“Support Local Innovation”, Says Naomi Tulay-Solanke, Liberia
There has been reiterated calls for international community to recognize local knowledge and to work together with local partners in order to find lasting and effective solutions to the problems that affect communities today. More specifically, international NGOs are asked to collaborate with local communities and organizations not as recipients of aid, but as partners who are capable of contributing and leading response with their own ideas, values, lifestyles, preferences, needs, abilities and desires.
The recently concluded WHS shed light on the frustrations shared by many local and national NGOs as they try to partner with international counterparts in order to respond to those in need in their own communities. One such organization is Community Health Initiative (CHI) in Liberia. Founded and led by Naomi Tulay-Solanke, the organization has been working to find innovative health solutions to communities in Liberia.
“When the government of Liberia reopened schools in March after Liberia had been declared Ebola free, UNICEF and other INGOs supplied sanitary materials, buckets, and drums with one faucet on each. The drums were placed at the entrance of schools and used for hand washing by students and non-students.”
Naomi says while this initiative was very helpful, it constrained students and violated one of the cardinal rules of prevention. “It increased chances of bodily contact as people would stand in long queues, waiting for their turn.”
To fix this, Naomi introduced a hand-wash drum with eight different faucets. However, unlike INGOs, CHI did not have the funds to make many of these drums and distribute them to schools across Monrovia. There was also not much financial support forthcoming from the INGOs present in Liberia at the time. To her, it was important that this innovation receives the support it needed in order to reduce the chances of infection and save as many lives as possible.
However, the lack of support did not mean that she was helpless. Together with her CHI team and some community volunteers, they raised money through a five-day early-morning car wash and tea sale. Luckily for them, Action-Aid Liberia also came on board and signed an MOU with CHI to install 112 of these hand-wash stands and conduct safe trainings for schools in 180 communities within 7 counties of their operation.
While other international NGOs could have easily collaborated with CHI in order to distribute these hand washing drums to as many schools as possible, many of them opted to take up the idea, leaving CHI on the sidelines. “They did not even mention our name locally or give us credit for it.”
Naomi believes that local NGO’s play an important role in providing practical solutions to the challenges of the current system. “We live in these communities; we are faced with the same problems as inhabitants; and we are better posed to work with them in solving it.” Naomi is also quick to remind us that it is not simply about who does it best, but about the people the system is here to serve. However, the recognition of grassroots organizations at the international level is important as it inspires them. Naomi hopes that donors and the international community see the potential in working collaboratively with local and national organizations.
Beyond recognizing local actors, Naomi also calls for the recognition of the role of women as first responders. “Women are usually if not all of the time the first to care for their family.”
She also thinks that the needs of women and girls in response are more often than not, forgotten or ignored. “Unfortunately, most of the response is often led by men who rarely think of these things.” Her organization CHI through one of their projects, Pad for Girls, has been making and distributing reusable sanitary pads to promote girls’ retention in schools in Liberia.
In the end, Naomi says that making the world a better place for the community is at the heart for what she does. “I am glad to be part of a generation of youthful thinkers that are finding innovative solutions to problems, reinventing new ideas and challenging the status quo in the midst of difficulties.”