Spiritual leader doubles as public health educator


February 11, 2011

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    Samyra Roder/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Mullah Salohideen is a passionate public health promoter and active member of his local Village Development Committee (VDC) in Mastcho, Tajikistan. Photo: Samyra Roder/Mercy Corps

“It’s a sin to live a passive life. If you see a blind man walking towards a well, it’s your duty to say something,” Mullah Salohideen said with conviction — looking up from studying a brochure on childhood illness in the village clinic’s only empty room.

The local religious leader continued to speak passionately about the chief health concerns in Mastcho district of Northern Tajikistan, interspersing public health quips with Qur’anic references and poetic proverbs. Within minutes, it became clear that his philosophy of moral responsibility goes far beyond words.

As a locally-respected voice on Islam, tenured history teacher and active community member, Salohideen is the ideal public health educator and community mobilizer. “After the fall of the Soviet Union, I was able to bring together what we always knew as opposing ideologies: secularism and religion,” explains Salohideen. With the support of Mercy Corps field staff, Salohideen was able to fully transform his hybrid beliefs into action when he joined his local Village Development Committee (VDC) in 2009.

VDCs are the backbone of Mercy Corps’ Maternal and Child Health Program in Tajikistan. They are made up of local leaders and activists who meet regularly to discuss the community’s foremost concerns, facilitate public health education sessions, and raise funds to launch projects. Mercy Corps works closely with VDC members and organizes capacity building workshops to ensure their ideas for improving community health are effectively put into action.

Since becoming a member of his VDC, Mullah Salohideen has felt a greater sense of responsibility to serve his community. Having gained additional knowledge on critical health issues such as HIV/AIDS, safe pregnancy and newborn care, he is invited daily to village mosques and traditional events to speak about health and faith. As a result of his sermons, conservative men in Mastcho are beginning to encourage their wives to attend Mercy Corps’ health education sessions on childhood illness and women’s health.

Picking up his suitcase and adjusting his traditional Tajik toqiye hat, Salohideen concludes, “My ultimate goal is to separate religion from old wives tales that may harm people’s health and safety.”

The Mullah hopes to continue learning and teaching public health and says he feels prepared now to lecture in front of hundreds of people.