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Are you ready for Mama?

Mama.

The first word that most children learn.

I was surprised to discover that the word is nearly the same in every language.  A quick Google search will bring up lists of translations: ‘Mom’, ‘Mama’, ‘Meme’, ‘Maman’ or ‘Mami’.  With slight variations, the word for Mother can be repeated across the globe and be understood by almost anyone.

Mama is also the title of my next book. 

This book, still under construction, is going to share with you stories from mothers that you may have never considered before. Mama is going to take you to the doorstep of Bimbi Health Facility, specializing in Maternal, Newborn and Child Health in Malawi, Africa.

Until a few years ago, I had never before considered the challenges that women and infants in Africa face throughout pregnancy, birth and first years of life. I was introduced to the matter while working on an article for an NGO’s Maternal Health project, and the research I was uncovering broke my heart. How could young mothers and children really survive in these kinds of conditions?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO),

  • Approximately 830 women die every day from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth.
  • 99% of these deaths occur in developing nations.
  • Almost all of these deaths occurred in low-resource settings, and most could have been prevented.
  • Skilled care before, during and after childbirth can save the lives of women and newborn babies.

They have been overlooked for so long. Their nutrition has gone unnoticed, their health care centers sit in lonely disrepair, their education forgot about and unprioritized. As Canada and the West developed their medical and birthing practices, we left Africa behind in the dust, and it’s only now that we are taking notice.

It is important to reveal these stories to a world so unaware of their existence. Stories of poverty, of childbirth, of suffering. Equally important are the stories of tragedy that are coupled with truth and healing.

The ones that are riddled with pain, yet plastered with hope. The ones that offer a solution to the tragedies that are hidden in the corners of the world. It is important to present this hope because it influences societies to react, to pursue the solution and to remedy the suffering.

This book is to be a lesson to a world who hasn’t yet noticed the mothers and children of Africa; this book is to be a megaphone for the mothers and children who haven’t had their voices heard.

As always, 

Caitlin Arlene

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The Series – Part 1/3

Remember when I said that I was partnering with Humans of Ottawa to share some stories that I’ve collected?  Well, the series is officially complete, and if you’ve been following their social media, you’ll see that it was an exciting success!

For the purposes of longevity and for those who haven’t yet seen, below is Part One of the Maternal, Newborn and Child Health in Malawi (Humans of Ottawa) series.


Partima
Meet Partima, 21 years old

“I went to the doctor who confirmed that I was two months pregnant. It was so difficult to eat food, I felt sick the entire time. When the labour started, I spent all day and night in pain before they transferred me to the hospital. They had to cut me to make more room for the baby to come. I was there for a very long time afterwards. My wish for her is to weigh more. I want her to keep growing.”


MAc
Meet Mac, Senior Health Surveillance Assistant (HSA)

“It is a good feeling when you help someone. My job is to rotate through the 62 villages here, making sure that everything is working like it should. I make sure that the care groups are providing proper training and that the families are receiving the right amount of medications. Transportation is an issue though. It would be very helpful if they gave us a motorcycle to help us get to each village, but I don’t know if they have made that a priority.”


Maria
Meet Maria, whose child died at 10 months old.

“We think it might have been malaria because she only had a fever. It was a Sunday, and the hospital only takes emergencies on Sundays. I didn’t know this was an emergency, so I was waiting to take her in the next day if the fever was still there. I never expected my child to die. But the fever started at 5am, and she was gone by 2pm. After that experience, I never wait to take my kids to the hospital.”


Bachali
Meet Bachali, Mother of three

“My first child only weighed 12 kilograms when he was 5 years old. He was a very ill child, even after they treated him for malnutrition. He would be losing weight instead of gaining it. My second child was the same way. But I know so much more about nutrition now. I learned to frequently breastfeed and to only breastfeed until they reach a certain age. And I have learned about the food groups. Peanuts are a substitute for protein. My third child is much healthier than the first two were. You can tell because of his appearance.”


Let me tell you something.

These stories are genuine. The full stories are both heartbreaking and full of hope. For all the hardships that they go through as a consequence of poor maternal health, each and every one of the people listed above, are part of a journey that is carrying them to a healthier life and a happier joy.

I love going through these posts, looking at the faces of the people I spoke to and re-reading their stories.  I can’t wait to share their full stories with you.

I promise, there’s so much more where these came from.

As always, 

Caitlin Arlene

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Partima and I

“I went to the doctor who confirmed that I was two months pregnant. It was so difficult to eat food, I felt sick the entire time. When the labor started, I spent all day and night in pain before they transferred me to the hospital. They had to cut me to make more room for the baby to come. I was there for a very long time afterward. My wish for her is to weigh more. I want her to keep growing.”

