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Mama Rika: A Beacon of Community Empowerment and Gender Equality

Mama Rika: A Beacon of Community Empowerment and Gender Equality

At the age of 25, Henderika Nitano, fondly known as Mama Rika, found herself at the intersection of familial duties and community service. Newly married and raising her only child, she received a pivotal call from the Village Head 15 years ago, urging her to become a Community Health Worker.

Reflecting on that moment, Mama Rika recalls the earnest plea from the village chief, who saw in her not just intelligence but also a deep commitment to service. “He said, ‘We need your help. The community needs your help. You’re one of the few who have received an education in our village. You’re capable. We need someone like you to serve,'” she recounts, her decision to accept the role propelled more by instinct than contemplation.

Since then, Mama Rika’s dedication to her community has fostered a growing trust among its members. “A few years later, I assumed the role of Neighbourhood Head (‘RT’) in my area,” she shares, her smile radiant with pride.

Embracing her position as a neighborhood leader, Mama Rika found herself uniquely positioned to mobilize caregivers for Posyandu sessions (Health Posts). Today, her Posyandu boasts an outstanding attendance rate of 98%, a testament to her proactive efforts in community engagement. “I make it a point to remind everyone in the neighborhood a day before the Posyandu session, ensuring they don’t miss out,” she explains.

Yet, Mama Rika’s impact extends beyond mere attendance figures. Breaking through entrenched gender stereotypes, she advocates for gender-inclusive practices within her Posyandu. “I’ve persistently encouraged men to take an active role in childcare, urging them to participate in Posyandu sessions alongside mothers,” she asserts, recognizing the importance of shared responsibility in nurturing children.

Observing a notable shift in traditional gender roles, we witness fathers confidently carrying their infants at the Posyandu. This departure from convention elicits excitement, signaling a progressive shift in societal norms. When asked about this transformation, Mama Rika attributes it to consistent efforts and supportive allies like Pak Edu, the Head of the Health Center, who championed the cause among village leaders.

In just two years, Mama Rika’s Posyandu has achieved remarkable success, recording the sharpest decline in childhood stunting rates within the village. Her journey to combat stunting began with a revelation about its prevalence and implications. “Learning about stunting was eye-opening for me. I felt a personal responsibility to ensure the health of children in my community,” she admits, underscoring the urgency of her mission.

Mama Rika’s expression brightens as she reflects on the invaluable support provided by Berto, the 1000 Days Fund QAC stationed in their area. “Having Berto nearby has been truly instrumental,” she remarks with gratitude.

Mama Rika’s expression brightens as she reflects on the invaluable support provided by Berto, the 1000 Days Fund QAC stationed in their area. “Having Berto nearby has been truly instrumental,” she remarks with gratitude. “His creativity on explaining details about pregnancy and early childhood development is incredibly, and I’ve made it a point to share his insights with my Posyandu attendees every month.”

Recalling one particularly enlightening moment, Mama Rika recounts Berto’s vivid explanation about the size of a newborn’s stomach in the first week, likening it to the size of a marble. “It’s these little details that truly make a difference,” she reflects, her admiration for Berto’s expertise evident in her tone.

Moreover, Mama Rika highlights Berto’s approachability and affable nature, which resonate well with the pregnant mothers in the community. “He’s not only knowledgeable but also down to earth and easy to converse with,” she shares, fondly recalling some of Berto’s humorous anecdotes shared during his discussions on stunting prevention.

Berto (black shirt, right) with Nelis, his Project Lead for Timor Tengah Selatan (red shirt-left)

In Mama Rika’s account, Berto emerges not just as an educator but as a trusted ally, whose presence and insights continue to shape the health and well-being of their community.

In Mama Rika’s account, Berto emerges not just as an educator but as a trusted ally, whose presence and insights continue to shape the health and well-being of their community.

In response to the question about her long-term commitment as a Community Health Worker (CHW), Mama Rika replied with unwavering determination, stating, “As long as I’m able to contribute.”

Intrigued by her future aspirations, I ventured, “What lies beyond the role of Neighbourhood Head? Perhaps Village Head?” Her laughter filled the air, acknowledging the jest in my suggestion.

However, sensing the sincerity underlying her potential for broader leadership roles, I made a promise of support. “If you decide to embark on the path to becoming the first female Village Chief in our district, count on me. I’ll gladly take a sabbatical to assist in your campaign,” I affirmed, recognizing the transformative impact Mama Rika could wield in breaking gender barriers and effecting positive change in their community.

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