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How to honour our health volunteers in Nigeria?

How an alternative reward system can be more effective than cash to support volunteers in development projects

Giving stipends to volunteers - a fixed regular sum to cover expenses and other costs - is common practice among many development organisations. However, this approach is under scrutiny in Nigeria.

Health volunteers, part of the UK Aid Match maternal health project in Nigeria

Health volunteers receiving alternative rewards for their work in Nigeria

Stipends: the challenges

The current system of providing stipends or per diems has led to many challenges, and the problems faced are not specific to Christian Aid. 

Often, projects rely on volunteers to support their communities, for example through distributing anti-malaria bed nets, or acting as community mobilisers to bring people together to make change happen.

Many projects give stipends for transport, meals and other essentials.  However, this has, at times, led to challenges as volunteers understandably are drawn towards agencies who provide the most competitive stipend.

Alternative rewards for volunteers

In light of this, Christian Aid Nigeria decided to use an alternative reward system to engage community volunteers in our work.

This is something that we started piloting six years ago when working on a UK Aid-funded programme that allowed for a flexible funding approach.

Charles Usie, Christian Aid Nigeria Country Manager

This gave us the opportunity to test what was working better between paying volunteers in communities who support our work, and support community development, with a stipend every month or accumulating that money and investing in an income generating activity to build a livelihood that is sustainable over a period of time.

Charles Usie

Christian Aid Nigeria Country Manager

Community health volunteers receive items to develop their own business, as part of the UKAM, UK Aid Match, project in Nigeria

Community health volunteers receive items to develop their own business

Support for business and training

Our findings showed that an alternative reward system was more effective. While stipends can solve immediate or pressing financial problems, there is often little left after the completion of the project.

The alternative reward system essentially accumulates stipends to invest in income generation activities for the volunteers, and financial and business management training. This means that volunteers can continue to raise funds through their businesses after the programme, and also boosts the local economy.

An alternative reward system in action

The Partnership for Improved Child Health (PICH) is Christian Aid Nigeria’s flagship UK Aid-funded health project, to provide front-line, life-saving treatment to children under five in remote communities in Benue State Nigeria.

Nigeria is the second largest contributor to under-five mortality globally, and Benue State is one of the regions where under-five mortality is above the national average.

This project recruited and trained 902 community volunteers to treat cases of malaria, pneumonia, diarrhoea and provide supplementary feeding to children with severe acute malnutrition.

The volunteers are equipped with medicine boxes and kits to identify, test, treat and refer children with danger signs to health facilities.

More than 300,000 children have been assessed and treated by Christian Aid volunteers (May 2019).

A community health volunteer assesses a child for signs of malnutrition, part of the UKAM UK Aid Match PICH health project in Nigeria

A community health volunteer assesses a child for signs of malnutrition

Christian Aid Nigeria has worked closely with the volunteers to develop an alternative reward system so volunteers are supported to develop small businesses and are provided with business management training.

The volunteers can elect to invest in existing or new businesses with the aim of increasing their incomes and to improve the economy of local communities.

I never thought a day like this would come. I have struggled to buy a sewing machine for four years.

Magdalene

A volunteer and trained tailor from Konshisha, Nigeria

Magdalene's struggle to buy a sewing machine, has meant paying to borrow other people’s machines to work. Through the alternative reward system, she has now received her own machine which means that she can invest in her own business and can provide for her four-year-old daughter.

The alternative reward system within the PICH programme is also recognised by the Federal Ministry of Health as a successful approach:

The alternative reward system, it is an excellent one, because providing them [the volunteers] with an income generating activity will continue to empower them for life.

Dr Bose Adeniran

Director of Child Health Division, Federal Ministry of Health