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Retired Nurse Calista: Going Beyond the Call of Duty

Approaching her 40th year as a nurse in Magugu Village in Tanzania, Calista Peter George recalls some of her fondest career memories-bringing lifesaving health services to women and girls in the most remote areas of the country.

In fact, her colleagues recall how she would strap on a backpack, hop on her bike, and trek up to 20 kilometers along the country's winding roads-beyond her own rural town of Magugu-to reach women during outreach events and offer them services for family planning, maternal health, and HIV.

With her tenacity and indomitable spirit, it's no wonder that the Tanzanian government fought to persuade Calista, now 63, to return to work, just years after retiring at the government-mandated age of 60. The effort is part of an innovative program, led by EngenderHealth's ACQUIRE Tanzania Project (ATP) with funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development, to invite retired nurses back to their posts to fill an acute shortage of health staff who are qualified to meet the reproductive health needs of a growing Tanzanian population.

Trained in reproductive health services through EngenderHealth's support, Nurse Calista is something of a legend at Magugu Health Center, where she has worked since 1973. Over the years, generations of clients have grown close to her, which is reflected in her lifelong reputation for being a skilled and dedicated nurse.

"There are hundreds of retired nurses, but the government asked Calista to come back because of her commitment, her skills, and experience," said Lillian Shoo, EngenderHealth Family Planning Program Officer for ATP.

Persistently encircled by a cluster of young mothers and children in the clinic's waiting area, Calista resembles a sagacious grandmother, caring for her large family. While her age has slowed her down physically, including a knee injury that keeps her from riding her bike to mobile sites any longer, she still works during the clinic's busiest hours, first thing in the morning. Even before she officially resumed her post after retirement, Calista volunteered at the clinic, helping out when her former colleagues were overwhelmed.

Calista attributes her quality service provision to the training she received from EngenderHealth.

"I learned a lot at the EngenderHealth-supported training seminars I attended," she said. "By meeting other providers there and learning from their experiences, I've gained so much knowledge that I apply every day to my work."

Calista says she enjoys her work and is very happy to return to her post, a job she aspired to as a little girl when she would admire the skill and prestige of nurses in their pristine, white dresses.

"Watching them counsel their patients kindly and patiently made me want to learn to do the same for other people," said Calista, reflecting thoughtfully on the source of inspiration for her four decades of service.

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