PEI

Islander in Ethiopia helping spread the word about HPV and importance of vaccinations

Islander Rebecca Gass has been living out of a suitcase since September when she got on a plane to volunteer in Ethiopia with a branch of the country's ministry of health and Cuso International.

'I'm truly falling in love with the country and the people'

'Just seeing people work with limited resources has reminded me that you don't always need all of the technologies that are always available in Canada to make a strong impact,' Rebecca Gass says. (Submitted by Rebecca Gass)

Islander Rebecca Gass has been living out of a suitcase since September, when she got on a plane to volunteer in Ethiopia with a branch of the country's ministry of health and Cuso International.

The Clyde River native has been helping a regional task force in Ethiopia centred on communicating information to local communities about female health, which rolled out in December.

"I'm truly falling in love with the country and the people," she said.  

One of the first girls to be vaccinated in the country as a part of the program, which rolled out in December. (Submitted by Rebecca Gass)

Weak prevention services 

In Ethiopia, one of the most prevalent cancers among adult women is cervical cancer, which affects about 13 per cent of women in the country, according to the World Health Organization.

The WHO has reported that about 80 per cent of cervical cancer cases in Ethiopia are detected at a late stage because of a lack of information and weak prevention services available.

Gass has spent much of her time travelling through the country with co-workers spreading information through a "social mobilization campaign" on human papillomavirus and the importance of vaccinations.

"It was another way to spread the message to get to our ultimate goal of vaccinating all the girls in the area," Gass said.

A woman's voice

One of the means of providing information for the campaign has been to drive through communities with pre-recorded audio clips, which are played through a speaker.

Historically the pre-recorded messages have used male voices. Gass said she fought to have a woman's voice heard through the microphone.

I felt truly inspired to help women in marginalized populations.- Rebecca Gass

"I had to really push for this," she said. "I told them it's much different for a woman to hear a woman's voice telling them something about their health versus hearing it from a man's voice."

Gass said the men in the community eventually "jumped on board once they saw how passionate I was about it."

"The ability to foster change on the ground level is still something that needs some work," she said.

'Truly inspired'

Gass's master's thesis focused on youth empowerment in girls, which eventually led her to want to help young girls and women feel empowered through relaying information about their bodies in Ethiopia.

"I felt truly inspired to help women in marginalized populations," she said.  

"Ethiopian women are so strong and resilient."

Although her placement ends in May, Gass said, if the opportunity presents itself she wouldn't be opposed to staying longer — with visits back home sprinkled in between.

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With files from Island Morning

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