Transforming a Woman’s Life through Expanded Family Planning in Ethiopia

For more than 13 years, Worknesh Minilshewa and her husband have been farmers, raising cattle and caring for their large family in the rural Amhara area of northwestern Ethiopia.

Worknesh married at the young age of 14. She gave birth to six children all before her twenty-seventh birthday. Like many other young Ethiopian mothers, these closely spaced pregnancies had affected her health.

“I was too weak to work and could not leave my young children at home,” she says. “My husband was forced to carry out the household tasks and farming work.”

She and her husband began to struggle financially, and made the hard decision to send only one of their children to school. The life they had envisioned was slipping away.

“One morning, a lady wearing a dark blue uniform came to my house and started telling me about child spacing,” Worknesh says. The lady came from the Amhara Development Association, a local community organization supported by the Packard Foundation. The Association trains community health workers to expand access to family planning in hard-to-reach rural areas across Ethiopia.

The community health worker talked to her about the health problems she was facing. She educated her about the toll that frequent pregnancies can have on a woman’s health, and how spacing childbearing would allow her body to recover. Worknesh says she felt “she was God’s messenger” sent to solve her problems.

Worknesh began using family planning, and her health began to improve. Without that visit, she says that she and her husband had agreed they might have had more children, and her health would continue to fail. She is now regaining her strength, allowing her to take care of her family and help with the farming. Worknesh says that now that she and her husband can both work on the farm, they have even earned enough income to send their children to school.

Worknesh’s success story is shared by many others who have participated in the Amhara Development Association’s community health outreach program. Assessments show a decline in unwanted pregnancy among those who have participated, and noticeable improvements in the health and well-being of women and their children. In this way, the program is also creating a better life for the future generations within their area of northern Ethiopia.