I Believe All it Takes is a Single Person to Make a Change

Nata Mbakeh - Boston, Massachusetts
Entered on October 20, 2008
Age Group: 30 - 50

I Believe All it Takes is a Single Person to Make a Change

The Gambia, my home country like many other African countries is a male dominance society, wherein superiority of men reigns. It is predominantly Muslim, a mixture of traditional and Islamic beliefs prevail. I grew up in a small village where in this day and age women are still treated as unequal and regarded as the lowest of the low in society. Like women everywhere around the globe, their lives are a struggle, except that theirs are shaped by the socio-cultural norms, values and beliefs to an extent that it has made them dormant in the society.

As a young girl, I was taught to believe that an educated women is nothing but an evils advocate. With fear of them becoming informed, independent and empowered, the society stigmatized girl’s education as a gateway ticket to losing one’s cultural values and beliefs, prostitution, and most fervently becoming disobedient to their husbands whom they are to serve as servants not equals. Interestingly enough, at this moment the chance of an educated women getting married within this society is slim.

At age six, I was sent to learn the basics of Islamic Studies from a former student of my father. Times got tough for him and he decided to take a teaching job at the local elementary school. He did not know what to do with me and decided to take me along without my dad’s consent. My breakthrough came as an accident, I landed in school. It wasn’t my father’s wish, for my mom has no say in the decision making of the household or even to the welfare of the kids. Upon learning about the incident, my dad became furious. He could not bear the persistent crying and constant whining about not being in that classroom, so he let me continue with stipulations attached.

From that day on, the change began and the impact was enormous. In a large extended family with a deeply rooted culture, not only was the girl child prevented from going to school, but also our brothers. My dad was a prominent figure in the society. Almost every household in the village looked up to him. I, being the first female girl attending conventional school, inspired and energized everyone in the village to send their daughters to school. Today, many of those children are serving some vital role within the government and the private sector. The result is that the power of just one person (I) taking that stubbornness, persistence and perseverance at that tender age made a huge impact.

After a decade, going back to the very same country (Gambia), one of my siblings graduated from college with an Associate Degree in Nursing. She was sent to serve most women in the remote areas of the country where healthcare and service is minimal or not accessible to many of the locals. It touches my heart when I have conversations with her about health issues and the healthcare delivery system in the country and with my own little research within that short stay.

I found out that Gambian women have the least access to healthcare. The healthcare delivery system is extremely poor. Pregnant women go through all kinds of pregnancy related diseases (such as malnutrition, anemia, syphilis, and STD), and complications pregnancy and labor. Very few of them have access to health care. In some villages, there are no health services. These women sometimes have to travel on foot 20 miles or more to access prenatal care. Because of the poor road network, they resort to the only means of transportation on either a horse back or a donkey cart. Many had their deliveries at home by old women who have no idea of asepsis techniques. Some survive and many die, unaccounted for. The country has one of the highest rates of maternal and infant mortality in Africa. With the AIDs pandemic engulfing the world, and more so in Africa, a lot of these women are into polygamous marriages thus increasing their chance of getting infected. Worst of all, they are unaware of the dangers. All these things keep spinning in my head and I said to myself, “This has to change” I Believe all it takes is just one person with collective efforts to change this very situation in our society.

Upon my return to the US, I decided to come back to Husson, after earning a four year bachelors degree in computer information system. Looking back, I realized I could have done more in helping those women on these deadly health issues facing them daily, had I have some former training in healthcare. Like the saying goes, “better late than never”, for I stand in the middle of Husson to mark yet another bold step like those taken by Florence Nightingale to change the course of things into a proper direction; giving the women of my community a hope, save lives and those of the unborn generation, encourage the young and old by empowering them with health education and health promotion and consult with the village elders and get them involve by making them aware of the crisis they tend to ignore. It is a problem and it needs to be address. I have done it before and there is no doubt in my belief that it takes just a single person to make a huge impact of positive change!