I recently went to Macedonia to take part in a peer exchange programme for British and Macedonian civil society organisations. The programme is managed by Euclid Network from the UK and the Institutional Development (CIRa) based in Macedonia with the support of the British Embassy in Skopje.
I was paired with the Sveti Nikole women’s organisation which is based in Sveti Nikole, a small town about an hour’s drive away from the capital, Skopje. The organisation is developing a support centre for women with breast cancer. Macedonia has the highest death rates for breast cancer in the whole of Europe and the Sveti Nikole women’s group wants to establish the first centre to support and help women dealing with cancer and then take this initiative and ensure that there is one in each region of the country. They have already set up a ‘self- help’ group for 20 women from the town which is led by a medical doctor with a specialist knowledge of breast cancer and a physiologist, both of whom work voluntarily on the project.
Although they are a small organisation, they have already achieved considerable success with the implementation of an organised cervical cancer prevention programme – which won an international award (Pearl of Wisdom, Cervical Cancer Prevention Award). They mobilised a group of non-govermental organisations (NGOs) to lobby the Macedonian government for free cervical cancer tests – which they were successful, and Macedonian women are now able to access a free smear test every 5 years.
My role was to support their application to a Competition, part of the Peer exchange programme that focuses on Solutions to 3 Key Challenges: policy making & advocacy, financial sustainability, and transparency & accountability. The Sveti Nikole Women’s Group are already finalists in their field of policy making & advocacy and if they win this final stage they will be able to visit the UK next year, for further mentoring sessions and meetings with key cancer treatment centers.
Their project is well considered and very necessary – having met some of the women in the ‘self-help’ group I could see how vital their work is, in a country where women are still expressing shame at having breast cancer.
Link to Sveti Nikole organisation: http://www.womsvetinikole.org.mk