Development programs in education and health are often quite separate from one another. So it was refreshing to attend this year’s annual conference of Christian Connections for International Health with its theme of “Ending Extreme Poverty”. As part of that broader theme, I was invited to co-lead a session on “Lifting People out of Poverty with Innovative Educational and Economic Development Programs” in which several of us shared about the connections between education, health, and economic empowerment.
The positive responses to my presentation on “Reading in the Mother Tongue” told me that health specialists are no strangers to the challenges of local languages in health programs. One fascinating example of the intersection of health and education was a presentation on training illiterate women to serve as community health workers. The agency involved used very creative means to equip these women to interview mothers and identify any health issues warranting a referral to a clinic. It struck me that some of the reading and writing readiness activities we use in the education sector could be helpful for enabling such women, who do not know how to write, to be able to use a pen or pencil effectively in marking interview sheets with illustrations of various health concerns.
Given my normal focus on language and formal education I don’t often think about other sectors of development, but the common thread of empowering people to take charge of their own development and the common goal of ending extreme poverty helped me take a step back from my default viewpoint. During the conference, I was challenged to look at things from a more holistic perspective again. It was humbling to hear about some of the difficulties people in the health sector face as they work to bring adequate medical care to the most rural and unreached areas. I am encouraged by the possibilities for collaboration and contributing our experience within SIL LEAD and our partners into projects that address the pressing health needs that many minority language communities face.