Cooperatives help women lead, during the pandemic and after it

Cooperatives help women lead, during the pandemic and after it

When COVID-19 arrived in Mali, it quickly interrupted lives and livelihoods in the peri-urban communities we serve. Most families with whom we work make their livings in the informal sector. The first COVID-19 prevention measures put into place in Mali significantly restricted their work.

But since 2018, we have worked with women to develop more accessible livelihoods through activities which they can control and are closer to their homes. With resources in their hands, women can make decisions that improve the health and wellbeing of their children and families. They can purchase nutritious food, buy soap and other prevention measures, seek healthcare, and enroll their children in school.

While our savings groups could not meet safely at this critical moment, the cooperatives, already equipped with PPE and operating in open outdoor spaces, could. Now, they are not only operating, they are growing.

In those early days as COVID-19 began to spread globally, we encouraged the soap-producing cooperatives to begin making as much soap as they could. Whatever they did not sell to their neighbors, we purchased and provided to our partner health centers and distributed to families most in need.

As the threat of COVID became clear, we decided to help women start sewing masks, using local cotton fabric. Our team quickly identified 30 women who already had basic sewing skills. We helped them to incorporate their cooperative and secure 5 sewing machines, along with the materials they would need. A very big thanks to Women International Leaders of Greater Philadelphia for the funds to purchase the equipment and materials.

The cooperative got started quickly and set the prices of adult masks at about $2 (1000 FCFA) and child masks at about $1 (600 FCFA). Mali Health was one of their first order; we purchased more masks for the staff at our CSCom partners in Bamako and Sikasso. As with the other cooperatives we have supported, the sewing cooperative not only provides much-needed revenue to families during the pandemic, they are also making very valuable resources available and accessible to peri-urban communities were resources are extremely limited.

We are even taking steps forward in helping the women who will lead a new union to support the cooperatives. In collaboration with the Direction Régionale du Développement Social et de l’Economie Solidaire du District de Bamako, women will receive training in leadership and management skills to help them develop and lead a resource of their own. Creating an association allows them to support and grow their cooperatives, while helping more women in peri-urban communities to launch cooperatives of their own. Stay tuned for more details!

Soaps Drying in Molds
Celebrating community leadership in Sotuba

Celebrating community leadership in Sotuba

On Wednesday 10 July, Mali Health was honored by the Sotuba community in recognition of our partnership, and the impact it has had on improving community health. While we were the ones being recognized, for us, this event was actually a chance to celebrate the strong leadership in Sotuba, and the community’s investment and ownership of their health, and health system.

Sotuba is a peri-urban community on the eastern side of Bamako and Mali Health collaborates with the health center (CSCom) to improve healthcare quality and governance, as well as supporting community health workers and women’s health savings groups there.

The celebration featured staff from Mali Health, members of the community, and the president of Sotuba’s ASACO (Association de Santé Communautaire), the organization made of community members that oversees the health center. The ASACO serves as a bridge between the health center and the surrounding community, linking the organization and the people.

The ASACO has a key role in helping to improve the health of the community. When a community has an organized and efficient ASACO, the CSCom’s work is tailored to the specific needs of the people it serves, the CSCom becomes more responsive, and the amount of women and children seeking care at the health center increases.

Sotuba is one of the smallest communities with whom Mali Health collaborates. When the partnership began, the ASACO had no structure or organization and it was unclear to the community and the health center what exactly the role of the ASACO was. Unfortunately, most low-resource communities in Mali face the same challenge and one of the most important pillars of the community health system often is not able to fulfill its role of ensuring strong management, accountability and community participation in health centers.

Today, Sotuba’s ASACO is an active group of community members who are fulfilling that essential role – and they are seeing impressive results. On a measurement scale we use for transparency and accountability, Sotuba went from being one of the lowest-scoring partners to one of the highest. Sotuba’s patient satisfaction scores are consistently among the highest, over 95%, and the rates of pregnant women returning to deliver at the CSCom are the highest of any of our partners – sometimes reaching 100%.

As one of Mali Health’s first partners to implement, test, and refine our participatory quality improvement (QI) approach, their hard work speaks for itself. For several years, a QI coach has provided technical support and coaching to a QI team at the Sotuba CSCom and we are now in the process of turning the QI program over to that team, so that they can continue serving their community at this high level.

To support the efforts of the health center and extend the impact of improvements in quality, Mali Health has provided community health workers and free or subsidized healthcare to children and pregnant women with the least access. We also help women in Sotuba access more financial resources that can help them improve their family’s health. By addressing preventive healthcare, hygiene, and budgeting, these strategies aim to advance health in Sotuba by helping women gain more knowledge about their children’s health and increase their ability to act on it.

A mother and savings group member who attended the celebration shared her experience:

Two times a month, Mali Health makes contact with us parents, to see the evolution of the state of health of the children. They are really there for us; we are really grateful. They educate us about the nutrition of our children and hygiene. The savings funds that Mali Health helped us set up helps us a lot to provide hygiene products such as our soaps and other cleaners. I’m so grateful that I have tears in my eyes about Mali Health.

Mali Health’s overarching goal is to support the Sotuba community to improve access to healthcare; the partnership is rooted in the community’s desire for change. Although there is more work to be done, this celebration represented an important milestone and the core of what makes Mali Health’s approach different. While Mali Health can give support to the health center, mothers and community members to improve health and to make change, it is up to them to decide whether to adopt strategies, act on information, and to take ownership of those strategies to sustain that change in the long term.

As the president of the ASACO described it, to the community, Mali Health represents the idea that a different future is possible, and within their reach. During his acknowledgement, the president reflected:

I remember a story that was told to me by one of my teachers: a little boy from a small village became a doctor and became a source of hope for his entire community. This little boy reminds me of Mali Health which has become the source of hope for our community.

Members of the Sotuba community have seen the change they are able to make to improve the health of mothers and children. While Mali Health remains so grateful for their partnership, and their gracious efforts to recognize what our partnership has achieved, we are most excited by the real steps forward that community members in Sotuba are taking to actively participate and take ownership of their health system and its future.

Every community with whom we work will always have our support, but our role is to strengthen their ability to manage and improve health in their communities, so that they can take the lead.

When they are the ones who start giving us the certificates and the chiwaras – then we know we’re all doing something right.