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Diary of a Family Planning Counselor: Empowering Women and Saving Their Lives

Tigist Terefe is an ambitious young woman who has been providing family planning services at the Kolfe Health Center in Addis Ababa for just over one year. Through training and technical support services, EngenderHealth works to support the Ethiopian government’s effort to reduce maternal mortality.

Tigist counsels many women on different family planning methods. Women often come in frustrated by side effects or are uncertain about starting a family planning method. “When women visit, I greet them, ask what they need, and tell them about all the choices they have. I counsel them,” she said. “I serve women and solve their problems. At the end of the day, they leave happy.” 

Many of the women that Tigist counsels have similar stories: “Every woman has a different story, yet it is also all the same story. Economically, the family is poor, with six or more children, and they cannot care well for the children they have. When you serve this woman, you are saving her life and making both her life and the lives of her children better.”

Tigist’s own story is one of hard work and ambition. She was born in a small village 200 km from Addis Ababa. Tigist did not want to follow in her sister’s footsteps of marrying at an early age. She decided she needed to complete school to create opportunities for herself. Because there was no high school in her village, she moved on her own to the closest city to attend school. At the young age of 14, she was separated from her family and had to learn to cook, clean, and care for herself while also attending high school.

After 10th grade, she had to move yet again to access education up to grade 12, and she attended nursing school after that. Although the government gave each student a small stipend (about $10 per month), making ends meet was difficult. Despite these challenges, Tigist made it through her schooling and became a certified nurse. After working in a rural health center for three years, she was transferred to Kolfe about one year ago. Due to her passion for family planning, Tigist participated in EngenderHealth’s formal family planning and clinical training sessions.

Even now, Tigist continues her education on the weekends. “I’ve decided to improve my life through education and to stay in Addis Ababa for better opportunities. Here I go!” she said enthusiastically. Moreover, she volunteered to train other providers at Kolfe on family planning methods.

Tigist says that it is not easy to be a woman in Ethiopia. She explains that the burden starts at home, because even if a woman has a job, she is still responsible for all the housework, such as cooking, cleaning, and raising children. Women receive less pay than men, for the same job. Plus, women have a hard time occupying high-level positions, and a lack of access to education for women further reduces their earning potential.

Tigist sees family planning as one way to empower women. By reducing maternal mortality and ensuring that families can afford to educate all of their children, including girls, women’s ability to access economic opportunities will grow.

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