Thursday, February 12, 2009

“In Africa You Are Never Alone”

After the workshop we got ready to visit the land where we will be building the birth house. The funding proposal we sent Seane Corn was approved by Off The Mat, so we are working with The Earth Rising Foundation to get things moving! There are no words to explain this day. First of all the land is smack in the middle of nowhere. The drive there was incredible....on what could be called roads, but more like using the power of the 4x4 to push through the dense bush. The plants and trees scraped their way along the sides of the vehicle. I kept joking with the sisters about the need for a birth house where there are no people and they assured me that they were there..."In africa, you are never alone" they said. We stopped at what is known as the town-trading centre, which was one run down shack and a small brick building with a few things for sale. The community here relies mostly on what they can grow themselves to survive and raising cattle - they grow as much as they need to survive and it pretty much ends there. In the town we stopped to pick up a few community leaders - exchanged greetings and then made our way towards the land. Along the way John emerged out of the bush - it was his land that the sisters bought which we are using to build the birth house - 228 acres.

He guided us towards the land and we all got out of the vehicle to greet his wife who emerged from her tiny mud hut. And then we walked and walked and walked. Over time what was red clay became light sand and the vegetation also began to change. We jumped over moving lines of safari ants (which, after being attacked by these little guys last week, I attempted to FLY over them!) Through swamp and cows and cow poo and then more land. John's sister in law was with him - she was waiting to birth and had come to stay with his wife (her sister) to birth in their mud hut in the middle of nowhere. After our visit, he decided that he would sell one of his cows and bring her to Bishop Asili to birth. One of the TBAs in the community had just left on a motorcycle (along the most bumpy road you can imagine) with a mama who had complications - they were trying to make their way towards the closest clinic (there in nothing in this village – which is why they have requested our presence here). Usually the women die by the time they get to the closest clinic - we never did find out if this woman was ok.

We finally convinced John and Sam, who we were walking with, that we had a lifetime to walk the land and perhaps we should head back for our meeting with the community. My thoughts that there was nobody there were proven wrong and slowly by slowly over 115 community members began to emerge – literally out of nowhere!

The meeting was incredible – they put forth the problems in the village – high maternal + infant death rates, no schools so a large amount of youth with nothing to do were turning to drinking, increasing HIV rates - the list goes on. The women all sat on one side – at least every second woman had a baby on her hip or at the breast! – and the men on the other side. We met with the TBAs and scheduled another meeting with them on Saturday to further discuss their needs and how we can work together as we build the birth house. Many of the men were drunk (there really is nothing else for them to do) – it was devastating – the women put them in their place quite fast – it was an interesting process to watch. Most of the men present had cattle which is what they spend their time doing and the women have babies which is, for the most part, what they spend their time doing. We have our work cut out for us here, but although the challenges are high, this community truly needs, wants and is ready to take part in this project!

We were here for the rest of the day, the sun began to set and we discussed creating a letter, which would be taken by scooter to one of the village leaders who we want to be present on Saturday when adam comes and when we meet with the TBAs – apparently, the only way to request his presence is to deliver a hand written letter into the bush – and after todays meeting – I’m quite certain he will appear!

Supporting The Birthin’ Mama

Tuesday morning I woke up early and ran a staff development workshop for Bishop Asili staff. I've been chatting with the man in charge of staff development about their needs and what to focus these workshops on and tuesday we looked at breathing, different ways to support a birthing mama and tricks to deal with things like sciatica, back pain, leg cramps etc. We all had fun and it was hilarious to watch the staff start to understand that these workshops will be participatory and not just being 'talked at' - the education system here does not involve any kind of participation, so its a barrier we are working at breaking when it comes to these birth related workshops

Four Sets Of Hands Are Better Than One!

Monday was a buying day - there is always an incredible energy around these days. The women ALL show up! This time we also had quite a few things to chat with them about. They all organized themselves into mini groups based on their closest friends and then within that mini group chose one person to be the official supply person who comes to kampala to purchase paper etc with Julius. We all decided that this would work better than just having one person do it and it also gives the women the opportunity to really think about who they trust to keep their interests in mind!

There are two volunteers here from Germany right now who came to help Julius and I - I'm not sure what we would have done without them because it took FOREVER and was very tiring even with 4 sets of hands! Its definitely a role future volunteers can help Julius with because having him run a whole buying day on his own will be almost impossible. We were exhausted at the end of the day!

Birth Kits and Staff Development

Since I arrived in January, Sister Ernestine and I have been talking about the continuing education workshops that happen every Tuesday morning for Bishop Asili Staff. These workshops are for all of the staff who work at the clinic – midwives, nurses, counselors etc. There is one man who is responsible for coordinating the continuing education program and will be organizing and helping us lead these workshops over the next few weeks.

One of our objectives as an organization is to improve maternal and infant health in Uganda – there are many ways we address this goal, one of them being workshops and educational opportunities for existing birth professionals in the Luwero District. Our first workshop was to discuss the birth kit project with them, which is another way we work towards this goal – We assessed needs, what they believe the most essential elements are to add to the kit and how we can set the project up with the best results possible. In January, I brought all of the birth kits that were purchased by our donors in Canada so far – each one with everything a woman needs to safely birth her baby!

