Faiziniso Ruziboeva has always dreamed of becoming a doctor. However, there is only one medical school in all of Tajikistan, which located in the nation’s capital, Dushanbe. Having grown up in a family of 10 children in the northern Sughd province — made remote by impressive mountain ranges, jagged borders and meager infrastructure — Faiziniso never had the means to get her medical degree.
Despite these barriers, she has been relentless in finding other ways to serve the women and children of her village. She has been a dedicated a primary school teacher for 27 years and has managed to pursue her interest in medicine independently. In college, she took first aid as an elective and has since been studying health on her own. Her neighbors are well aware of her hobby, and often come to her for basic medical advice. Last year — with the help of Mercy Corps — Faiziniso was finally able to take her passion a step further by becoming a trained Community Health Educator.
In northern Tajikistan, active community members like Faiziniso have proven integral to promoting positive behavior change in families who have or are expecting young children. Familiar with local health priorities, available resources and leadership, Community Health Educators are both accessible information sources and efficient grassroots organizers.
First, Mercy Corps trains volunteers on health topics including personal hygiene, diarrhea, acute respiratory infection and HIV/AIDS. Then, volunteers organize regular interactive lessons, make home visits to vulnerable families and collaborate with local health workers — referring patients as needed.
This month, Faiziniso is working as a dehydration and diarrhea specialist. Before heading to school to teach her afternoon classes, she manages to squeeze in another health lesson.
Going door-to-door, she identifies 10 of her neighbors who have yet to learn about the dangers of childhood diarrhea. Her students include shy young mothers, stern mothers-in-law and wise elders. They gather in a courtyard living room around hot green tea and homemade flatbread while Faiziniso meticulously demonstrates how to prepare Oral Rehydration Solution.
She is poised, professional and confident. After the lesson, Faiziniso humbly declares, “I feel like I’ve finally become a doctor. I have reached my goal.”