Sometimes we find a way to make a quick sale which can be exciting but not the target change we need. Real, sustainable change is cultural change.
Part of the objectives of the project I support for my PULSE assignment is teaching nurses and volunteers to educate community members about reproductive health and family planning (FP) methods. We assess our success by monitoring the number of family planning acceptors in the villages through monthly data submitted by the nurses.
Alongside our efforts, there is another NGO that visits some of these villages and provides free FP materials (contraceptives)
We found this out because some of our clinics had their number FP acceptors drop sharply in rather unexplained manner. The clinics charge a nominal fee for their service so when the free service from the NGO came to town, it was very welcome and it affected the visits to the clinics.
‘Free’ is good and I am glad that there is another organization providing these services for free. Nevertheless, Free solves only a tiny fraction of the problem by itself. What I have learnt here is that educating the people in the villages to get the people to use the service when they should use it is the most important part in any intervention program here. In many of the villages, family planning is something women do and the women who practice some form of contraception normally have to do it without their husband knowledge. For men, contraception ( or family planning, as everyone calls it) is something you do when you need to do ‘something’ you don’t have to do (meaning when you need to do the thing with someone other than your wife).
Educating the people to understand that FP is for the entire family is a key success factor for this program. For men in the villages in particular, it is important for them to appreciate the broader concept of the practice and benefits of FP. If you do not do this, you may give them free FP materials but they will hide it until the’ right opportunity’ comes for them to use it.
So what is needed is cultural change and not a quick sale. Cultural change is hard; it take time, but that is what is sustainable.