Skip to content

Story and Perspective

Lifelong Learning

Egypt Tanzania Bangladesh

A Global Organization

With 1,200 staff in 19 countries and programs working at the intersections of reproductive health, women’s economic empowerment, climate resilience, and health systems strengthening, Pathfinder is an organization for staff who love to learn! And for two exceptional staff members, Dr. Ituki Chakma and Dr. Shamima Parveen, this year culminated in a special exchange for both. As recipients of Pathfinder’s Susan Swift Award, both Ituki and Shamima were able to visit the Pathfinder countries and programs of their choice – creating a valuable exchange of ideas and growth within the organization.

Commemorating Pathfinder’s former Board Chair, the Susan Swift Award recognizes a Pathfinder of remarkable talent, achievement, and potential. The recipient of this award has the opportunity to tour another part of Pathfinder—other than where they currently work—to learn, share best practices, and foster personal and professional growth.

For her trip, Dr. Ituki Chakma, the senior technical advisor for family planning in Bangladesh, knew it would be Tanzania. Dr. Ituki was recognized for building out a unique mentorship program in Bangladesh, strengthening the capacity of public-sector family planning service providers by integrating mentorship into the government’s existing service delivery supervision system.

“I felt I had a gap … I understood what happened in Bangladesh, but it’s so important to learn from other countries. Tanzania had numerous, and diverse, projects that interested me. I had collaborated with other countries on our mentorship work, but our work on climate resilience is new, including the Takeda project in Bangladesh. And, I saw that Tanzania had a specific project on sexual violence against children – I wanted to learn more about this work.”

For Dr. Shamima Parveen, Pathfinder’s gender manager in Bangladesh, it had to be Pathfinder’s Egypt office, where a focus on women’s economic empowerment is a key element of programming. Dr. Shamima works to integrate gender considerations into Pathfinder’s project activities. “Many service providers,” she says, “confuse gender and sex. We work to strengthen their capacity, to integrate gender within communities, facilities, and at a national level.” Dr. Shamima helped Pathfinder build a pool of trainers, over 316 of them, to train others on integration of gender activities into their work. Today, more than 6,993 services providers have been trained in gender-integrated family planning services due to Shamima’s efforts.  

Listening and Learning

In Tanzania, Dr. Ituki visited three programs with different approaches and goals. In Zanzibar, she visited the Kuwaza III project, which prevents sexual violence against children. Next, it was the Institutionalizing and Scaling up Comprehensive Postabortion Care (cPAC) in Morogoro. And finally, USAIDs MOMENTUM Integrated Health Resilience (MIHR) project in Arusha.

“The context of our work can be really different between countries,” said Dr. Chakma. “But there are also similarities. Both are low- or middle-income countries (LMICs), and they have a similar religious population. But the geography, scale of the population, and the resources within the countries are quite different. My first take away is, contexts are different, and they matter. If we work to apply interventions from one Pathfinder country to another, those interventions must be customized.”

In Egypt, Shamima also made three major visits. The first was to Pathfinder’s WESEP program, which works to increase women’s economic and social empowerment. She then visited Pathfinder’s OSRA program, which is reinforcing the national family planning and reproductive health program in the country. And finally, she visited one of Pathfinder’s “green clinics” through Pathfinder’s women-led climate resilience program.

One thing that immediately stood out to Dr. Shamima? “I found that gender norms are similar to Bangladesh,” she says. “Women are prohibited from doing a lot, and in Egypt, their husbands accompany them to facilities. This was really interesting.” Pathfinder staff took her to a training session where husbands and wives work and play games together. “Project staff told me this kind of game really works. They weren’t sure it would work at first, but were surprised, and pleased, that families came together for the sessions. They play together, and through the training session, they also learn to make decisions together. This kind of game was really interesting to see.”

To learn more about how Pathfinder uses interactive games, read our feature, Together for Egyptian Families

A Real Exchange

For both Dr. Shamima and Dr. Ituki, one thing was at the forefront of their visits – how programs can be adapted and developed across Pathfinder.

For Dr. Ituki, building climate resilience was at the front of her mind. “In Bangladesh,” says Dr. Ituki, “I don’t (directly) support our climate resilience work. But a key learning for me is that we can contribute a lot to building climate resilience even if it isn’t your direct agenda.” Dr. Ituki had visited the population, health, and environment clubs led by the MIHR team in Tanzania. “They are doing health education and family planning work,” says Dr. Ituki, “but have also integrated the environment into the conversation. They are teaching gardening, building awareness about our changing climate. So even if this work isn’t in a project’s core work, it’s time we start integrating this piece into all of our projects.”

For Dr. Shamima, she knew one place where Pathfinder’s work in Bangladesh could be integrated into our Egypt work: a gender-based violence manual used in Bangladesh could be adapted for family planning and reproductive health services in Egypt. After witnessing a training on women’s financial inclusion and participation, she had ideas for her own work within Bangladesh’s factories. “These trainings, we could adopt this, include this economic empowerment frame for women, especially within factories where we work.” 

Dr. Ituki adds, “In our country, we have a lot of challenges in increasing access of long-acting reversible contraceptives. For Dr. Ituki, this is a key area of potential advocacy. “We can use Tanzania as a great case study, when we advocate for task sharing of family planning services provision. We have started this work, gathering evidence across countries. Tanzania illustrates that task sharing, having nurses and midwives include implants in their services, is possible.”

One other highlight for Dr. Shamima? “I’m very lucky that I got to present at the Global Congress on Population, Health, and Development, which is implemented by the Egyptian government.” Dr. Shamima presented her work in a panel, where she discussed approaches to integrating gender considerations and gender-based violence response into family planning programs in Bangladesh.

“As I traveled,” adds Dr. Ituki, I realized how critical Dr. Shamima’s work is. We all know gender plays an important role. But to have gender-integrated family planning services information, this is something I saw and felt in Tanzania. They know it’s important. They have guidelines, trainings. It’s so important that we actively keep pursuing the integration of gender. We can continue to adapt and grow this work.”

“We learned so many things, saw so many things,” says Dr. Shamima. “You can see a movie but when you go to summarize it, it’s so many things!”

Congratulations to both of these trailblazing Pathfinders! We know that with this trip, comes renewed energy to further Pathfinder’s ultimate goal: To ensure that all people, regardless of where they live, have the right to decide whether and when to have children, to exist free from fear and stigma, and to lead the lives they choose.

More Stories

Pathways – June 2024: Honoring Refugees Around the World

Pathfinder works with local, government, and humanitarian partners to design programs that respond to the unique needs of women and…

Read More

During Security Crisis, Burkinabe NGOs Play Critical Role in Healthcare Delivery

Local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Burkina Faso’s Centre Nord, Sahel, and Est regions have been critical to sustaining healthcare delivery…

Read More

Pathfinder Study to Inform Health Systems Strengthening Investments in Flood-Prone Areas of Bangladesh

Climate change has made flooding during the monsoon season in Bangladesh more severe and erratic—leaving health systems unprepared to serve…

Read More