The Series – Part 3/3

Happy Monday morning!

If there is ever a series of hours that can be quantifiably considered as the most-hated hours of the week, it would be the poor numbers that comprise of every Monday morning.  I’ve never been one to wholeheartedly share those sentiments, but I can understand those who do.

For most, Monday mornings mark the end of relaxing weekends full of good company, indulging hobbies, and hours of free time. They also serve as a blatant billboard of loud letters that mock you with the unfortunate reality of five long, cruel days before the weekend emerges again. What’s more, is the morning hours are often hardest to overcome – the echoes of dreams still floating through a foggy mind, and the warmth of the cosy bedsheets still reaching out to you. With that perspective, I can fully understand those who see Monday mornings as the detestable hours.

But not so today.

This Monday morning marks 7 days until Christmas, and with the giant snowflakes falling from the clouds, the soft blanket wrapped around my shoulders, and the warm cup of coffee in my hand, I can honestly say that this is a very happy Monday morning indeed.

Additionally, this happy Monday morning marks the final section to my series: the last five stories featured on the Humans of Ottawa page.  I know the stories well. I have read and re-read their words, re-living the moments every time I look at the photos. Each time I do, I am struck again and again of the importance and significance that the faces hold. The impact that their stories can have – and will have. And their stories give me so much joy.

Perhaps their stories can encourage you too, on this very happy Monday morning.


Miriam
Meet Miriam, 18 years old

“Sometimes when I think of that day, I am scared. People tell me that I might die. But I tell them to wait and see what happens.”


Gertrude
Meet Gertrude, mother of 6

“We were married for 16 years before we divorced. It was because of gender-based violence. He was unfaithful, and stealing money for himself. We had seen counsellors, but eventually I knew he was never going to change. I just wanted to be free. Being alone is not easy. Sometimes we still go hungry. But now I have learned how a marriage should work, and I am raising my children to see the difference.”


Florence
Meet Florence, mother of 3

“Both of my previous husbands were unfaithful. It was so painful for me. When they would never be at home, I could just tell that they were with another woman. I don’t know why anyone would cheat. But my children have been gifts from God. It has not been a struggle to raise them, though I am always worried about having enough food.”


Charles
Meet Charles, Nurse and Midwife

“We encourage mothers to give birth at the facility instead of at home, because here they can be properly helped. Sometimes they won’t come because there is no transportation, sometimes because they don’t think they need to. I think it is a matter of ignorance – they just don’t know. Or, they think that they have the experience. They will say, ‘No, this is my 2nd, or 3rd, or 4th child, I already know what to do.’ But if something happens, I would rather them be here at the facility so we can help.”


Makaika
Meet Mr & Mrs Makiaka, Married for 5 years

“Sometimes, you hear a rumor about your spouse, maybe they were here with that person, or there with another. But you can’t just believe it. You must ask them and be open about it. We trust each other.  Growing our garden has helped us work better together too. I dig the ground, and my wife will take away all the weeds. Then we plant the seeds together. Communication is a big thing for couples. For us, we feel free to tell each other what we want or don’t want.”


And thus concludes the series!

I can’t wait to share their full stories with you! So much more is to come.

As always, 

Caitlin Arlene

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The Series – Part 2/3

Life is eventful. It pulls at you, and it pushes at you, and it perpetually reminds you to remember what is important. The events of life most often cause you to sit down and dissect your values, your goals, and your intentions.

Various events in my recent life have more than once forced me to be still, reflecting on the path I want to be on, and the path I feel called towards in comparison to the trajectory I see my current situation taking me. I’ve seen things I wanted to uphold slip, and I’ve seen things that I value waiting on the sidelines. Yet I’ve found that those consuming events that frustratingly possess my time are actually a valuable tool to make clear what I do care about, and where I would rather my attention be focused.

But I digress. The point I’m really coming to is that this post, part two of the series, is long overdue, and the simple events of life take responsibility for that.

So here you have it: Part Two of the Humans of Ottawa series is finally coming to you! In case you missed Part One, you can find it here.


