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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