Thank you to Giant Shoreham

Ethiopia Bike Ride 2012A big thank you to Giant Shoreham bike shop who have kindly sponsored the T-Shirts for our Uganda Bike Ride which begins on Thursday 26th September.

We will post a photograph of our 13 cyclists and 4 volunteers wearing the T-shirts when they triumphantly reach the finish line in Hoima, Uganda on 4th October!

If you would like to read more about the bike ride and perhaps take part next year please click here.

To sponsor the cyclists taking part in the 370km cycle across Uganda to raise money for our new project there please visit our Just Giving page here.

Giant Shoreham opened in Shoreham-by-Sea in Sussex in 2011 and is owned by Rod and Maria Lambert, existing Giant Retailers with Mr Cycles.  The store is located at Falconer’s Court on Little High Street and offers the widest display of Giant bikes and cycling gear in the county in a unique modern store environment.  For more information about Giant Shoreham please visit their website here.

The astonishing courage of Ethiopian women by Dr Karen Ballard, MW volunteer. Published by The Telegraph.

Aster-wpcf_300x337Dr Karen Ballard, a senior lecturer in Women’s Health at the University of Surrey, writes about her year as a volunteer for Maternity Worldwide caring for pregnant Ethiopian women in a rural clinic.

Balaynesh is 17 years-old. At least she thinks she is, but when you don’t celebrate birthdays, you easily lose count of the years. She arrived at an antenatal clinic I was running in the rural highlands of western Ethiopia, having heard that there was a farengii (foreigner) carrying out ultrasound scans on pregnant women.

Like most women I saw, Balaynesh had walked for just over two hours along the rust-tinged dirt tracks to get to the clinic. She sat patiently with the other 20 or so women, all prepared to wait many hours for their turn. Perhaps it was a welcome relief from the relentless grind of daily work.

Each day, women carry several litres of water from the stream, collect heavy loads of firewood for cooking and heating, prepare whatever food has been grown in the fields, wash the clothes in the stream, clean the house and care for the children. If she has any daughters, they will often be enlisted to help, their presence at school being viewed as less important.

Despite the harshness of their lives, the smiling faces of these high cheek-boned women, with their classically almond shaped eyes, reveal a sense of acceptance of whatever care they will receive in this shabby, poorly equipped and dimly lit health centre.

ultrasoundAs I squirted ultrasound gel on Balaynesh’s abdomen, she giggled nervously at the curious experience of being examined by a farengii, whose attempts to speak the language resulted in limited communication. Advances in technology allow us to bring portable ultrasound machines, not much larger than a mobile phone, to the most rural areas of Sub-Saharan Africa. They allow women, who do not even have access to a mirror, see images of their unborn baby.

Balaynesh is shown the baby’s head and its beating heart. For a few seconds a completely unguarded smile lights up her entire face. “There are two babies,” I gently explain, knowing that this news is unlikely to be received with joy.

Giving birth to twins can be hazardous, even with excellent health care facilities. In rural Ethiopia, limited transport along unmade roads, and a lack of finances to access this transport, means that the vast majority of women will deliver their babies on the hard, mud floor of their home. They will receive no pain relief. They may be in complete darkness. They may be alone. If labour becomes complicated, they will walk or be carried on a stretcher to the nearest health facility, often two or three hours away. If it is dark outside, seeking assistance must be delayed until morning. Even when women reach the health centres, the treatment they need may not be available.

Karen with Chaltu and twins - resizedMost rural health centres have limited supplies of water, electricity, equipment and drugs. They cannot provide caesarean sections or blood transfusions and staff are only trained to deal with simple childbirth complications. Being pregnant with twins means that Balaynesh is likely to require hospital care. Yet, her labour may commence at night when it is almost impossible to reach the hospital town. The transport costs will require her family to sell a coffee tree or a cow to raise the money; leaving their ability to provide for future family needs significantly reduced.

While a voluntary worker in Ethiopia, I was constantly astonished by the courage of women facing childbirth. They were aware of the risks they face. With a maternal death rate of one in every 30 women, they will all know someone who has died in childbirth. Yet they continue to deliver at home to avoid “unnecessary” costs. They work right up until the day they give birth and may even deliver the baby on the side of the road, after which they will rest for just a few hours before walking back home. Perhaps most astonishing of all is that these women endure all of this while also knowing that one in every 17 children will die before their first birthday.

