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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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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