Hawa with other women in Mali at Action Against Hunger treatment centre

The Hawa Effect: The Power of Women in the Fight Against Hunger

As more women are empowered to become community health workers, they can help an entire generation grow up strong.

By Action Against Hunger

Mar 6 2019

This International Women’s Day we are bringing you stories of some of the amazing women on the front line of the fight against hunger. One of Action Against Hunger’s most reliable strategies is to train community health workers who can help an entire generation to grow up strong.

Watch Hawa's video

A few years ago, a baby named Musa fell very ill. No one in his village of Kourougue in Mali recognised his symptoms. His mother, Many, didn’t know how to help him. Without treatment, Musa got worse, until his parents had no choice but to bring him to a health centre – a two-hour journey on foot.

Once at the health centre, Musa was diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition - a case so advanced that his parents had to rush Musa to an Action Against Hunger in-patient facility. Many stayed with her son while he was treated at the hospital for more than two weeks, time that she wasn’t able to work or care for the rest of her family.

Luckily, Musa is now a healthy four year old, but a similar fate nearly befell Musa’s younger sister, Fatumata, recently. Thankfully, this time, a woman named Hawa Coulibaly was there to intervene earlier.

Hawa, a community health worker trained by Action Against Hunger, was walking through the village and spotted Fatumata. Identifying the signs of malnutrition, she asked Many to bring the little girl to the clinic she operates right in their village. Hawa diagnosed Fatumata with severe acute malnutrition and prescribed a three-week course of treatment. With Hawa’s guidance, Many provided therapeutic food for her daughter, at home, until she made a full recovery.

“Before Hawa, we were living in darkness,” says Many. “Since she has come here, children are healthier and mothers are happier.”

Many and her daughter Fatumata sit next to Hawa.

Many and her daughter Fatumata sit next to Hawa. They are in the clinic that Hawa set up next to the home where she lives with her three children.

In Mali, and in many other countries where Action Against Hunger works, acute malnutrition rates are high, despite the fact that it is a predictable, preventable, and treatable condition. Often, parents like Many aren’t able to recognise their children’s sickness before it gets very serious, and health centres are miles away.

To bridge this gap between communities and the health system, Action Against Hunger relies on community health workers, most of whom are women. We’re teaming up with local governments and partners to make sure that community health workers have the skills and tools they need to both diagnose and treat malnutrition cases in the villages where they live and work. Community health workers help to spot cases early and save parents the long walk to the nearest clinic.

“On my first day here, I saved a child’s life,” recalls Hawa, the community health worker in Mali.

“If a child is healed, then I am happy. I could do another job, but not like this. Why would I want to? I love this so much.”

Community health workers also break the cycle of malnutrition by teaching families how to prevent malnutrition in the first place. 

“Since Hawa has been in the village, I’ve noticed a change,” says Mamissa, mother of Simbo, who recently recovered from a case of acute malnutrition. “There were a lot of sick children before, but now there are few.”

Hawa walking in the village with her back turned towards the camera.

“Mothers thank me. This treatment heals their children,” says Hawa Coulibaly, 30, a community health worker in Kourougue village, Mali.

As Hawa transforms health care in Kourougue, there are thousands more women like her in more than 45 countries where we work. Together, by going from mother to mother, home to home, they are reaching more children with care and treatment and saving more lives than ever before.  



Help us grow the movement to end hunger this International Women's Day! Watch and share our video on your social networks with the hashtag #WomenAgainstHunger and celebrate strong women who are saving lives and changing their communities around the world.


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Images: Toby Madden for Action Against Hunger