Nurse Mary Paul is working with World Vision to train local maternal health workers.
When I met Mary Paul, the nurse in charge of a small health clinic in the dusty north of Uganda, I wasn’t in a great frame of mind.
I was hot, sweaty, dusty and grateful for the shady respite of the clinic’s corrugated iron veranda. By contrast Mary Paul was a picture of composure, her white nurse’s outfit all crisp ironed lines.
I arrived at the clinic with Nick, a videographer at World Vision. We were there to film a story about a maternal health program that is training volunteers to visit pregnant women at their homes, providing a basic level of care and supervision during pregnancy.
After our sit-down interview with Mary Paul, she gave us a tour of the clinic’s sparse facilities. She paused at a piece of butcher’s paper that crudely captured the birth figures for the clinic including the number of births each month and whether there were any complications.
With statistical pride, Mary Paul explained each column, and the progress it represented. In 2012, there was only one maternal death – a great achievement for an understaffed, under-resourced health clinic. As she spoke, I knew the question I was going to ask, and my chest was already tightening in anticipation of her answer.
“When that woman died in childbirth, how did you feel?” This video captures her answer:
Mary Paul’s story hit me hard. Afterwards I had to head outside to pull myself together.
In my travels for World Vision I have learnt there is always a moment that slips under your guard. One child, one story among so many you hear, will for no particular reason wrench your heart.
I have been privileged to travel to several World Vision projects, and without fail I return filled with hope and optimism about the fight against poverty. But progress is rarely even, and any development project has its share of failures among its successes.
But the very next day I was once again riding high, having visited an amazing parent support group for new parents. We left Uganda a few days later, but I knew Mary Paul’s story would stay with me.
So often in Australia we understand poverty in a statistical way. Mary Paul’s story reminded me that a mother lost in childbirth is not felt statistically; it is felt in a very raw, real way by all of the community. That’s why maternal and child health is a pillar of World Vision’s work. In the space of sixty seconds, Mary Paul had jolted me with that reality.