Makupes
Meet Mr and Mrs Makupe

“We were dating for three years before I convinced her to marry me. It was quite difficult at first. I was not financially stable or ready for marriage, but we persevered. When the Chief of Party visited our village, I became involved in what the program was doing. I became a Gender Committee Member, and I’m helping teach the villages about gender equality. One of the things we do is teach couples how to communicate and work together. it has helped out marriage improve too. We now work together and improve one another.” 


Evelyn
Meet Evelyn, 13 years old

“I want to be a Madam (teacher). I think I will be able to do it, but I have to stay focused. I come home from school to study every day. It’s fun for me. I like to cook on my own time though. My parents don’t mind when I am cooking, and it has become much better with the energy-efficient stove. Instead of using three rocks to prop up the pot, we have clay stoves instead. It saves a lot of firewood, and makes it much easier to cook.”


Fynes
Meet Fynes, Mother of 6

“I delayed going to the hospital because we didn’t have transportation. We were waiting for an oxcart, but it was taking too long. My child was born on the way to the hospital, but the people with me didn’t know what to do. They delayed cutting the umbilical cord. They didn’t know how to deliver the placenta too. I became unconscious, but by the time I woke up, the baby had died.”


Mchengas
Meet Mr and Mrs Mchenga, Parents of 5 children

“We met on the road one day, and three months later we were married. Our first days of marriage were nice, but now, 15 years later, it is even nicer. We went to a marriage counsellor who taught us some etiquette tips for our marriage, like communication and how to manage our money. now we help other young couples to persevere in their marriages.”


Kevin
Meet Kevin, 15 years old

“It’s really nice at home; it’s different. We never had the capacity or understanding of the importance of proper hygiene. We would eat food and not wash our hands first, things like that. But now there is no cholera. No other diseases either. I have seen a lot of changes in my mother because of it. I want to become a doctor someday – I like the way that the doctors work, and I want to be just like them. I feel that I can achieve these things if I work hard enough, and with the help of God.”


Check out the Humans of Ottawa pages for more:

Stay tuned for the final part! I promise this time you won’t have to wait as long.

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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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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Babies, blankets and blessings

I am blown away.

Just over one week ago, I sent out a request for donations of baby blankets to take to the women and children that I’ll be speaking with while I’m in Malawi.

The result was an overwhelming display of generosity – what I asked for and then some.

The result was overflowing suitcases, bins, and bags.

The result was over a hundred blankets, baby jumpers, onesies, and caps.

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Not pictured – the huge duffle bag FULL of blankets behind me.

It’s funny how you learn so many things by asking for help.

I have been blessed by the number of donations, inquiring emails, and endless support that my community has given me. Promises of prayer, curious questions, and joyful encouragement have been carrying me through these days leading up to my departure.

Last week, I opened an email from a mother in town, asking me whether the blankets she had left over from her children would suffice. I responded accordingly, but there was a part of her email that struck a chord in my mind.

“I received quite a few baby blankets for my kids, but didn’t have much occasion to use many of them… I’d love to pass them along to someone who could really use them.  My personal experience was that here we might almost have “too many” blankets, as people I checked with already had plenty.”

Her words moved me in a way that I wouldn’t have expected. In one sentence, this mother put into words the feeling of being blessed and the desire to bless others. In recognizing what she has received, she determined her ability to also give. In fact, the blessing of others (in the form of baby blankets for her children) has caused her an overabundance of blessing that she can pour out to those who can “really use them”.

While I don’t believe that it’s possible to have ‘too many’ blessings from God, I do believe that we often keep too many of them to ourselves. I can think of countless examples of where I have withheld generosity instead of ‘spreading the wealth’.

Luckily, this tendency has been completely disregarded where these blankets are concerned. I never could have anticipated the number of blankets sitting in my basement right now, waiting to be delivered to the mothers and children in Malawi.

And for that, I am ever thankful.

As always, 

Caitlin Arlene

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Through Hope and Grace

The following story is one that I wrote nearly four years ago.  It paints a picture of the life of Malawian orphan – highlighting their struggle and emphasizing their hope. It’s stories like this, among so many others, that are the inspiration for Mama. It’s stories like this that are the fire behind my passion.

I imagine that the people I spoke to and interacted with have long since graduated from the center described below, but the story itself remains the same.

