Every Wednesday our UK office has an hour of staff prayers where all UK-based staff meet together for news from the organisation, updates and a time of worship and/or prayer. There is a video link so those of us in other countries can feel part of it too. Yesterday it the West and Central Africa team was asked to share some short updates/stories and I was asked to phone in and speak about the project I’ve been managing for the past year. The phone was held up to the microphone and it was a strange experience to present to a group of 100+ people without being able to see or hear them and gauge their reaction, but I think it went ok. Below is what I spoke about. It’s similar to the previous two blogs I’ve written but gives a bit more detail. Enjoy!
Hi, I’m Pippa and I’ve been working as PSO in DRC for the last year, namely with a project called — which was been established by the HIV unit. The project is currently running in Malawi and Nigeria as well as DRC with the aim of reducing maternal and newborn mortality. A primary activity of the project is conducted through the work of Mother Buddies. Mother Buddies are volunteer mums who live within the community. They have been trained on maternal and newborn health as well as family planning, reproductive health and prevention of parent to child transmission of HIV. Mother Buddies befriend and support vulnerable pregnant women within their communities, encouraging them to go for ante-natal check ups, give birth in recognised health facilities as well as teaching them about sexual reproductive health.
It has been running as a pilot project in DRC for almost a year now and is implemented through three of our partners. I recently had the opportunity to visit the areas where IMPACT is operating in incredibly rural areas of O. Province, DRC. It took us 3 days by road very bumpy roads to reach the villages so I am serious when I say these areas are rural! Many of these villages have strong cultural beliefs surrounding child birth. Women, for example, should give birth at home, men are unlikely to support women during their pregnancy, traditional medicine is sought before recognised health facilities. Given these strong traditional practices, I was not anticipating the level of change that I saw on this recent visit to the field.
I’ll be honest, before going on the trip, I was feeling pretty despondent. There is so much need, so much poverty and you really see this when you go to the field. People present you with their requests and ask for your assistance and it can be overwhelming. It can make you tired and cynical. But this trip was different. To start with, I have lived in Africa for four years now and received many warm welcomes, but nothing compares to the welcome we received from the pregnant women and community leaders in these villages. Everywhere we went, we were greeted with singing, dancing, and performances and presented with so many gifts. In one village we arrived at 3:30pm and the community had been waiting since 9am, singing and dancing. Yes, this greeting is part of the Congolese culture, but I also think it reflects the positive reception of the project in the communities and the hard work of our partners.
Not once in any of the villages did anyone I spoke with ask for anything more. Instead, they told me stories of what we have already done and how their lives are changing. In two of the villages, the village chiefs stood up in front of 150+ pregnant women and their partners and spoke about how now, as a result of trainings from the project, they are now washing clothes for their wives, collecting water, even making the bed. This is incredibly counter-cultural so to watch them stand as role models and community leaders and tell this in front of so many community members was amazing. We also heard doctors speak about how women are now coming earlier on in pregnancy for ante-natal checks, men stood and told us about why they are now accompanying their wives to clinic, and pregnant women spoke about the reasons why they have decided to get tested for HIV.
Sure there is still a long way to go: distances to clinics are incredibly far, people can’t afford clinic fees, ARVs are not always available at clinics. But slowly by slowly I think we are beginning to see real changes, real differences being made to the lives of the most vulnerable women and their newborns in areas of real poverty. We work with amazing partners who are bringing about this change and I am incredibly excited, as I hope you are too, to be a part of this.