How can one woman protect a whole village? By teaching her neighbors preventative steps toward healthier lives.

Maté Mint Sidi Ali’s village in Guidimakha, Mauritania sits six miles from the nearest health clinic – too far for many in her community to get any kind of healthcare.

“Hiring a ride is expensive and an all-day trek takes people from their work and children,” says Maté. “Because of this, health problems went untreated and turned severe or chronic.”

Community members were also largely unaware of proper sanitation practices. Small children were frequently made sick from contaminated water and many villagers suffered from malaria or fever.

In 2012, Maté attended a series of trainings organized by Counterpart to become a community health worker. The trainings adopted a two-pronged approach to health, emphasizing both treatment and prevention. Six hundred other villagers from around the Sahel region of West Africa were taught basic preventative healthcare, peer-to-peer health education methods and disease management.

Since then, Maté has been leading health education workshops to teach her neighbors how to improve hand-washing and hygiene habits, practice breastfeeding and better child nutrition, recognize the symptoms of common diseases and identify the signs of high-risk pregnancies.

“Since I began teaching my neighbors about preventative health, we have less illness,” said Maté. “Far fewer children are sick from malnutrition, which means their parents can spend more time working to provide for their family.”

Maté also works to diagnose and treat simple medical problems around her village. Counterpart provided her with a malaria testing kit and a starting supply of medicines, including antibiotics and rehydration salts. She charges a minor fee for medication, allowing her to restock her kit and earn an income of about 6,000 Mauritanian Ouguiya (or $20) every month.

“I never imagined I’d be a leader in health,” said Maté. “Now I’ve brought healthcare to my community.”

Where there was once a village with no one to care for the sick and malnourished, Counterpart has helped train Maté to look after her own community and to teach her neighbors to look after themselves. Maté is helping her community overcome today’s challenges, while building better and healthier lives for the future. Overall, CANAL has improved the lives of more than 11,000 children and 5,000 women.

Program: Community Action Nutrition and Livelihoods (CANAL)
Funded By: United States Agency for International Development (USAID)
Partners: Kosmos Energy, UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), U.S. Embassy Nouakchott

This story is a part of our #LeadMore series, a weekly story recognizing our local partners and community leaders.