A Population Council trustee invited my family to hear New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof speak at the Council. I had always been drawn to international development, and while studying abroad in Morocco, became particularly interested in women's health and empowerment. The way Mr. Kristof discussed these matters was close to my heart, and helped me to better appreciate the research on critical health and development issues that the Council does all over the world. I followed the Council's work over the following months, and my parents, brother, and I joined the Council trustees and supporters on a trip to Ethiopia in January 2012 to meet the Council's country staff and visit some of the project sites.
Seeing the Council's work in Ethiopia made clear how a research organization delivers ideas that generate solutions and improve lives. While the Council conducts research, publishes articles in academic journals, and presents its findings at major international conferences, it also partners with local institutions. It respects and understands local traditions and values.
In Ethiopia, the Population Council decided that the most effective way to prevent female genital mutilation was by working with priests from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Together, they created the "Developmental Bible," a guide with messages about positive sexual and reproductive health behaviors. This project started out with a baseline survey to measure knowledge of HIV prevention methods, attitudes toward stigma and discrimination, gender-based violence, gender roles, early marriage, and female genital mutilation/cutting. Over 3,000 priests, deacons, Sunday school, and women Church association members in over 100 churches in four regions were interviewed to get an understanding of the dynamics in rural Ethiopian society and strategies to work with the Church. The Council research helped the Church recommend a practical and influential path to address female genital mutilation and other harmful traditional practices. On our visit, we met a priest who now refuses to baptize a girl who has been cut, calling the practice "barbaric."
Hard data combined with a historical and cultural understanding make the Council effective in addressing issues that compromise the health and well-being of communities in developing countries. The Council brings the best biomedical, social science, and public health research to the table and engages local experts in formulating and implementing the solutions that lead to better policies that improve lives.
I went on a fabulous trip to Ethiopia thanks to the Council. Having been deeply impressed with and inspired by the Council's work, the least I can do is give what I can. I look forward to following the Population Council's work and supporting it for years to come.