Visiting a new place often makes the mundane and normal things stand out; the way a driver navigates traffic on a stagnant commute, the odours from the gutter, the intonation in language and the words used to describe a new fruit, the smell of evenings from a rooftop, the most prominent advertising and colour of paint used on shop rows.
When I visit somewhere new I often wonder what would become normal if I lived there.
Perhaps if I lived in Uganda I might get used to security screening at supermarkets, I might not be surprised by the curvaceous fashion silhouettes lining the streets, and I might fail to take special note of monkeys clambering in the trees. However, each time I visit a new place like Uganda I am reminded that there are normal things that will stand out no matter how many times I witness or hear of them; the normal challenge faced by mothers in accessing a maternity clinic to give birth; mothers’ normal experience of being received poorly when arriving at a clinic in labour without gloves for the care-giver; the normal and frightful number of mothers and babies across the country who die from simple and preventable causes such as an infection from childbirth.
As an organisation, Birthing Kit Foundation Australia (BKFA) is committed to doing something about the too-often normal injustice that is women not having access to simple, clean materials for giving birth. We work to facilitate the assembly of birthing kits by volunteers in Australia and transport them to countries like Uganda where the need is exceptionally high.
We rely on the coordination, program approach and integrity of our partnerships in the field—such as World Vision—to make sure projects are designed and personnel are trained to support the effective integration and use of birthing kits in communities. World Vision are also key to ensuring that the birthing kits themselves add value to existing projects and are part of a broader initiative to create positive change for mothers and their communities.
BKFA birthing kits have been part of World Vision Uganda’s Nkozi Area Development Program (ADP) for the last two years and visiting this project area was a highlight of our trip to Uganda. Nkozi was also my first introduction to the field as a representative of BKFA and as such, the experience made a striking impression.
We know clean birthing kits have a wide-reaching impact—more than just preventing infection—and through meeting and talking with beneficiaries of World Vision’s work in Nkozi it became clear just what an enabling, important role the kits can play in improving access to clinics, quality of care provided, and care satisfaction and health outcomes for mothers giving birth.
We listened to stories from skilled midwives who shared their desire to provide the best possible delivery care but who often had to look after birthing mothers with no clean materials or even basic self-protection in the form of a pair of gloves. We started to understand why midwives like these became infuriated at poor mothers who required urgent life-saving care but were unable to purchase or reimburse the cost of essential items. These costs can prevent mothers from making contact with the health system. Eagerly we listened to how birthing kits in Uganda reduced this barrier and contributed to more mothers being able to receive antenatal, childbirth and postnatal care from midwives. We were also relieved to hear that with adequate delivery supplies, midwives were welcoming and could give immediate care to mothers seeking assistance in labour. Women who cannot afford birthing items can also be more vulnerable to inadequate nutrition, have a lower level of education, and reduced access to transport and social networks.
Through their Nkozi ADP, World Vision has facilitated community women’s groups that have promoted financial literacy and independence, as well as connected and educated young mothers on self-care in pregnancy, hygiene, and the preparation of local nutritional foods for pregnant mothers and infants.
Three of these community women’s groups were formed in the village of Busese. We arrived in Busese on a warm late afternoon to a welcome reception. The celebration of the program was heartfelt and included speeches, cooking demonstrations and dance. Sitting with my colleagues, I looked around at the gathering; mothers with healthy babes in arms, health teams knowledgeable and enthusiastic, the village leader visibly proud, coordinators of the district program, staff responsible for central warehousing in Kampala, and key partnership managers from World Vision Australia. We reflected on this wonderful collaboration; the important part each individual and team plays in realising this cross-continental chain that carries birthing kits from the hands of Australian volunteers to those of mothers and midwives in this rural village.
Thanks to this chain and the work of all involved, these mothers and communities now experience a new normal, the type of normal that should stand out no matter how long you live there.