When I first arrived in Ethiopia, I was overwhelmed by the level of poverty, and what at first, seemed to be a hopeless situation. I had signed up for a year here and my biggest fear was that I would not really achieve anything of value. At every corner, there seemed to be so many people with insurmountable problems, and they all seemed to be looking to me for help.

Risk screening 1 EthiopiaI was extremely lucky to have been given one valuable piece of advice from a friend in England who had also worked in Ethiopia. She told me that I would be confronted with vast numbers of people asking for help, and that I would certainly believe I could help many of them. However, she advised me to remain focused on what I was there for, and not to be tempted to take on everyone’s problems. Otherwise, she warned, I would achieve very little and end up exhausted and frustrated, running around trying to sort one problem after another.

It was impossible for me to walk away from someone who was seriously hungry or someone who could not afford to pay for life-saving medical treatment, but I soon realised that there were very many people in this situation. At first, I found it tremendously difficult to live in a world where very basic needs were not being met and I often lay awake at night, wondering what had happened to various people in extreme poverty that I had encountered.

While I don’t think it was ever easy to accept the suffering and the inequalities, I eventually adjusted to living among it and achieved some satisfaction from the knowledge that I was improving the outcomes for the pregnant women I met at the antenatal clinics.

Karen and Jeremy carI left Ethiopia with some incredibly fond memories of the people I encountered, many of whom have become treasured friends. They have welcomed me into their country and proudly shown me their way of life. They have invited me to eat in their homes and marked our friendship with coffee ceremonies. They have shown great courage and strength in dealing with their difficult lives, and their acceptance of adversity is remarkable. I recently visited Ethiopia for two weeks and was greeted by one of the nurses I used to work with, who had travelled on buses for two days to greet me. With so little, people can give so much.

This article was published on The Telegraph website on 17th May 2013.

Why is sub-Saharan Africa such a dangerous place to be born?

Save the Children - State of the World's Mothers 2013 - front coverOn 12th May 2013 Save the Children launched their 14th annual State of the World’s Mothers report.

The report details the best and worst places in the world to give birth.  Here are some facts about sub-Saharan Africa.

Sub-Saharan Africa is by far the riskiest region to be born.

  • The 14 countries with the highest first-day death rates are all in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • As a region, sub-Saharan Africa’s first-day mortality rate is 12 per 1,000 live births.
  • Babies born in sub-Saharan Africa are more than 7 times as likely to die on the day they are born compared to babies born in industrialized countries.
  • An estimated 397,000 babies die each year in sub-Saharan Africa on the day they are born.
  • The region accounts for 12 percent of the world’s population but 38 percent of the world’s first-day deaths.

Why is sub-Saharan Africa such a dangerous place to be born?

Many sub-Saharan African countries have unusually high rates of preterm birth. For example, in Malawi, 18 percent of babies are born too early – the highest prevalence in the world.

Poor Health
Poor health among African mothers contributes to high rates of first-day death for babies. Serious maternal malnutrition is common in the region, where 10-20 percent of women are underweight. Especially large numbers of underweight mothers are found in Ethiopia (24 percent).

Young Marriage
It is common for women in sub-Saharan Africa to marry and begin having babies at a young age, before their bodies have fully matured.

Low Contraceptive Use
Low contraceptive use, high fertility and poor newborn outcomes go hand-in-hand. Across the region, less than 16 percent of women use a modern method of contraception. It’s not surprising, then, that women in the region have on average five children each. Mothers in Malawi, Mali, Somalia and Zambia have six children on average.

Availability of Healthcare
Health care for mothers in sub-Saharan Africa is woefully insufficient. On average, only half the women in the region receive skilled care during birth. In Ethiopia, Niger and South Sudan, more than half of all women receive absolutely no skilled prenatal care. In Ethiopia, up to 90 percent of women give birth at home without skilled care. A severe shortage of health workers in Africa explains many of these dire statistics. The region as a whole has only 11 doctors, nurses and midwives per 10,000 people – less than half the critical threshold of 23 generally considered necessary to deliver essential health services. Out of 48 countries in sub-Saharan Africa with available data, only eight meet the minimum threshold for number of health workers.

This is the reason why we focus our work in sub-Saharan Africa.  To read the full report please visit our Resources section.  To find out what we are doing to help in each of our projects please click here.

Knitted vests delivered to babies in Malawi

Knitting Donations from S.Howden August 2012One of our trustee’s, Grace, is based in Zomba district, Malawi.  On a recent visit to the UK she took a huge box full of knitted baby vests and blankets back with her along with some blood pressure monitoring machines.  The vests and blankets are kindly donated by a wonderful team of volunteer knitters who regularly send us beautifully crafted items.

