Care Groups

Changing Maternal and Child Health - Celebrating 20 Years of Care Groups

Dr. Pieter Ernst with Care Group volunteers in Mozambique
Dr. Pieter Ernst with Care Group volunteers in Mozambique

In 1995, a small group of thoughtful people noticed an injustice and were not content to sit back and wait for someone else to do something about it. The problem was that too many women and children were dying from preventable and treatable diseases. 12.7 million children under the age of five died in 1990 alone. Dr. Pieter Ernst worked with World Relief in Mozambique at the time and saw firsthand the unnecessary suffering of women and children. But he knew the potential existed to combat this injustice. All that was needed was some initial training and teaching of health practices and treatments and then local citizens could implement what they had learned. So the Care Group movement was created.

This award winning model of healthcare provides regular health training to groups of 10-15 volunteers in each community. These volunteers, mostly women, are taught the simple health practices like washing hands as well as how to treat and prevent serious illnesses like malaria, diarrhea and pneumonia. Each volunteer is then responsible for visiting 10-15 of their neighbors regularly, sharing what they’ve learned and caring for any illnesses they come across. This multiplying process not only helps save lives, but the entire community becomes aware of how to prevent these illnesses before they start.

As we celebrate 20 years of Care Groups, we commemorate the millions of lives that have been saved by this method of effective grassroots health education. It’s played an important role in contributing to progress on the Millennium Development Goal of significantly reducing child mortality and USAID's call to End Preventable Child and Maternal Deaths. Recognized as an innovative program, Care Groups have been implemented by more than 25 organizations in over 25 countries.

People like Miseria and her daughter, Lucrencia, know firsthand the kind of life-saving impact Care Groups have. Lucrencia is the youngest of 7 children and was chronically malnourished, thin and unable to walk as an 18 month old. Children in that state used to die because of local traditional beliefs that the disease was caused by spirits that sat on the child, preventing it from growing. But when a local Care Group Volunteer visited their home, she immediately recognized the problem and included mom and daughter in a community training about preparing enriched meals with locally available ingredients to improve the nutrition of malnourished children. Several years later, Lucrencia is an energetic and healthy teenager who is a huge help to her mother.

Miseria and her daughter Lucrencia
Miseria and her daughter Lucrencia

One of the local Care Group trainers recently commented, “After seeing Miseria and her once malnourished child Lucrencia at the brink of death, now full of joy and growing into womanhood I could only thank God for what He has done, not only for Lucrencia, but also for so many other families with similar experiences in Gaza Province (Mozambique) through the World Relief Care Group program.”

To join us in this movement of life-saving empowerment, visit https://worldrelief.org/donate.

Health for the Future: Care Groups Make a Mark

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When Dr. Pieter Ernst, a World Relief Project Director in Mozambique, saw the suffering of women and children from preventable and treatable diseases, he knew there needed to be a solution. And the awakening of healthier communities through education and more sustainable efforts is just what the doctor ordered. Following a 17-year civil war in the Gaza Province of Mozambique, the Care Group Model developed out of World Relief’s first Child Survival Project. Dr. Ernst designed a way to reach a large group of people through generating a network of volunteers within each community.

With this, the need for a more comprehensive method to engage community members in becoming educators and leaders who support and encourage one another grew at a steady rate. Care Group numbers multiplied as a small project staff grew in the ability to reach a larger population. Without straining individual volunteers, Care Groups mobilized communities to address various health issues and take extensive action.

Since its formation in 1995, the Care Group Model has been adopted by 23 NGOs and implemented in over 21 countries. In 2009, this model reached over 44% of the total population of Mozambique and nurtured relationships that continue to thrive today. All over the world, this sustainable system has:

  1. Decreased infant mortality rate
  2. Increased uses of modern family planning methods
  3. Provided children with up-to-date immunizations

ALL while creating a lasting and continual difference within communities.

Dr. Ernst recently received the 2014 Dory Storms Child Survival Recognition Award for the design of the revolutionary Care Group Model. Together with Dr. Ernst and others who have participated in the Care Group Model, World Relief will celebrate 20 years of this innovative project in 2015.

Through this program, we have seen God do great things in countries and communities where health information is seldom provided. Simple explanations can truly change countries and empower people to become heroes in their communities.

A trip in Burundi

by Michael Beeman I have a card from my grandmother, on the front of which, it is written, “Grandson, life will take you to some faraway places.”, and on the inside, “Know that wherever you go, love goes with you”.  It is true.  During a trip to a Care Group outside of Gitega, southeast of Bujumbura, I witnessed the power of community and God’s love.

In the Kibuye Health District, World Relief manages a Child Survival Project.  Through the Care Group Model, promoters train a group of volunteers on issues pertinent to Child Health, like malaria, diarrhea, and nutrition.  These volunteers in turn visit approximately 10 households to share this information.  The program is quite effective; malnutrition rates in children under 5 have plummeted to 8% from 36%.

With a few from WR offices, I recently journeyed from Gitega to the Care Group Meeting in neighboring Itaba commune.  For one hour, we traversed a severely rutted road.  Surrounded by hills of banana plants and coffee fields, we drove through heaps of mud and deep puddles of rain, only to reach narrower roads.  Along these roads were men and women coming and going, students at the end of their day, and toddlers who would stop playing and stare at the large, white Land Cruiser slowly making its way over bumps and around bends.

With the help of Lucie, the Care Group supervisor, we eventually made it to the school grounds where the Care Group met.  Once there, the welcome was naturally genial; greetings exchanged and a short song sung for an opening.

For this day’s meeting, the topic was nutrition.

They discussed the best practices to nourish children.  A couple acted out two skits: one showed the preparation of a meal low in nutritious ingredients, while the second showed the proper preparation of a meal that meets babies’ nutritious needs.  The subsequent discussion drew out the importance of a meal rich in micronutrients important for their babies.  The participating parents identified the problems in the skit and the solutions, which they in turn would apply themselves and share with their neighbors.  The discussion was successful; everyone actively participated and supported their peers in preparing the distribution of this knowledge.

Our departure hardly meant a disconnection.  Rather, the exchange strengthened the connection, in the spirit of turikumwe: although separated, we are together.  During the ride back home I thought of my Grandmother’s card.  Here, in the Itaba commune, the strength of community and the love of God were present.  In the beauty of the hills and the energy of the Care Group, the health and strength of families, World Relief, and myself were being restored.

Michael Beeman is a Program Research and Development Intern with World Relief in Burundi.

Photos by Marianne Bach

(1) A few of our World Relief health promoters in Burundi.

(2) Care groups are places of knowledge, learning, and relationship building.

(3) Mothers and children alike benefit through World Relief's care group model.