Hesperian Health Guides

To the Health Worker

Helping Women Help Themselves

In this chapter Don Pedro and Valeria played an important role in helping the women in Juanita’s community solve a health problem. The reason that Don Pedro and Valeria were so effective was that they did not tell Juanita and her friends what to do. Rather, Don Pedro and Valeria helped the women learn how to help themselves.

You, too, can help the women in your community by following Don Pedro’s and Valeria’s example.
You can:

  • Share your knowledge. To help themselves, women need information. Many health problems can be prevented if people know how. But remember that you do not have to have all of the answers to help people. Many times there are no easy answers. It is fine to admit when you do not know something. The people you work with will be glad for your honesty.
three women talking
I'm not sure about that but I can find out.

Share your knowledge with other women, other health workers, and with the people who make decisions in the community.

  • Treat women with respect. Each person should be treated as someone who is capable of understanding her health problems and of making good decisions about her treatment. Never blame a woman for her problem or for past decisions she has made.
a health worker in an office talking with a woman
What we have discussed is private. I will not tell anyone else.
  • Keep health problems private. Health problems should not be discussed where others can hear. Never tell anyone else about a problem someone has unless the person with the problem says it is OK.
  • Remember that listening is more important than giving advice. A woman often needs someone who will listen to her without judgment. By listening, you let her know you care and that she is important. And as she gets a chance to talk, she may find that she already knows some of the answers to her problem.
  • Solve problems with others, not for them. Even when a woman’s problems are very large and cannot be solved completely, she usually has some choices she can make. As a health worker, you can help her realize she has choices, and help her find the information she needs to make her own decisions.
a group of women talking
You learn from those you help, and those you help learn from you.
  • Learn from the people you help. Learning how others solve their own problems can help you to help others better (and sometimes yourself, too).
  • Respect your people’s traditions and ideas. Modern science does not have all the answers. And many modern medicines come from studying plant medicines and traditional ways of healing. So it is important to respect and use what is good in both methods—and to realize that both methods can cause harm when used in the wrong way.
  • Find out what people really want to learn about. It is easy to fall into the trap of giving information without finding out if it will be helpful. This often happens with health workers who give prepared talks. But if you find out exactly what people want to know, they will get knowledge that is useful to them. This also helps them build on their own knowledge.
a health worker speaking to a group of women; one woman looks bored
Iron is found in hemoglobin, mioglobin, and different enzymes. During their fertile years women need 18 mg. daily to fill the needs created by menstruation, pregnancy, and breastfeeding.
They are not interested in good nutrition.
I have no idea what she is talking about. What a waste of time!
a health worker speaking to a group of women; all are listening
Why do so many women bleed to death during birth? One reason is anemia. Many women do not eat enough foods rich in iron like meat.
But meat costs so much. What other ways can we get enough iron?
  • Plan with people, not for people. When you plan your work, be sure to talk first with women and men in your community. Find out how they view the problem you are working to solve. Together, talk about what they think causes the problem and how they would like to solve it. Working together brings the best results!

This page was updated:17 Apr 2019