Community health worker Rahma Ali leads a group session with mothers in her village.

The Missing Link: Women Fill Somalia’s Health Gap

Forging a vital connection between their villages and formal health systems, community health workers educate fellow mothers on nutrition and health

Walking into a group session with mothers, Rahma Ali holds the tools of her trade: a mid-upper arm circumference band to detect malnutrition, a book illustrating healthy breastfeeding, hygiene, and sanitation practices, and a medical records ledger. Rahma is a community health worker in Southwestern Somalia, serving as a vital link between the families in her village and the nearest health center

Prior to becoming a health worker, Rahma started as member of a mother-to-mother support group at the Maternal and Child Center in Hudur, Somalia, supported by Action Against Hunger. Participants share stories of motherhood and its challenges, and learn from each other about childcare, health, and nutrition.

“Joining the mothers group gave all of us a chance to share our experiences and open up about the challenges we face in seeking health care services,” says Rahma. “Sometimes, the main reason mothers shy away from seeking health services at the local centers is because the medics who attend to them are men, and they find it difficult to explain to them what they are going through.”

One of the midwives from the Maternal and Child Health Center saw leadership potential in Rahma and a few others from the support group. She provided nutrition trainings to the mothers so that they could educate other women in their village.

Today, Rahma and three other female community health workers serve 500 households. They share essential health information with women in their community and check in on mothers daily. Pointing to a column in her ledger, Rahma shows that she referred 26 pregnant and breastfeeding mothers to the health center in the last week alone.

“Some of the mothers in my village were reluctant to seek nutrition and health care services at the center, yet they were the ones who were most in need,” she says. “I offered my services to the mothers by going door-to-door, organizing group forums, and sharing nutrition and hygiene messages.”

Community health workers link women in their communities with formal health services, and their proximity means that mothers are able to ask questions and seek care for their children quickly. Rahma has also noticed that, as the women in her community grow more knowledgeable about health and nutrition, they are becoming more comfortable with the health center and the maternal, reproductive, and child services it offers.

Rahma shows new mother Halima proper breastfeeding practices.

Photo: Fardosa Hussein
for Action Against Hunger,

During one of her door-to-door sessions, Rahma met with Halima Mursal, a mother of five, who was three months pregnant. Rahma encouraged her to visit the health center for prenatal services to make sure that her pregnancy was a healthy one. Today, Halima is the proud mother of a beautiful baby girl named Anisa, and Rahma and the other health workers check in regularly to share their nutrition and hygiene expertise.

Action Against Hunger’s teams in Hudur give health workers regular trainings to keep their skills sharp. Rahma appreciates these sessions because they offer a chance to talk to the health practitioners about better ways to mobilize women to seek care at the health center.

“It is always my joy to see women and their children living a healthy lifestyle because of the information we provide,” says Rahma, proudly. “I do this because I am a woman, too, and I understand what fellow women go through on a daily basis. It is not an easy job, but we do it for our community because we are the backbone of our society.”

Action Against Hunger is the world’s hunger specialist and leader in a global movement that aims to end life-threatening hunger for good within our lifetimes. For 40 years, the humanitarian and development organization has been on the front lines, treating and preventing hunger across nearly 50 countries. It served more than 21 million people in 2018 alone.