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close this bookEducation for Health (WHO, 1988, 274 p.)
close this folderChapter 6: Health education with communities
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentWhat is a community?
View the documentWhen is community health education needed?
View the documentGetting opinion leaders involved
View the documentThe role of local organizations
View the documentThe community health committee
View the documentAdvisory and planning boards
View the documentIntersectoral coordination groups
View the documentOrganizing a health campaign
View the documentSpecial community events
View the documentMobilizing community resources for a project
View the documentDeveloping a partnership with people
View the documentThe role of the community health worker

The role of local organizations

Local organizations bring together people who have similar needs and interests. They can share ideas, give support to each other, and undertake projects together. Be sure to look for organizations that involve women, young people, and all other important sections of the community.

Local organizations vary in size depending on the number of people who have similar interests and want to be members. This could mean 10, 50, or more people. If there is a large number of members, they can divide into committees. Around 20 or 30 is a good number for carrying out projects, while still allowing participation.

Types of local organization

Branches of national organizations

There are many national and international organizations that encourage people to form local branches. Some examples are the Red Cross or Red Crescent Society, Boy and Girl Scouts or Guides, and the 4-H youth agricultural movement. The work of many of those groups is directly related to health and community development.
Local associations and clubs

These can be formed according to the particular needs and interests of people in your community. There may be a mothers' club at the preschool clinic. A fathers' club may also be organized to educate and involve fathers in the care and needs of their children. Children themselves can form health clubs.


Children at their health club.

We saw in Chapter 5, how patients with a long-term illness, namely diabetes, found it useful to form a club. At a school there could be many different clubs based on the different interests of pupils, such as science and drama. Parents with handicapped children could get together in an association to see how best to cope with problems of the children's education. A group of citizens could form an association to deal with problems related to a major local disease or to protect the environment.

Starting a local organization

Finding needs

Look around your clinic, schools, and community. Are there people with special needs and interests? Would they be able to solve their problems better if they worked together in an association?


If there is no organization in the community to cope with a specific need you have identified, you may want to start one. Talk to people, especially community leaders, to see if it is a good idea. Often, there is already an organization that can extend its activity to meet the need.

Encouraging interest

Talk to people. Find out what they have been doing to solve their problems. Do they need the support and encouragement of others? Explain the value and purpose of organizing an association or a club. Find out if people would be willing to meet with others to discuss such a project.

Holding an exploratory meeting

Hold a meeting where people can explore the idea. At the meeting explain the idea again. Encourage people to ask questions. Make sure they understand clearly.

Do not push the idea too hard. People may become suspicious or uncooperative if it looks as though you are trying to force them. There will always be some people who have doubts. They will ask questions like, 'Will I have to pay for anything?' 'Who will be in charge?' Answer all questions politely and completely.

Clarifying responsibilities

During the exploratory meeting and afterwards, always make it clear to the group that the association or the club they form belongs to them and that they will make all the decisions about activities. The purpose is that people should be better organized to help themselves.

Explain that your role will be to serve as advisor or guide. You are not the leader. You do not give directions. You are there-to help members do whatever they want to do.
Deciding to begin

At some point during the first exploratory meeting, or at follow up meetings, a decision will be reached on whether to establish a formal group or not. This is a decision that those who are interested must make for themselves.

Do not be surprised if most of the people react positively about the project, but a few do not. Not all hypertensive patients will want to share their problems with others. Not every father would want to belong to a fathers' club.

Encourage those who are interested to go ahead. Let the others know that they are welcome to join whenever they have the time and inclination.

Setting up a structure for the organization

For an association or a club to work well over months and years, it needs a structure. That means that there should be leaders, a clearly stated purpose, and a few rules or procedures.

These are all issues and decisions that the members of the group should work out for themselves. You should encourage them to set things up in the way that feels most familiar and comfortable to them. Do not tell them that they must have a chairperson, a treasurer, and a secretary. Explain that it is a usual procedure to have some form of leadership as this is helpful for getting things done. In the case of a branch of a national association, it may even be obligatory to have a specific leadership structure. See with the people what fits best into the local culture.

You can ask general questions to help the members think: 'What do you want to do about leadership?' 'Is everyone clear about the purpose of the club?' Refer to the section on meetings at the end of Chapter 5 for more information on conducting, such a session. Encourage understanding, participation and consensus.

Make it clear to people that any formal group needs to have activities and projects or its members will lose interest. If there are regular meeting-times, members can work together on activities that will help solve problems faced by everyone.