On the 10th of April, PHAIWA hosted a visit from Isabel Ross, an inspiring public health advocate who has just spent the past two years volunteering in Swaziland. PHAIWA has followed Isabel's journey in our newsletters since 2012, providing readers with an inspiring insight into the power of advocacy for a country facing issues far different to those in our own backyard.
PHAIWA Deputy-Director Mel Stoneham talks about advocacy Isabel Ross discusses her aid work and adventures in Swaziland
For the entire hour of Isabel's presentation the audience was spell-bound by her story of how she moved from the Geraldton to one of the smallest countries in Africa to embark on aid work with Gone Rural boMake, a community development organisation whose water, health and education projects empower 10,000 women artisans and their communities. During her time there, Isabel was involved in a range of programs covering: child health, mental health, women's health, sexual health, water and sanitation, and even assisting in organising a music festival and the recording of a cd showcasing the voices of local Swazis.
Sustaining the positive impact of volunteer work is often difficult to achieve once an individual returns to their home country, however Isabel has left a long-lasting and sustainable impact on the Gone Rural boMake organisation. Her work to train peer-educators and empower local women has resulted in many positive flow-on effects, including: a significant increase in the number of local children attending school, an increase in the number of women reporting they are the main decision maker in for household finances, and an increase in the knowledge of local women about their HIV status.
The presentation provided an eye-opening account of the difficulties faced by people in Swaziland as a result of the high HIV rates, poverty and inequalities faced by women; but it was clear from Isabel's account that she experienced great kindness and friendship from the locals she met. The audience was captivated by the amazing range of experiences she faced while overseas, such as her encounters with locals at traditional religious ceremonies, and the over 50 marriage proposals she received (her highest offer was 50 cows for her hand in marriage!).
Providing the best indication of the life-changing effect of volunteer work, Isabel will be embarking on a new journey next month, travelling to Zambia for a 12-month period volunteering with water and sanitation programs. PHAIWA wishes her well and we know that her work will lead to many positive changes for that community, just as she has made a lasting impact on the lives of people in Swaziland
To read about Isabel's adventures, and follow her work in Zambia, you can view her blog.
Further information about aid work is available from www.australianvolunteers.gov.au