Remember the days when you had to go to a library to look something up? What if you had to walk there? And it took three hours. And the book you wanted was checked out. Technology has brought so much to our lives that we sometimes forget the value of information.
In my work, I’ve realized that information can be a hard commodity to sell or even to give away. Even when we try to make information available, when living under constrained circumstances, we often have bigger fish to fry (like trying to get the actual fish!). The focus is on tangible resources. And in developed countries we may treat our technology and especially its outer manifestations—phones, computers, televisions—as the end in itself. We value the package as much as what it brings us.
This year, VillageReach launched a new project in the Balaka District of Malawi to provide women and caregivers of young children new ways to access information and advice about pregnancy and child health through mobile phones. This project reminds me that information is another valuable missing resource in the most rural communities. We have heard from health providers that women often attempt to “wait out” their own or their child’s medical problems, rather than seeking care quickly when local resources may be of use because the often arduous journey to seek health care may represent a risk or a cost in and of itself. It can be a difficult decision to make. The simple practice of informing people of when something is serious and when it can be managed at home can both save lives and ensure the strategic use of existing resources.
Of course information isn’t enough, and a pregnant woman may still have to walk for three hours to reach the health center. We can’t afford to forget that, even while we are helping women and caretakers make informed decisions about seeking care. For me, this means remembering the context for the advice and information we are providing. I keep this picture on my desktop. I took it as we were traveling to a rural clinic. It’s a reminder of what rural really means, but it’s also a reminder that there are life-changing resources that go beyond the tangible.
Stacey Cunningham is the Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health Project Manager for VillageReach, based in rural Malawi.