Faith-based Organizations

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    Photo courtesy of the Christian Health Association of South Sudan (CHASS)

    A woman in South Sudan attends a meeting on family planning held by the Christian Health Association of South Sudan (CHASS). Photo courtesy of CHASS.

    A few years ago the Board of Directors of Christian Connections for International Health (CCIH) made the decision to advocate for access to family planning services in low- and middle-income nations to protect the health of women and children. We knew family planning was a sensitive issue, risking that this initiative could put our organization at odds with others in the Christian community whose partnership we value. But for those of us who have worked in public health and seen first-hand the tragic consequences of unintended and poorly timed pregnancies, the decision was clear. Even if one prefers to use the terminology of "child spacing," or "healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies," family planning enables couples to safely space the births of their children and limit their family size to the number they can feed, clothe and educate. How could it not be Christian? Evidence-based public health is consistent with Christian values.

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    On Sunday, June 9 I was asked to speak on the final plenary at the Christian Connections for International Health (CCIH) conference. The plenary “Faith-Based Organizations and the Power of Stories” focused on how people use communication to share their stories. The panel was made up of great minds in the communication world: John Donnelly, Communications Advisor to Jim Kim at The World Bank, Adrian Kerrigan, Senior Vice President for Advancement at the Catholic Medical Mission Board (CMMB), and moderator David Olson, Global Development Communications Consultant at Olson Global Communications.

    Man on a mobile in Kolkata

    A man talks on a mobile phone while sitting on a railway track in north Kolkata, India.

    © 2010 Rajarshi Chowdhury, Courtesy of Photoshare

    Before the panel, I was worried I may not make the cut with such a distinguished panel. However when the questions started I realized we had similar struggles to spreading the messages of our organizations and we agreed on a lot of the solutions. The panel began by asking all of us what advice we had for those organizations with limited resources for communications.  Many of the examples and suggestions to the audience were about working with the resources you have by repurposing information, choosing one or two communications platforms to focus on, and meeting your audience where they are. My main message throughout was about being very deliberate in creating a plan when choosing to use a platform.

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    In a rural community in Eastern Kenya, along the rough terrain of Mt. Kenya, a cadre of Christian community health workers (CHWs) is providing family planning for the first time. These CHWs are affiliated with the church-based hospitals in that region which are part of the Christian Health Association of Kenya. With support from the World Bank, these CHWs have been able to add provision of family planning information and methods (pills, condoms, CycleBeads®, Lactational Amenorrhea Method) to their package of services.

    CHW Pill Demo Global Handbook

    A Community Health Worker (CHW) gives instructions on how to use oral contraceptives.

    While many believe that religious teachings act as barriers to accessing family planning, the issues on the ground are much more often related to lack of resources or training capacity and the ever-present concern of commodity stockouts.  These church-based hospitals leading the effort to bring family planning to the community level fully recognize the integral role that family planning plays in improving maternal and child health as well as relieving the economic burden many families experience when they are unable to plan their families.