I remember what it was like when I realized this young mother and I were the same age. Partima held her little daughter close, shifting to breastfeed her when she became a little too restless. She blushed and turned her head when I mentioned we shared the same birth year.

It was a revealing moment for me – in a different timeline, this young woman and I could have grown up together. We could have known each other our whole lives. Yet we share such different stories.

Every element of our lives is separate from each other; our languages, our cultures, our childhoods, our futures. At twenty-one, Partima has lived a story that I couldn’t begin to imagine myself living. She’s endured an incredibly painful childbirth. She’s had to drop out of school to take care of her little one. She’s married much younger than she anticipated. She’s had to let go of some of her dreams for her future.

And she absolutely adores her young daughter. The love that this mama has for the little one on her lap is something that I don’t have the experience to describe. Though her own life was turned upside down when she discovered she was pregnant, Partima made it clear that she was going to let nothing hurt or hinder her little girl.

Partima’s story is one that I hold close to me. When I left her village that evening, I carried her words at the front of my mind, and have ever since.

Her story is important. Her story is painful. Her story has hope.

Her story is why I’m doing what I’m doing.

You’ll be able to read the whole thing once Mama comes out!

As always, 

Caitlin Arlene

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P.S! Don’t forget to follow my @humans.of.ottawa for some additional sneak peeks to my stories.

 

 

Sharing stories – collaboration announcement!

I absolutely love stories.

I could spend all day listening to people share their tales and their adventures and their heartaches and their experiences. Stories are what makes each of us unique, they are the individual brushstrokes on the canvas of who we are. You can understand so much about someone by listening to their stories.

That’s why I love the concept of this book so much. I’m gathering stories from mothers, couples, children, midwives, and nurses, each of them with their own heartbreaking and hopeful stories to tell. It’s providing a deeper worldview and a glimpse into a culture that I hadn’t considered before.

And sharing these stories to the world is my number one goal.

That’s why I am overjoyed to announce my collaboration with Humans Of Ottawa.

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Humans of Ottawa is a photo-blog with over 10.9k followers, used to share stories from people all over Canada’s capital city. Inspired by Brandon Stanton of Humans of New York, the purpose of the blog is to capture the stories of complete strangers throughout the city, adding an inspiring dynamic and personality to the faces we pass by each day. As a hobby, my friend spends time listening to the stories these strangers have to share and publishing them (with permission) for the city to see.

Now, the blog is extending its reach from the borders of Ottawa and into the small village of Bimbi, Malawi. Snippets of stories I’m collecting in my journey here are being published by Humans of Ottawa, and I couldn’t be more excited.

The more stories we share, the more connected this world becomes. I’m thankful that we can open up these stories and share the issue of Maternal, Newborn and Child Health in Malawi to an amazing audience.

Don’t miss a post! Links below:

I can’t wait to see what else is in store!

As always, 

Caitlin Arlene

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Happy Mothers Day, Malawi!

In a convenient turn of events that was entirely unexpected and happily accepted, I was present for the celebration of mother’s day here in Malawi.

Because Malawi has sanctioned mother’s day to be a national holiday, (Can we make this a thing in Canada too?) I spent the day relaxing, writing, and collecting my thoughts about the many mothers I’ve met already since I began my venture here. The day off was actually quite convenient for me, allowing for an additional day on top of the weekend to process the mountain of stories I’ve collected so far.

Mothers in Malawi have a tough job. As the primary caregivers to their children, they are often also tasked with the provision of food, of health care, of education and the overall wellbeing of their children. Though the majority of mamas here courageously take on these many responsibilities, I think it’s important to acknowledge the additional challenges that are brought on through the poverty of the country.

Because of this, I spent some extra time this week going through project reports, discovering some statistics that contribute to the Maternal Mortality Rate, and other hardships that women have in Malawi.

“Poverty, coupled with culture with high undertones of gender stereotypes largely influence women’s ability to access and utilize healthcare services.”

PROMISE Annual Report, Year 2

According to the same report quoted above, Malawi is reported to have one of the highest Maternal Mortality Rates in the world, with a current estimate of 439 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. This rate has actually gone down from 2010, which was 675 deaths per 100,000 live births.

Neonatal deaths are even higher – 25 out of 1,000 live births result in death.

Mothers in Malawi have the most challenges when it comes to providing their children with enough nutrients. As a result, Malawian children have the highest rate of stunted growth in sub-Saharan Africa, recording 37% of children to be severely stunted, underweight and malnourished.

But don’t despair – there’s hope! Projects like the one I am following are offering countless programs to combat these statistics.

And it is working.

