Grace Phiri, national health advisor for the Zambian Anglican Council (ZAC), is involved in health policy formulation in the Anglican Church in Zambia and interprets government health policies to ensure effective implementation of the Church's health programs. She has been instrumental in piloting a malaria prevention and control program through ZAC.
Phiri is a registered nurse who has trained at the Kitwe and Ndola Schools of Nursing, and the University of Zambia. She has served as regional coordinator for CARE International and as a provincial public health nurse for the Zambian Ministry of Health. Prior to her position with ZAC, Phiri worked as a district director of health, responsible for executing health service delivery.
In an interview with Episcopal News Service, Phiri speaks about her responsibilities with ZAC and how the partnership with Episcopal Relief and Development has aided the Church's mission and helped to build capacity for development in the five dioceses of Zambia.
Video and audio streams of Phiri's interview are available here.
The full text of Phiri's interview follows:
I'm Grace Phiri. I'm currently the national health advisor for the Anglican Church in Zambia. The Anglican Church in Zambia has a board known as the Zambian Anglican Council. It is comprised of five dioceses and we have five bishops in those dioceses. The concept of having the Anglican Council was to try to coordinate all the work and the administration of the Church in Zambia and before our partnership with Episcopal Relief and Development we didn't have a well-established focused development desk. Now we have that opportunity and this opportunity has made the Council grow more and more in terms of the image in Zambia.
The work of the council is like -- the dioceses are autonomous, but there is a need to put the Church together. So the council tries to bring resource mobilization for the Church. It's a body that says how the Church's mission is going to be focused, especially at a community level. And then it looks at the international demonstration and the linkages within the country in terms of other denominations and mixed policy for the Church.
Zambia has been unfortunate -- we are one of those among the highly in debt countries and it's just now that we go through completion points and most of the debts were cancelled, but the effect of debt cancellation has indeed been felt because poverty is highly felt in Zambia, especially in the rural areas, and Zambia is about 80 percent rural and 20 percent urban. Basic needs of the community are still very, very inadequate, so there are bigger challenges in terms of big public health problems, like malaria, HIV/AIDS, water sanitation. Then we have had droughts in certain parts of Zambia, and food security has been one of the major problems contributing to the building of disease and economics in general.
It has become very crucial in the Communion to contribute to health care in Zambia. One of the issues we need to look at is: with the advance of poverty, health care has a bigger role in development issues. So when we look at the prevailing factors now, people have little access to health care because of the distances and the number of health centers not being adequate, and you find in certain districts where they don't even have a hospital, people rely on trained community case providers who are volunteers. So that need calls for the Church to take up a bigger role of getting the mission to the people, not only spiritually, but physically. But of course, spiritual work can't work without physical needs being addressed and at the moment what we have realized is that when you give people hope and people have been introduced to certain ways of looking after themselves, they are so keen to take responsibility of their own health within the community.
Episcopal Relief and Development's partnership with the Zambian Anglican Council is one partnership that has been felt in Zambia. In the first place we didn't have a focused operation, and this goes beyond health, it goes beyond development, it goes to the church mission as well. Episcopal Relief and Development has assisted the Zambian Anglican Council to have a definite office; they've built capacity to manage that office and with that capacity it has trickled down to the dioceses. At the moment we are talking about a development officer in every diocese of the five dioceses of Zambia and with these development officers the most amazing thing is that it has gone down to the communities where capacity has been built at congregation level where the priest is now able to make a strategic plan on how they are going to manage their congregation, which was not there [before]. This has integrated into the operational areas we agreed with the Episcopal Church in the US.
The other thing we have seen grow with the assistance of ERD is that, apart from offering health and development, the evangelism of the church ... Now it is in a more focused manner; there is a plan for what you are going to do for the whole month, and when you come back, you analyze and you try to find out what next. So that is a credit to Episcopal Relief and Development.
Traditionally, the Church in Zambia looked at women [differently], but now what we are looking at is the ministry of women in all Church programs. So what I have seen grow in the Church in terms of gender is that for example we have a very big women's group in the Anglican Church of Zambia called the Mothers' Union. Their role was not felt, their role was like: you have a church that can provide church music and a choir. But their role should go beyond that. So we have taken those women programs, integrated them in the mainstream of the Church programs and let the women participate at decision-making, at implementation, at raising up their voice, so that we are part of every Church program and can see the Church grow. It will take some time, but we have moved towards something and I think we are moving in the right direction so far.
Before I came into this program, I had a position in the government and that position was community-based and I was doing programs almost like I am doing now ... What I didn't realize is that the end person, the beneficiary, is more important than the planner. Now I realize that you have to have a heart to see that you get to the beneficiary, because where we are we are going to the remotest areas, and when you go to that remote area sometimes you are greeted with a scenario where you see a person who, when they have food, shouldn't look like that. But that has changed my thinking a lot. It takes love to give those people hope and to help those people work for themselves and to develop their skills so that they are able to do something for themselves. It's not an easy thing.
My prayer for the Church is that in every planning that we do we should think about the person who is going to receive the benefit of what we are doing ... Sometimes we throw what we need to do to those people, without realizing what their need is. My prayer is that we always talk about money -- yes money should be there -- but the first thing is to build capacity and to give a person a skill so the person can learn to be useful in society.
I must say that we are very, very grateful for the partnership [with ERD]. It's amazing what partnership means. I think my word to Episcopal Relief and Development is that they don't realize because they don't see. If they had an opportunity to see that every cent they send to do something is basically used in a very focused way and the best way so that people benefit.