Community empowerment - VN ethnic family

GaneshAID is pioneering the concept of community empowerment through its health initiatives in Vietnam. Project ChildI-V in the northern Dien Bien Province has tackled the issue of diarrheal disease among young children by giving local residents the power and education to make healthy choices for themselves.

“Community empowerment refers to the process by which people can gain control over the factors and decisions that shape their lives,” Loisel said. “Community empowerment therefore is more than the involvement, participation or engagement of communities. It implies community ownership and action that explicitly aims to change the health status.”

The project supplies tablet computers equipped with multimedia instructional tools to local health workers. The village health workers then have the opportunity to visit the homes of 50 childrens’ caregivers. Parents are given a questionnaire to evaluate their knowledge of proper hygiene and food safety practices. 

Using the tablet, trusted health workers are able to take photos of the villagers’ latrines and food storage areas to follow-up with their progress at a later date. Next, parents are asked for their opinions on how to ensure that their children stay healthy, and they are given the knowledge and power to set personal goals for their own households.

For instance, a family may decide to tackle a short-term goal like covering their food, or they may opt to work on a longer-term goal like saving up enough money to purchase a refrigerator.

Loisel said some cultural obstacles must be overcome when applying the community empowerment model because it is an entirely new concept to many Vietnamese. However, through the ChildI-V project, ethnic minority groups have begun to realize the powerful role they play in keeping their communities disease-free.

 “The building block of empowerment is developing community health champions who are equipped with the knowledge, confidence and skills to make a difference in their communities,” Loisel said.

“They are like actors, and when they become actors, they understand the importance to change, and they will change.”

Due to the sweeping success of project ChildI-V, GaneshAID plans to expand the model to other impoverished regions of Vietnam in order to continue improving the national health status, one person at a time.

According to WHO, community empowerment (CE) refers to the process of enabling communities to increase control over their lives. "Communities" are groups of people that may or may not be spatially connected, but who share common interests, concerns or identities. These communities could be local, national or international, with specific or broad interests.

To know more about CE, please see http://www.who.int/healthpromotion/conferences/7gchp/track1/en/

Expert Corner - CL1Carine Loisel, a health promotion specialist at GaneshAID, has honed her expertise for over a decade in the fields of health education, reproductive health and childhood disease prevention and control. Through her work to support community-oriented health intervention, she has helped to educate and empower ethnic minority groups in impoverished areas.