22 May 2014

A Video, A Website, A Postcard and Two Emails

Thanks for your great responses to last week's email about Mama Maisha, the maternal mortality program we're launching.  Several people have already had some awesome creative ideas on how you can support and be a part of Mama Maisha.  Remember to sign up for our email list to get updates starting in July.

Subscribe to Mama Maisha mailing list

* indicates required

Email Format

This week I want to remind you about the child sponsorship program I work for, Lahash International, which just put out a great new video about a visit our director, Dan Holcomb, paid to the home of his sponsored child, Arod.  The video shows the reality of life for the vulnerable kids we are serving in Tanzania and Uganda.  I highly recommend it.

Better Together - Arod's Story from Lahash International on Vimeo.

Lahash has come up with a great, new website for sponsorship which presents the kids who need sponsors in a way that highlights their individuality while still protecting their privacy.  The Lahash sponsorship program is fantastic, so check out the new, improved website and think about child sponsorship!

If you are on our physical mailing list, you should get a postcard this week with an adorable photo of our kids on the front.  Since I joined the staff of Lahash in 2009, I've been sending out letters about every other month with updates on our work and life here in Tanzania.  In order to simplify the management of our communications with our supporters, we're changing over to postcards.  If you'd like to get these brief mailed updates that are perfect for sticking on your fridge to remember us, send us your mailing address.

Finally, if you'd like to get the monthly email with more photos, stories and news, sign up below!  As always, thanks for thinking of us and praying for us!

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required

Email Format

16 May 2014

Mama Maisha - Mother Life

I've been hinting at this for months now, but here's a rundown of the project we've been preparing for the past year and we're finally ready to launch!

Maternal mortality is a huge problem in the developing world. In some countries, like South Sudan, child birth is the leading cause of death for women of child-bearing age, which is basically between 14 and 50. This is such a huge problem that it has been targeted as one of the Millennium Development Goals. Goal number 5 is to improve maternal health through reducing maternal mortality by 75% from 1990 levels and achieving universal access to reproductive health.  Tanzania is one of the countries lagging behind in making progress on this goal.

I didn't know any of the stats on this stuff before I met Dr. Reta Graham last July.  It actually sounds very formal to say it that way, because what happened was that the Grahams were visiting Shirati doing some work in the hospital and clinics in the area.  They brought their kids, and their son and Inno totally hit it off.  While they played Orc-hunting (which Inno didn't understand but still loved) and climbed trees, Reta and I talked about her observations as an obstetric surgeon in the Shirati Hospital, where women regularly come in during the final, tragic moments of a labor that has been going on for 36 hours to have a dead baby cut out before it kills its mother.  Women pull up to the gates on the back of a bicycle with blood pouring from between their legs with every contraction.  This doesn't happen every day, but it happens.  It shouldn't.

This issue would have mattered to me on a cerebral level had I known about it, but now that I have been pregnant and delivered twice here, it matters to me on a visceral level.  I certainly could have been on that operating table in poorly lit, no-running-water Shirati Hospital, not with the amazing Dr. Reta, but a less-educated, less-experienced surgeon.  It's not really exaggerating to say that every woman in rural Tanzania knows a woman who died in child birth, and the terrible roads, distance to health facilities, no ambulances, and lack of education about family planning, prenatal care and delivery options all contribute to that terrible status quo staying the same.

Fred and I, with our background in community development and cultural knowledge (Fred more than me, of course), have partnered with Reta and her husband, Jeff, a family practitioner with a master's in public health,  to come up with an innovative program which will help save the lives of the women in our area.  There are a bunch of aspects to the program, which I won't go into right now, but we're optimistic that we can make a difference here.  A medical non-profit that Reta and Jeff are connected with is helping us institute the program, which is called Mama Maisha, which means Mother Life in Swahili.  Village Life has already helped connect us with some great people to help, including a donor who has given us seed money of $10,000 to get started.  We also applied for a $100,000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which we'll hear about in August.  It feels great to be doing something like this, and I wouldn't have this opportunity if you great people hadn't been supporting our life and work here in East Africa, so you're part of it, too!

