“That particular time in her life was quite traumatic,” recalled Nyabor Bandak, a gender counselor, speaking about a young nursing student who learned she was pregnant during her third year in school. Bandak staffs the gender issues office at a health sciences college in Ethiopia. Sad and distraught, the student confided in Bandak that her partner had denied responsibility for the baby. What would become of her?
“She considered a number of options, including quitting college and going back to her family, committing suicide or disappearing to an unknown place where no one could find her,” remembered Bandak.
Instead, Bandak gave the student what she needed most—hope and a lifeline. Bandak comforted the student, counseled her to remain in school and discussed several options for finishing her education.
Bandak understood that an unplanned pregnancy, sexual harassment, pressure to marry and low self-esteem dramatically increase the risk that female students will drop out of school. She was prepared to assist the nursing student thanks to training she had received through a Jhpiego-led project to strengthen human resources for health in Ethiopia.
The project is helping Ethiopia’s universities and colleges strengthen the quality of education for the health workforce. It is also striving to increase the number of women health care providers in Ethiopia by working to create a safer and more gender-equitable environment at educational institutions, lessons that hopefully would carry over to the workplace.
Bandak counseled the pregnant student in several sessions and convinced her not to quit school. She also negotiated with the nursing department and relevant faculty to ensure that support was provided to the aspiring nurse, who returned to school after she gave birth and was able to graduate. Now she is working as a nurse at an area health center where she is in a position to inspire other young women in her community to follow her lead.
As for Bandak, she is ready for the next student who comes knocking on her door for help.