GANTA, Liberia (UMNS) – On a dreary, rainy Monday, Dorothy Payetee starts singing a hymn. Soon others join in and slowly begin to file into the small cinderblock building that serves as the village’s gathering place.

Today it is mostly mothers and children, because many of the villagers are already out busy with daily chores. Payetee, a community health volunteer from Ganta United Methodist Hospital, opens the spontaneous meeting with a prayer and then she starts quizzing the group on healthy habits.

Payetee, Kormassah Mulbah and Tonia Albertha Binda are welcome, familiar faces here. The health care volunteers are often the only way these villagers can get medical attention.

The three have been coming to outlying villages served by the hospital since 2008. The Ganta United Methodist Hospital works with Curamericas Global in the Nehnwaa Child Survival Project in Nimba County, Liberia. Ganta Hospital serves an area of more than 450,000 people.

Curamericas Global serves as a partner with underserved communities to improve health and well-being. According to the organization, this area has the third-highest maternal mortality rate in the world.

“What are some of the good things we have done?” Payetee asks. It doesn’t take long for almost everyone to chime in.

“You have to keep your child warm and the surroundings clean,” said one mother with three children attached at her hips.

Mulbah, the family planning supervisor, explains, “We taught them that to prevent pneumonia.”

Prevention is key

This small village has a population of 418 and is an hour’s drive from the hospital. Problem is, no one has cars. There is one van used by the Nehnwaa Child Survival Project to respond to any emergencies.

Because it is so difficult to get help, prevention measures are stressed, said Allen Zomonway, project manager for the hospital’s public health program.

Binda, a registered nurse, cares for infants and children up to five years old. Malaria, diarrhea and pneumonia are constant enemies she works to keep at bay.

She dispenses rapid-diagnosis tests for malaria and gives out malaria medicine. She keeps zinc on hand for pneumonia and talks to the villagers about home remedies for diarrhea.

Health care professionals from Johns Hopkins Hospital in the U.S. have been to Ganta to train the volunteers. The volunteers also make use of e-learning offered by the USAID, Zomonway said.

Importance of family planning

One of the most challenging subjects is family planning, Mulbah adds.

“We try to tell them to space out their children, at least two years, and we offer birth control tablets and condoms,” she said. “Some men are opposed to the idea, and the women have to hide their pills. Some think family planning is interfering with God’s purpose.”

But Mulbah feels she has broken through many of those barriers.

Kathy Gilbert serves as a multimedia reporter for the young adult content team at United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn.

Dorothy Payette and Kormassah Mulbah
Dorothy Payette and Kormassah Mulbah, community health volunteers from Ganta United Methodist Hospital, speak to villagers in Ganta City, Liberia.

UMNS photos by Kathy L. Gilbert.

Villagers gather
Villagers gather in a cinderblock building to hear what health community workers are doing today.