First we went for a meeting of women's group members in Roche Village. Over 90 women came! We've only been working with the village women for 3-1/2 months, and on one week's notice, our Maternal Health Advocates had mobilized over 90 women of child-bearing age to come hear a seminar on Healthy Pregnancy, Safe Delivery and Family Planning. There were so many beautiful women with pregnant bellies and tiny babies, and it did our hearts so much good to sit with them and answer questions and hear stories. The lady in the orange and black and white striped dress told me she's going to name her baby girl after me! We'll see if it really happens, but it would be an incredible honor.
After several hours with those ladies, we went for a "short" walk (about 30-40 minutes each way in the blazing hot sun) to the home of a Traditional Birth Attendant and saw the dark, windowless room and the straw mat where she delivers babies.
The next day we went to Burere Village for another meeting with clients (below). The program hasn't been so dramatically successful as quickly as in Roche, but we still had a great time with the ladies who came.
As we sat and drank sodas with them, we asked how they got started in this work, and several of them shared stories about how they had dreamed that Jesus called them to deliver babies. I loved hearing how they see this health care service as a kind of spiritual service and ministry. I'm sure the women they serve are grateful for the gentleness and maturity that the TBAs bring to the bedside.
After a fun, restful weekend showing my new friends around Shirati, we headed back to Roche this morning for a great meeting with the Maternal Health Advocates. We heard a lot of their struggles and the obstacles that women in their village are facing; sometimes stories sad enough to nearly overwhelm. One MHA shared about how a woman showed up at her door in the middle of the night, nearly ready to push, and the MHA scrambled to get her on a motorbike taxi, and they set out in the cold, dark night together. Along the way, the baby started to come. In the dirt and the dark on the side of the road, far from any house, one woman with no medical experience or birthing training delivered the baby of another woman. Sadly, the baby was born not breathing, and they were not able to revive him. Our friend was suffering so much guilt, feeling that she had done something wrong, because she'd never been on that end of the delivery process before.
In order to give the MHAs confidence of knowing what to do if they are ever faced with a similar situation again, Dr. Reta and Dr. Bre simulated the best practices for a less-than-ideal birth environment. Reta may not have felt particularly dignified laying on the floor "delivering" a camera, with its strap representing the umbilical cord, but the MHAs and I (who have never been on the "catching" end of a birth either) learned a lot from their practical lesson.
After this simulation, a couple of clients came to join us and share their stories. One was the woman whose story I shared here back in December. Her baby is now nearly two months, and is fat and healthy and beautiful. The other client was an 8-month pregnant woman with a lovely, pacific smile who never spoke a single word. I pieced together her story: she is simple-minded (honestly the best label I can put on it, not knowing any more specifics than that) and mostly mute. She is unmarried and lives with her parents, but her disadvantages have made her a target for some absolutely disgusting men. This is her second pregnancy; her first child is only 18 months old. Her parents have decided to get her a tubal ligation after this baby is born to prevent future pregnancies, but preventing future pregnancies is not the same as preventing future sexual assaults.
As we drove home this afternoon, that girl's story weighed heavily on me, and I asked Reta to pray the Serenity Prayer with me. "Lord, give me serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." I was also reminded of a verse from Isaiah 30: "Your ears will hear a word behind you, 'This is the way, walk in it,' whenever you turn to the right or to the left." I prayed that over her, that as she walks through an environment fraught with peril, she will hear the Holy Spirit guiding her to the right or to the left, away from men who may harm her. I asked the MHAs to call me when this girl comes to the hospital for her delivery and tubal ligation; I hope I will have the chance to pray with her and advocate for her in yet another environment that could prove frightening for her.
Like I said at the beginning, it has been a poignant week, with a lot of highs and a few lows, but overall Reta and I feel reassured once again that this is the work God has called us to do here, and that God is the one guiding our steps. Please pray with us as we finish two more days of meetings and planning before the team leaves. Their fellowship and like-spirited-ness has been incredibly refreshing to me, and I will really miss them when they go, but I am the blessed one who gets to keep on collecting the stories and navigating politics and personal agendas and inefficient and/or corrupt systems to provide the best services possible for my sisters who are pregnant and delivering. It's a wonderful life!