This is part 5 in a series of posts about our recent trip to Ethiopia, visit here and scroll down for the older posts if you missed any of them.
Today was “training day” at the Living Hope Maternity Home. Living Hope is currently home to 13 young mothers and pregnant women, and nearly a dozen babies. These women were at one point in desperate situations with literally no choices. They were in desperate need of help, and Living Hope took them in.
In Ethiopia, women (or girls) who become pregnant outside of wedlock, despite the circumstances surrounding their pregnancies, are often turned out of their homes. These women are often young, poor, uneducated, and without family support. Ethiopia lacks social services to help such women, and with not shelters, ministries, or government programs to help, many women find themselves homeless and on the brink of starvation. Living Hope provides a loving, safe, nurturing home environment for such women (or girls), providing education and life training skills, and enabling mothers to provide for their children and raise them in a family setting.
Living Hope has partnered with us, Delivering Hope International, to care for the destitute women of Ethiopia. With the help of Living Hope, we are piloting our Doula Program in Adama, a city about 2 hours outside of Addis Ababa.
Today we have invited 11 Ethiopians consisting of nurses, social workers, mothers, NGO personnel, and “house mothers”, all who are eager to learn about maternal and newborn health, and what it means to be a “Doula”. Our complete Doula Training Program takes approximately 5 full days, consisting of 3 modules (Antenatal Care, Labor and Deliver, Postnatal Care), for a total of 37 sections of study.
However, for this introductory session, we only have one day. We wonder how our participants will follow and how perceptive of new ideas they will be. But as the day begins, we are pleased to be surrounded by attentive eyes, and body language that tells us they are serious. Throughout this intense, full day of training, our “students” take pages and pages of notes, ask for clarification, insight and further information, and even discuss as a group the many “debates” within their own culture, such as the tradition of isolating a newborn in the darkness of a home for upwards of a month in fear that the new baby will contract TB or some other illness from the wind. A source of comic relief was found when we, much to their surprise, recommend that laboring women drink purified water. In Ethiopia “water” is a poor man’s drink, and laboring women look forward to the luxury of having the soda “Mirinda”. They all agree that while the popular belief is that Mirinda helps elevate white blood cells, in reality, poor women just really love the excuse to have a rare treat. We finally suggest they alternate between Mirinda and purified water, and simply hope they are willing.
As expected, they are eager to learn about “danger signs”, the stages of labor, signs of progress, and ideas for pain management, but what surprises us most is their intense curiosity and desire for more information about nutrition. Poor nutrition can dramatically increase a woman’s risk of maternal death. Malnourished women are also more likely to become anemic, which increases the risk of preterm birth and low birth weight babies, and is associated with a higher risk of stillborn or newborn death. Anemia also affects the woman’s ability to fight infection, and can increase her risk of hemorrhaging, a leading cause of maternal death.
Additionally, according to the WHO at least 20% of childhood disease is the result of poor maternal health and nutrition. Traditionally Ethiopian women are fed “genfo”, a paste like substance made of flour, water, and a bit of butter and spice. The woman eats only genfo for at least a month, as it is believed that it helps the woman’s milk come in.
So our suggestion to eat a well balance diet consisting of various fruits, grains, vegetables, and proteins… is, well, odd to them. They ask for clarification again and again, and are so very eager to learn how they can better care for their bodies and the women whom they serve.
We are also very excited to see their sincere interest in gaining better lactation skills. A simple way to improve both maternal and newborn health is to help women successfully nurse they babies. Breastfeeding provides optimum nutrition, immune protection, development, and health for children and many health benefits to mothers, and according to IMBC improved breastfeeding alone could save the lives of more than 3500 children every day, more than any other preventive intervention!
After giving our lesson on breastfeeding, we truly enjoy watching the “house mothers” (new doulas;) help the young mothers re-position their babies while breastfeeding, and the willingness of the mothers to accept such guidance.
We end the day by teaching some basic “yoga type” exercises. At first they just watch(and laugh at us), but as time goes on they slowly begin to join us.
These poor girls, with so many worries, are wound so tight that we have to ‘fight’ to get their shoulders to relax enough for “head rolls. But after lots of giggles, stretching, deep breathing (and fun “cat and cow” movements, with added animal sounds for simple enjoyment), the girls really enjoy themselves. Apparently they have not laughed like this in a very long time.
They are very excited to learn that we are going to collect yoga mats and provide some prenatal and “mommy and me” yoga/exercise videos for their use. Yes, in a country with one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, teaching yoga/exercise may sound silly and frivolous. But we must remember to look at each individual we are caring for, and not forget their personal battles and needs.
These young mothers live very stressful lives. They are filled with worry over their futures, and their days are consumed with being a single mother and heavy household chores. These girls, just like all women and mothers, deserve some time to care for their bodies and the babies growing inside.
If you would like to share some love by providing a new or used yoga mat, or funds for us to purchase a mat with, please click here and add “yoga project” in the “notes” section.
Today was such a blessing to us. We were encouraged to see the passion of these Ethiopians who desperately want to keep mothers and babies alive and healthy, and they simply need someone willing to spend the resources and time to educate them. We look forward to spending more time at Living Hope Maternity Home, training Doulas and serving women.