(This isn't fundraising, but if you are interested in getting updates on this as we go along, send me an email leishlin at gmail and when we get an email update system going, we'll add you.)

09 May 2014

We're baaaack!

Taken by a new Canadian friend
During my maternity leave I also gave myself a little break from all work-ish stuff, including the blog, to get used to having the littlest one with us.  It was a great time to just do some parenting and let new ideas develop "organically".  It was pretty brilliant, especially during the weeks that Innocent was home from school, to not have any tasks except hanging out with my kids.  When Wesley was born, we were on a bus to a Lahash conference two weeks later.  Fortunately, I haven't gone anywhere since Gretchen was born, which has been a huge relief.  We've had plenty of visitors to Shirati from America, Canada, The Netherlands, etc.  Among them was a friend we made last year, Dr. Jeff Graham, who was here with his wife, Reta, and two their kids last July.  Reta is an obstetric surgeon and Jeff is a family practice doctor with a master's in public health, and their medical background combined with Fred's and my community development experience has given birth to a program we've designed to reduce maternal mortality in the villages around Shirati.  Since being pregnant with and delivering two kids in East Africa, this topic has become so important to me.  I'll write more about the details of the program at another time, but it has the potential to become a big deal.  It's very exciting!

Double Duty
Fred tried to reign in his crazy work/travel schedule while the baby was new, but now the chaos is starting again.  He has a bunch of projects all going on simultaneously, but he's making a big effort to be around to help with the kids.  He's a super daddy, and little feet always race to the door when his voice is heard.  Wesley continues to be a daddy's boy, even staying up until midnight the other night to "watch" an English Premiere League football (soccer) match with daddy.  Fred has bemoaned not having another fan to watch matches with (I'm happy to watch football, but only at reasonable hours), so I think he might be training up a comrade-in-sport.

An extra pair of helping hands!

Innocent is now officially our kid, although not yet formally adopted.  We were granted official legal custody of Innocent.  This involved get his mother's death certificate, then Inno's birth certificate, then affidavits showing that Fred is his uncle and has provided a good environment for Inno.  Once we got formal custody, we got his passport issued, much to his delight.  He continues to thrive in school, finishing last term at the top of his class again.  His language scores, English and Swahili, are so high that lower scores in Christian Religious Education and Mathematics ("the tests were hard, Auntie!") didn't drag him down.

Swaddle practice on Menomena, his teddy bear
Wesley is adjusting well to big brotherhood, for the most part.  It just so happened that little sister came along right about the same time that Terrible Toddler-dom struck.  (It's perfectly misleading to call it the "Terrible Twos" when it starts around 18 months and lasts until...what...age six?)  Although I've had lots of help from Fred and Adera, there have certainly been some times when there are three people home and all three of us are crying from frustration.  Still, there are delightful times as we watch him grow up before our very eyes.  He's super active and super social, with a huge vocabulary branching into his third language (although of course he doesn't know it's a new language) and a terrific memory for faces and names.  Random motorcycle drivers and shop assistants stop Fred to tell him what a smart son he has, because Wesley has met them in the course of running errands with Adera.

Gretchen has been an amazingly simple baby, all things considered.  She doesn't sleep through the night yet, but she only wakes up to nurse briefly, then back to sleep, hardly disturbing me at all.  She's gaining weight much faster than her brother did, and beams at all of us when we peek our faces over her nest in the arm chair.  (No bassinets, swings, boppy pillows, etc. here, so we make do.)  She has started rolling onto her left side frequently, and I'm sure I'll find her going all the way over onto her tummy any day now.  She "talks" a bit, and sounds like a baby Wookie.  We were looking at some of my baby pictures the other day, and there is certainly a resemblance between Gretchen and I!  Even Adera said that, aside from coloring, Wesley is a miniature Fred and Gretchen is a miniature me.

Wesley telling stories to Daddy
The sweetest time of day - coinciding naps

Proud, big brother in his Buzz Lightyear pajamas