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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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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