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Enabling women health volunteers in Nepal

The Government of Nepal initiated the FCHV programme in 1988 and around 50,000 local women are involved. (UNV)The Government of Nepal initiated the FCHV programme in 1988 and around 50,000 local women are involved. (UNV)Chonghee Choi is a UNV volunteer Community Health Coordination Officer with UNFPA. (UNV)Chonghee Choi is a UNV volunteer Community Health Coordination Officer with UNFPA. (UNV)UNV initiated a basic orientation training package to help FCHV volunteers get to grips with their entitlements. (UNV)UNV initiated a basic orientation training package to help FCHV volunteers get to grips with their entitlements. (UNV)
02 March 2009

Lalitpur, Nepal: Thousands of female volunteers who roam the Nepali countryside providing health education and primary health care rely on UNV to help this major volunteering programme run smoothly.

Women in rural Nepal suffer from high maternal mortality and low access to maternal and child health services. The Government of Nepal initiated the Female Community Health Volunteer (FCHV) programme in 1988 and there are now around 50,000 local women voluntarily helping Nepal to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

Chonghee Choi is a UNV volunteer Community Health Coordination Officer with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). As the focal person supporting the Government in the monitoring and evaluation of the project, she provides technical advice and feedback on programme's progress and budget utilization.

"UNFPA has fully recognised the particular value of the FCHV programme and has been supporting it for several years," she explains. "My main responsibilities in UNFPA are to enhance coordination among national and international stakeholders and the Government to run the FCHV programme more effectively at the central, district and community levels."

In 2008, the Government established a special fund for the FCHV programme to assist volunteers in need of financial help, or as seed money for business activities. Each Village Development Committee (there are several in each district) is entitled to about US$ 750.

However, few of the FCHV volunteers were aware of or understood the fund, so UNV initiated a basic orientation training package. Encouraged by the preliminary work that UNV conducted, UNFPA and other partners such as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) contributed more funding as the training package developed.

As well as familiarizing them with their entitlements, the training package also helps FCHV volunteers learn about income generation and share their knowledge with the community. It will gradually be rolled out to all 75 districts of Nepal.

Though the FCHV programme volunteers are often poor themselves, they are highly committed. Chonghee Choi, who comes from the Republic of Korea, says she will never forget what one volunteer she met in a remote village told her. "Everyone in the village trusts me so much," said the FCHV volunteer, "and I can see how this work has saved many lives here. So I cannot stop my work when people need me."

The FCHV volunteers have also made significant contributions to women’s leadership and empowerment at the village level, and several work as Village Development Committee or Health Management Committee members in their communities.

"As a volunteer myself," Ms. Choi concludes, "I feel very proud to work for these female volunteers who are making a difference in Nepal."

UNV is administered by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)