 

 “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” Ephesians 2:8

You wake up to an unfamiliar humidity in the air surrounding you. Rolling over, you are greeted by a blinding ray of sunlight, and as you hastily rub the pain from your eyes, you are able to take in your surroundings. Directly above you is a dried-grass roof, supported by several twisted branches. The bright morning sunlight casts shadows on the mud-brick walls that crudely form the room in which you woke up just moments ago. The aching in your back is explained by the worn, dirt floor you had been sleeping on, cushioned only by a futile pleated mat. Thoroughly confused, and relatively nervous, you make your way to the window, hoping a view of the world outside will clarify your whereabouts. But what greets you is the dazed face of a Malawian orphan, perhaps 17 years of age. You shake your head, had they been looking in the window the whole time? But as you turn, you realize that it is not a window you have been looking into: it’s a mirror. The reflection is you. You are the orphan.

Shocked, you look down at your worn hands, and back into the mirror; as if to confirm what you are seeing is true. The face in the mirror nods, straightens their shirt and proceeds to exit the room, carrying you along with them.  Throughout the day, you find yourself participating in the unfamiliar life of the Malawian youth. You experience going to school hungry, and struggle to understand the difficult concepts being taught to you. When school ends, you walk barefoot in the heat of the African sun, wondering how much nsima, a simple dish made from corn-flour, you will be able to have that night. In addition to the uncertainty you have pertaining to your next meal, you feel the heavy weight of the future resting on you. Even though you have received your acceptance to the college you wanted, you know that there is no way you are going to be able to afford it; it’s a miracle you received the funds to go to secondary school in the first place, to dream of anything more remains as it is –a dream. Instead of your weary body guiding you down the footpath that leads to home, you turn down a different road. The road that leads you to Grace.

Grace. From a common name to a key doctrine in the Christian faith, the word itself has many meanings to people all over the world. But to you, to the orphaned children of Zomba, Malawi, Grace is a centre of hope. It’s a place to go, to receive support, guidance, and encouragement. In this case, Grace is an orphan care centre. Providing after-school tutoring and assistance to the children throughout the city, Grace works to instill Christian morals and teachings, ultimately offering a place of security and understanding; giving hope to the hopeless.

 

Of course, Grace Orphan Care hadn’t always been around for you. It began one sunny afternoon in the house of a gentle, caring soul. You were seven or eight years old when you first met the team at Grace, and over the next 10 years, they were a heavy influence in your growth –your success.  Grace and their supporters were able to raise the funds to build the beautiful building and facility that Grace now was; they had provided the centre with chickens, and other small livestock too. If it hadn’t been for these donors, and ultimately God’s faithfulness, you would not have been joined by another 200 orphans, and you most certainly would not have been able to fund your secondary education.

And God has an incredible way of providing in the most unlikely circumstances. When the news came that this very care center had found the funds to send you to University, there are no more words to be said.

There were 13 of you who would be recipients of the gift, meaning that the money that had come would be spread very thinly. But there was enough to get you through your first year – maybe two – and that was more than you could ask for. The centre was confident that more money would come as the years progressed, and you had faith in this conviction.

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Suddenly, you pop awake. The air around you is dry and grey. There is no blinding sun this time, as the blinds covering the window act as a blockade, restricting the golden rays from prematurely waking you. Rolling over, you realize that you are back in your own room, your own house, your own body.

Had that life simply been a dream? To you, maybe. But it is as much of a dream as it is a reality. The hardships you experienced, the uncertainty you felt, the hunger you saw; it all is more than truth to these children. As is the hope. The hope that God provides is realized by these children through Grace Orphan Care’s work.

Surging with thankfulness, the Malawian orphan stepped from the office into the orange glow of the setting African sun. Just this morning, the sun had been shining, but their future had been covered with shadows. Now, as they emerge from the doors of Grace, the centre that had cared for them for so many years, there was a sense of freedom that the orphan felt.

This gift had opened so many doors that had been considered permanently sealed shut, and while there is always a sense of anxiety about the future, a golden band of light was rising on the horizon for the Malawian orphan.

As always, 

Caitlin Arlene

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