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Augusta is empowering her sisters this International Women’s Day

This International Women’s Day, we’re celebrating the power of one woman’s leadership in her community in rural Timor-Leste. Augusta Ribeiro, 48, is a community health volunteer transforming the lives of women seeking maternal healthcare.

Augusta has been a community health volunteer since 2004. In this role she shares vital health information with her community, and works with the Alola Foundation, Klibur Domin and ChildFund Timor-Leste to increase awareness of maternal and child health and tuberculosis.

ChildFund has partnered with the Alola Foundation for three years to improve access to maternal and children’s health. Together, they organise training sessions for the volunteers like Augusta so they can provide advice on nutrition and maternal health to expecting mothers.

“Becoming a volunteer was my choice. I wanted to help women learn how they can care for themselves during pregnancy, and support breastfeeding mothers and then share how they can keep their child healthy with nutritious food that they can find in their area,” Augusta said.

“I have nine colleagues, but they change a lot. I stay  and go to share information with the community. We don’t work alone; we work with the local authorities.” Augusta also shares information about maternal and child health at community meetings and advocates to the local leaders for vital healthcare supplies.

Augusta is confident and has a strong support system. “My husband is really supportive of my work. I have nine children, four already married, and I always share information and knowledge about maternal health with them.”

She is motivated by her love for the women in her village. “Because of my love for my country and my community, I do not want any child to be at risk of malnutrition. This is why I volunteer.”

Since becoming a volunteer, she has seen positive changes for pregnant women and young mothers in her village. “In my experience, when I approach a pregnant mother and give them advice, they go to the health services for a safe delivery. And I explain in detail why this is better than giving birth at home because it is high risk. So now many women go to the hospital. We also don’t have as much malnutrition anymore.”

Augusta often travels with women to hospital when they go into labour. “When they are due, the mothers call me from the health post. I then call the midwife and they come with an ambulance and take the mother to deliver in the hospital in Railaku.”

Despite these successes, Augusta still faces a host of challenges as a community health volunteer. Many health facilities are far away and difficult to access for many women. On top of that many women are wary of the health facilities and choose to deliver their child at home.

“I always say this to them: it is important to give birth at the hospital because your babies will be given vaccinations right after they are born to prevent any disease, and this will not cause harm for their babies. For the mother, the hospital will detect early if something is wrong with them before or after the delivery so they can help.”

With ongoing support and training from ChildFund and the Alola Foundation, Augusta is inspired to continue her work as a community health volunteer and support women to have healthy, thriving children in a safe, nurturing environment.

This project is supported by the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP).

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