Nurses with the baby vests

This picture shows the nurses who are in charge of the six health centres; Chipini, Matiya, Thondwe, Magomero, Mayaka and Pirimiti sharing out the blood pressure machines, baby vests and blankets.  Each labour ward and postnatal ward will have a supply of vests and blankets to hand out to the mothers most in need.  Grace will be taking more vests back with her in June.

Mum and baby - CroppedHere is a new mum in Pirimiti hospital who has just been given one of the beautiful knitted dresses.  Many mothers can’t afford to buy extra clothes for their baby.  At night time the temperatures can drop considerably so the vests and blankets help to keep babies warm at night.

If you would like to knit some baby vests or blankets for us please find the Baby Vest Pattern here.  If you have any questions please email [email protected] or call 01273 234033.

For more information about our project in Malawi please click here.

Thank you to everyone who has knitted items for us, the mothers who receive them are very grateful.


Update from Lensa, a trainee midwife in Ethiopia

Lensa at University

Lensa was a Diploma Nurse in the West Wollega area of Ethiopia.  We are sponsoring her 4 year course to become a qualified midwife.  Lensa started the course in October 2012 and we asked her to let us know how she is getting on.  Here is what she had to say;

I have classes Monday to Friday and sometimes tutorials on Saturday.  There are 53 students in my class and there are some very clever students.  I had exams in sociology and health technology and scored A in both.  I got an A+ in my anatomy exam last week and have my physiology next week.  The Myles textbook which Maternity Worldwide sent me has really helped.  I also have English classes as part of the course, I got a B+ for my exam but I am trying to improve.  I live in a nice dormitory with 8 other students.

It costs as little as £80 a month, on average, to sponsor the training of a midwife in Ethiopia.  In West Wollega, throughout the career of a midwife they could help to deliver approximately 7,500 babies.  At the moment around 94% of women give birth without any skilled health workers present.  We could change this by training more midwives.  If you would like to help then why not host a Muffins for Midwives event.

How two sheep can transform a family

In November 2012, Laura Brown, one of the Maternity Worldwide trustees visited our project in Ethiopia.  Laura was keen to see how the income generation schemes, started by Maternity Worldwide in 2006, had made a difference so she set about finding one of the first women to receive a loan from Maternity Worldwide.

Meet Ebese.

Ebese received 325 Birr (£11) seed funding to buy two female sheep to breed with her existing ram, amazingly both sheep she received were already pregnant!  She sold one of the sheep for 410 Birr along with the lambs and raised an additional 1200 Birr.  With this money she bought a donkey to help her carry goods to market in Gimbie (10km away).  The original remaining female sheep (pictured) has continued to breed and produced 30 more sheep over the years.  Ebese has sold the 30 sheep at market.

The additional income from the sale of lambs has helped Ebese to:

• finish building her house

• educate her son by paying for him to go to school

• lend funds to others to set up their own small businesses

• become a respected member of the community

• become a role model for other women through her empowerment and knowledge

This relatively small amount of money has helped Ebese to transform her life and opportunities for her family.  By enabling Ebese to earn her own money Maternity Worldwide have allowed Ebese to become independent and make her own decisions about what she spends her money on.

We believe in providing sustainable ways of making a difference which will continue long after we have gone.  By empowering women to become financially independent, Maternity Worldwide are helping women to pay for transport to health centres when they are pregnant – this is helping to address one of the three issues contributing to maternal mortality.  To find out more about the three delay model please click here.

Long-term volunteers return from Ethiopia

Long-term volunteers Karen and Jeremy have just returned from a year of volunteering at our project in Ethiopia. Read Karen’s fascinating account of the time they spent there.

In October 2011 we were zipping up suitcases, overfull with baby clothes, potentially useful medical equipment and essential supplies of toothpaste, contact lens solution and shampoo. After much preparation, we were finally heading to Heathrow to board an Ethiopian Airline plane and were on our way to a year in Gimbie, Ethiopia.  Anticipation was tinged with trepidation as stories of draconian customs officials had us wondering whether the ultrasound scanner, so generously donated by friends, would make it through customs without a hefty tax bill. Would they let us take our computers through? What about the portable printer or the assortment of salami and cheese? In the event, all was well, possibly helped by an influx of Chinese engineers who helpfully created chaos at customs.

