elizabeth, a peer mother instructing on contraception in the picture above. She walks other young women through their options for family planning. She has been trained, oriented with materials, to talk about methods and benefits of family planning—and benefits of simply getting more informed.
How do solar lights play into this?
We are very hopeful that this new initiative will bring about progress. It can make a real difference. Pathfinder looks for all possible strategies, and this is an innovation. We have now integrated family planning door-to-door education programs with something else: the promotion and sale of solar lights through a partnership with Solar Sister. This is great because:
- Selling these lights is source of livelihood. Every light these peer mothers sell gives them a commission. You see that excitement on the faces of women like Elizabeth, when she talks about going out to the Uganda border to sell more lamps and get more supplies. That really is a critical stepping stone because, in many cases, designing livelihood projects for young people can end up as ‘handouts.’ But this is very, very different.
- Young mothers are using the solar lights to make their visits at night. Picture this: most of the homes they visit don’t have electricity. So now, as they enter a home and advertise their product for sale—the solar light—they can also use that light to counsel couples on family planning.
- The other benefit is on the conservation side. We know that kerosene, as much as it is used in these communities, is toxic. Those babies in the house are all breathing in toxins. Also, families are using so much money to buy kerosene everyday. But they have the sun for life and, now, can just charge their lamp at night.
We have just rolled this part of the project out. But we are very hopeful that this new initiative will bring about progress. It can make a real difference. It’s exciting.