“This is a remote area. People are extremely poor and knew very little about health before the community meetings started. This project is a great learning opportunity for us.”
As an Islamic religious leader, Sheik Tesfaye Abate is a well respected and influential member of his community in the Bale Lowlands, Ethiopia. We have trained him to lead open discussions about sensitive health issues and move his community towards a consensus.
In these meetings, he challenges the community to rethink the cultural norms that they have been practising for decades, like female genital cutting. He also takes other opportunities to broach difficult topics. “I have been using every opportunity to discuss health issues, and in my role as a religious leader I also start discussions after worship. People often come to me for advice, and I talk with them.”
Before the project trained him and provided him with reading materials on sexual and reproductive health issues, Sheik Abate had very little knowledge of the issues himself. Gesturing to the dusty surroundings of his home, he says, “Before, we didn’t know about HIV testing and that harmful traditional practices were so prevalent here.”
Sheik Abate feels that the project has really helped his community. “It should continue and grow. We are working for the sake of the community. If the project ended tomorrow, we would still continue. The community is happy to have learnt about harmful traditional practices. Some still want to have many wives and to practice female genital cutting, but we are challenging each other on these issues now. People are changing.”