As we left the plane, however, we embarked into a different chaos – that of Addis.  Over the next few days we rushed from Government office to Government office, organising work permits, residency passes, the equivalent of an Ethiopian CRB check, and a remaining treasured possession; a driving licence.  Clutching our work permit book, duly stamped in 8 or 9 places, and more importantly, Jeremy’s medical registration, we headed off on the long and dusty road to Gimbie, and to the hospital that was to become our home for the next year.  Generously the hospital authorities allowed us a vacant house, the only one with a first floor, up a perilous staircase and with two bedrooms.  We also inherited a hen house, soon to be occupied by Masie and Daisy, intermittent suppliers of fresh eggs, and a monkey proof caged garden, which we planted with peas, potatoes, carrots and lettuce. Yes, we had definitely arrived.

Jeremy was soon busy in the hospital, working with Wasihun, the local obstetrician and Heidi, who was coming to the end of her volunteering time before returning to Denmark. In addition to offering ante-natal care to the immediate locals we were all hard at work helping women coming in as emergencies from far and wide; both from the Maternity Worldwide supported villages and from as far away as Asosa, a hospital 4 hours drive away, which sadly has no obstetrician at all. There was much to do and the first few weeks were full of surprises as we learned about the new and different situations we would encounter.  A real difficulty was looking after the small babies, often born in poor condition. Initially, I adopted the role of neonatal ‘expert’ as she had previous experience in this area of work. Having discovered that staff were not always knowledgeable about caring for neonates, we developed protocols and taught our local colleagues about the simple care that could help keep these small citizens warm, dry and fed.

Midwives from both the local college and one further afield, attend the hospital for their clinical placements. Having realised that there were Maternity Worldwide volunteers available to teach much needed skills, the ward rounds soon became accompanied by student midwives eager to gain new knowledge and skills. Classroom teaching was now extended to the clinical environment, with clinical cases from the ward round being used as a forum for discussions about obstetric complications and their management.

Additional learning opportunities arose from the provision of treatment for cervical cancer, which is a major health problem in sub-Saharan Africa, leading to early death and hardship for the family.  By training the local doctor to surgically remove the tumour, Jeremy was able to provide a hope of cure and certainly prolonged symptom and disease free survival for many women.

My work was largely community-based and so we were delighted when our much-needed ‘truck’, an ageing land cruiser, had arrived in Djibouti. So off we set again, and after completing many forms, we drove away from the opened shipping container.  After an exciting drive through the deserts of Afur and the eastern rift valley, we negotiated the unmade roads and were back home to Gimbie!  I became an intrepid negotiator of the back routes of West Wollega, visiting the Maternity Worldwide sponsored health centres and offering both training for local nurses, midwives and health officers, and antenatal screening clinics for local pregnant women.  As she bumped her way along the road, word soon spread and the clinics overflowed – the little faranji who drives very fast, as we were to learn she was called, was coming!

Women would travel for hours by foot to see her and were delighted, if not amazed to be able to see their baby on the ultrasound scan. In a world where women don’t have mirrors to see themselves, an image of their unborn baby must have been quite peculiar indeed. Having screened women for high risks, the car was always full on the way home with women who required hospital care. As many women remarked; it was an excellent team approach, with the wife finding the problems in the villages and bringing them back for the husband to treat in the hospital.

When volunteering in any African country, you are always perplexed by the ‘sustainability’ dilemma. Can whatever good you believe you are doing, continue after you have left? We spent many days and evenings discussing this very issue and were ever conscious of the need to train local people to continue the work. For much of the work we did, we believe that we have been able to leave some skills, attitudes and knowledge behind. At times, however, we had to accept that it is still valuable to improve the outcomes and alter the pathways for the individuals that we met and cared for.  For these people, there are sustainable differences, and that in itself makes our visit worthwhile. Lasting change though, is always more difficult to see, but perhaps more small babies will go home with their mothers as a result of simple interventions and perhaps both women and those who care for them in the community will see that labour is safely carried out in the most appropriate community and hospital setting.

All too soon, it was time to leave and now we are home having left behind many good friends, but with many fond memories and tales of adventure. We feel a real sense of privilege having worked in Ethiopia as volunteers for Maternity Worldwide. Without all the contributions to the charity, none of this would be possible.

To find out more about volunteering at one of our projects please call 01273 234033 or email [email protected].

Our heartfelt thanks to Karen and Jeremy for the huge difference they have made whilst volunteering for Maternity Worldwide.