I went over each item with the staff – explaining its use, answering questions and getting their feedback. Bed pads, cord ties, prep pads, gloves, vitamin supplements are just a few things in our birth kits. I also brought the donated birth related books, which have been added to the previous birth books we brought in July. This growing library will be managed by George, the continuing education coordinator.

When brainstorming birth kit contents with Nikiah, who sits on our board and organizes the birth kits, we decided that it would be important to add a reusable pad to each kit. We both agreed that this would be a special gift each woman would be able to take home and use again and again – she contacted the women at Lunapads and one of their pads is now added to each kit! The midwives were thrilled at the idea of a reusable pad that wasn’t as costly as disposables and was much more secure, safe and hygienic than the rags that many women use – this can be particularly dangerous when used by a woman who has just given birth and may still be healing open wounds that then come into contact with a dirty rag – infection is common. We practiced snapping the pads into place and learning how to teach the new moms how to wash them properly.

As the workshop was taking place, there was a woman in the birth process in the birth ward – With this $15 purchase made by one donor in Canada, we used the very first Shanti Uganda Birth Kit today!

Bead meetings and reaching goals!

Julius has started school again and although we have worked out a schedule for him to come for meetings with the women, this Monday I was one my own. I had scheduled to meet with the women in the round hut that has become our meeting place from 2-4pm but by the time I had showered and sat down for breakfast, Maria informed me that some had already come to start working and see where I was. After breakfast, I went down to the hut and found at least 6 women already working away. Watching them put so much time, commitment and care into this project is such a gift! Although it wasn’t a buying day, I had told them I’d be there to help, answer any questions and remind them about measurements, check beads etc. For the most part, they are fine on their own, but there are still a few who sometimes need a little confirmation that they are doing just great! It was a relaxing day sitting there in the hut through the sun, the rain, the grey skies and then the clearing. Each time a new woman arrived, she proudly emptied her beads for me – some carried them in empty water bottles, others in pieces of fabric carefully tucked away in their dresses. Each one with a sparkle and laugh at my exclamation of how hard they had worked and how many beads they had carried with them. Some of the women threw complete necklaces down onto my legs, laughing at my mouth, which dropped over how hard they had been working since our last meeting!
There are currently two girls from Germany who are staying at the volunteer house and volunteering in the clinic – this is part of their volunteer period in between highschool and university. Both of them took time away from their work at the clinic to sit with us in the hut, sorting beads, removing beads that were not good, praising beads that were. They enjoyed spending some time doing something different and even learned how to roll their own beads!
Ever since we bought them the large paper cutter, one beader, Lydia has been telling us her goal of buying her own machine and using it to cut paper for other women in the group as an additional form of income. She proudly announced that after our first buying day, she was able to add to her existing savings and purchase her own paper cutter. Now she will be adding ‘paper cutter’ to her new business of making beads!

Asante Sana!

On Tuesday the women began to learn how to take their beautiful beads and create jewellery and on Wednesday, they learned some of the more challenging jewellery designs and we had our graduation ceremony. They are so excited about this new project and continually dance, and clap – its beautiful to see the sparkle in their eyes and a new sense of hope return. Many of these women have walked a journey that most of us will never have to face and being a part of their unveiling and new sense of power is something I will never forget. This training period has given us the opportunity to truly get to know them – their names, their stories, the way they each smile and laugh and the amazing way they all deal with difficulties, confusion and misunderstanding – there is always one woman who clarifies everything for the rest, or steps up and takes another under her wing to help her with something that is challenging.

As we were nearing the end of the day, the women took time to thank and honour Teopista who had given so much of her time to train them. There was much singing and clapping and a special thank you where all of the women clap together and yell “ASANTE SANA!”

We began to organize their graduation ceremony. For many of them, it was the first one of their lives. They were so excited about the certificates. While we were getting ready, one received a phone call from a friend and told her all about the certificate - “and we are even getting certificates.” Before we began each woman received her jewellery package of supplies including important things like clasps, jewellery string, varnishing string and the little glass beads used on the necklaces. Julius read out the certificate in both English and Luganda – there was more celebration. Each woman was called up one at a time to receive her certificate and in order of the amount of beads they made over the 5 days, pick a prize. Each woman got a prize no matter how many beads she had made and the top 17 women received an additional package of glass beads. They all wanted photos with their certificates and the jewellery they had made and began speeches expressing their gratitude for the training and how it will change their lives.

The most exciting part of the day was our buying time. We had told them that at the end of the graduation ceremony, we would be buying their training jewellery from them. Each woman came up one at a time, Julius went over her jewellery and if it was well done, it went into the bucket and she was given money for her jewellery. I have never seen such a lively, joy-filled event – some woman danced around the room and did their own version of a victory dance, others cried out in joy, other women fell down onto their knees. The wealth of this project goes far beyond receiving their own income and can be seen right into the depth of their eyes.