More Than "Just Birth Control"

Photo of provider with contraception in Mozambique by Julia Monaghan

I have worked for Pathfinder International for about three years. In those three years, when people have asked me “So what do you do for Pathfinder?” I have always responded with a little laugh and said, “A little bit of everything!” This has always felt like the easiest description—my work has ranged from coordinating Pathfinder’s participation at international health conferences to supporting the development of our technical publications, and lots of things in between.

This year, however, I had the incredible opportunity to move from Boston to Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, and work with Pathfinder’s team there for six months. While my job could have easily be summed up in much the same way as my work in Boston—a little bit of everything—my experience there changed my perspective on how my work contributes to Pathfinder’s mission. Pathfinder’s work in Mozambique touches on a broad range of sexual and reproductive health issues, including contraception, HIV and AIDS, and safe abortion and postabortion care, to name a few, and I was able to work alongside our country staff to support many of these projects.

In addition to being my first time living overseas for so long, this was also my first opportunity to actually see Pathfinder’s work being implemented, and to observe firsthand the impact that it has on the communities we serve. I have always been proud to work for Pathfinder and to support its mission, but my knowledge of our work has always come secondhand from other staff who shared stories of their visits to our projects.

I am so proud of the work that Pathfinder does and was so glad to have been able to see it like this.In June, I travelled with a colleague to Inhambane, a province just north of Maputo, to observe a mobile clinic providing services to a rural community. As a result of Pathfinder’s support, these clinics now provide contraception counseling and methods in addition to primary healthcare and child health services. That day, after explaining the available services to the crowd of women waiting for care, one of the nurses left the clinic—set up in the shade of an enormous tree—to meet with a group of community leaders and influential community members to discuss some of the health challenges being faced by the community and how they might be addressed. At the end of the meeting, the nurse pointed to my colleague and me, introduced us as visitors from Pathfinder, and explained that it was Pathfinder that had helped to bring contraception services to the mobile clinics. After our introduction, the meeting attendees stood, faced us, and boisterously began to clap and sing. My Portuguese at the time was very poor, but my colleague explained to me that they were singing about the benefits of contraception and how important it is to them. My first reaction was embarrassment for myself (I hate being the center of attention) and astonishment at the response of these men and women. “Calm down!” I wanted to say, “It’s just birth control!”

It is easy for me, as an American woman, to say that. It was easy for me, as a college student, to get a prescription for contraceptive pills, and then years later, an IUD. Doctors are generally accessible, knowledgeable, and affordable here. I have a pharmacy right around the corner. The co-pay wasn’t too high—even for my college budget. I didn’t even see contraception as a big deal at the time—there was never a question of whether or not I could get it. 

For those men and women who were standing around me in the community in Inhambane, their reality is different. It is never “just birth control.” When Pathfinder began work to ensure that contraception was made available in these mobile clinics, it was providing an opportunity that many women never thought they would get—to take control over if, when, and how often to bear children. Their joy at this opportunity could not be contained. My initial embarrassment evaporated—I am so proud of the work that Pathfinder does and was so glad to have been able to see it like this.  

I just got back home this month, and am still working on getting re-settled into my job and life here in Boston. I suspect, though, that the next time someone asks me what I do for Pathfinder, my answer will be a little different.

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