I’m seeing firsthand the incredible work that is going into saving these women, their children, and the entire communities they live in. Women are telling me almost every day how significant the impact that these programs have on their lives. Mothers are able to protect their children in ways they never have been able to before.

I feel uniquely blessed to be writing this book and collecting these stories surrounding Malawian mother’s day. In a way, its offered new perspectives and weight to the stories that I share.

It’s inspiring. It’s empowering. But mostly, it’s humbling.

As always, 

Caitlin Arlene

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Introducing Gladys

Everybody, meet Gladys.

Her weathered hands have raised nine children, the youngest of which is three years old.

Though she’s been a mother for nearly 30 years, Gladys told me she’s learned more about raising healthy children in the past three years than she had in the 27 prior.

Why?

Because of the Maternal Health project that has been introduced to her village.

The project is multi-faceted and complex, but one significant element is the introduction of backyard gardens. Gladys showed me hers, full and flourishing with various types of fruits and vegetables. The growth of her garden saves money while ensuring that her children don’t go a day without proper nourishment.

“Before, my children were malnourished and very weak. But I’ve learned ways to make sure that my children are properly fed and strong. Now they are able to stay in school!” -Gladys

The impact that a simple garden has on a family and its community is incredible to see. For Gladys, it has meant that she can be confident in her children and their future.

“I want my children to be healthy. And I want them to be wise,” she told me, smiling with confidence. Her hope is contagious; her story is inspiring.

I can’t wait to share more about Gladys and other women like her soon! Stay tuned!

As always, 

Caitlin Arlene

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Cultural shift

Our world is incredible.

In a time where all four corners of this world are as accessible as they have ever been, the glory of the earth is inescapable. There are deserts, oceans, jungles, and mountains. There are temperatures that average as low as -50°C and hover as high as +50°C. There are hundreds of countries, billions of people and thousands of cultures, and we have the VIP front-row seats to it all.

But there are some things that we can’t stand by and watch. 

We, the awe-struck beings observing the wonders of this world, also have a duty to identify and challenge the items that are not so wonderful to behold. A few of these require economic shifts. A few of these require sustainability shifts. But those that I am encountering lately require entire cultural shifts.

I have spoken to many women, mothers and health care facilitators these past few days, and I am heartbroken by some of the things I am learning about the culture surrounding Maternal Health in Malawi alone.

  • Many believe the myth that if teens are taught reproductive education and family planning, they will never be able to have children. 
  • Many mothers are unaware of healthy breastfeeding practices, including regular feedings morning, night and throughout the day. 
  •  Many fathers have little to no involvement throughout a mother’s pregnancy and the first years of a child’s life, including the days leading up to and around childbirth. 
  • Many families have a high emphasis on making money, and will often sell their food at the markets before making sure their children have been fed. 
  • Many pregnant women will wait until their 7th or 8th month of pregnancy before visiting a doctor. By this time, any disease or mishap that would have been detected and treated could have already done its damage. 

It is these kinds of cultural myths and habits that the Maternal Health movement are trying to eradicate. Shifting an entire culture is not an easy task – especially ones that are already limited by poor economics and infrastructure.

But there is hope, and I am seeing the very fruits of it every day. My bookMama, is highlighting these very moments of breakthrough. It is revealing the stories of success of a true cultural shift, and the hope that is growing each and every day because of it.

Mothers and children are healthier than before – numbers which are growing each and every day. But until the maternal health crisis is no longer, keep praying for us and the teams working on such a tremendous cultural shift.

As always, 

Caitlin Arlene

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Day One – Success!

There’s no point to waiting, right?

Considering I only have three weeks to collect as many as stories I can, I was barely off the tarmac when I began my mission here (That’s not so true. I had the longest sleep of my life to make up for the 20 hours of flights first).

But from the minute I woke up, I was feet first, plunging right in.

I’ve connected with a team from Emmanuel International who is heavily involved in the Maternal, Newborn and Child Health project located here in Malawi. Not only are they allowing me to tag along to their project sites and training sessions, but they’ve also offered to help facilitate interviews with women, children, men, and families, allowing me to gather a full range of testimonies to share.

Today, I met Mrs. Mvula.

As a health facilitator in Zomba, Malawi, she primarily serves as a Midwife Specialist and Master Trainer. Serving her communities for over 20 years as a midwife,  Mrs. Mvula connected with the Maternal, Newborn and Child Health project more recently, where she is able to train other clinicians and midwives throughout the communities that they serve.

Her story is special, and just a glimpse into the many more stories that I will be collecting over the next few weeks.

I can’t wait to share them in more detail! Stay tuned!

As always, 

Caitlin Arlene

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