You’re nine months pregnant. You live with other women and children in a hut with a dirt floor. You spend your days digging for firewood — using sticks to dig in the deforested earth for dead, dry tree roots — and growing food in a small garden. It’s not enough to feed you and your other children, let alone sustain a pregnancy, but that’s what you have.
Around you danger is very real. You know of women who’ve disappeared, had their children stolen or been raped when they went to dig for firewood. You, yourself, are as likely as not a victim of rape. And that baby in your belly? It’s going to be born onto the dirt floor of your hut while other mothers in your same situation attend you. None of them have medical training. They don’t necessarily even know to wash their hands.
You’re afraid, though you don’t talk about it. You know women who died giving birth. You remember their faces. Maybe you even remember their screams as they labored for three days without help, without any hope of relief, before they bled to death. You don’t want to die like that. Nor do you want your baby to die, but so many babies do.
Childbirth isn’t the only risk you’re facing. Malaria is one mosquito bite away. In the camps, tuberculosis is rampant. And HIV? You pray that you’re not part of the 25 percent of the population suffering from that terrible disease.
Who are you?
You’re a woman living in a camp for internally displaced persons in Uganda. And this is your life today, tomorrow and tomorrow.
Into this bleak picture came an enterprising group of Colorado women, led by Jennifer Braun, a midwife. Braun created a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization called International Midwife Assistance (IMA) the purpose of which is bringing midwifery care to women in parts of the world where pregnancy is often a death sentence.
IMA first went into Afghanistan, where women were dying in droves. After the horror of Taliban rule, which prohibited women from becoming educated and even prevented women from coming to hospitals, there were vast stretches of the country that lacked birth attendants. Women knew nothing about their own bodies or how to safely give birth. Maternal and infant mortality rates were staggering.
Braun and IMA worked with the new Afghan government to create a midwifery school in Bamiyan, training young women to be skilled birth attendants, visiting villages to talk to women about reproductive health and delivering hundreds of babies safely. Low on supplies, unable even to take a warm bath, Braun spent months in Afghanistan.
Sadly, IMA had to leave Afghanistan because the Taliban reasserted itself in many places, often killing midwives (none from IMA, thank God!) because they believed they were handing out condoms.
So IMA diverted its energies to Uganda.
Working with the Ugandan government, Braun and IMA helped to establish and fund a clinic where women from the surrounding community and the neighboring IDP camps can give birth safely. Women and their children also receive basic health care from vaccinations to drugs to fight HIV and malaria.
So that's what they do every day now — they save lives. Women walk sometimes for three days to reach the clinic. With the recent addition of motorbikes, women in labor can now ride on the back of a motorcycle and reach the clinic much more quickly. This has enhanced the clinic's outreach substantially.
Women labor among the trees of an orange grove beside the clinic, then come indoors to push their babies out. They’re able to stay for the immediate postpartum recovery period so that the midwives can make sure they don’t hemorrhage. While there, they'll be tested for HIV and given other necessary medical help.
Those who need emergency C-sections are taken to a nearby hospital, but the midwives at the clinic handle vaginal deliveries that many doctors here would not — breech births, for example, and twins. Many times twins are a surprise because many women who come to the clinic have had no prenatal care.
Braun and the other midwives take turns working in Uganda together with Ugandan nurses, providing prenatal care, delivery, basic medical care, basic family planning and postpartum care. Braun coordinates the program out of her home — a normal single-family home not far from mine. I’ve seen her office. Last time I was there, a pair of scissors for cutting umbilical cords was sitting on her kitchen counter, left over from a recent birth she’d attended in Boulder. I thought that was funny. Dirty coffee cups, saucers, umbilical cord scissors...
Many of the women Braun and the others care for are victims of rape. Many have lost children to the violence that has devastated Uganda. A great many are raising children alone.
The camps themselves present severe challenges for hygiene, as animals and people crowd into close quarters without clean, running water or sewer systems or any of the things you and I take for granted.
Beyond the camps are remote villages where there are no doctors, no nurses, no clinics. The residents there simply live — and die — without medical care. Braun and other health-care providers from the clinic began doing outreach, taking medical supplies to remove areas, where literally hundreds of people would gather, waiting for hours to be seen and treated. Ear infections, appendicitis, skin rashes, TB, HIV — you name it, they see it. And they treat it.
I was one of the first journalists — perhaps the first? — to report on IMA’s work in Afghanistan. Having given birth to two babies, I cannot imagine the horror of dying in labor. The pain of a normal labor is excruciating. To spend three or four days in unceasing agony before dying — no one in the world deserves that. But pregnancy truly is a death sentence far too often.
Over the years, I’ve watched as IMA moved to Uganda, expanding its program as its resources allowed, and I’ve done my best to support Braun’s efforts. But I want to do more.
So I’m asking those of you who’d like to help to join me in putting our money together to support IMA. I will donate $100 and am looking for 1,000 romance readers — those of us who believe in happy endings — to likewise donate $100, or 10,000 to donate $10 each — so that together we can make a $10,000 donation to IMA. That’s 10 percent of its annual budget.
All of the money they raise goes to their programs. All of the midwives who participate are volunteers. No one is sitting on a fat salary. IMA is a true blue nonprofit designed for one purpose — to save the lives of women and their babies. So those of you who are afraid to donate because you think most of it’s going to go for commercials or swag or some fat cat in a suit needn’t fear. Because I reported on IMA, I know where the money is going.
Here’s how it works:
1. I will donate $100.
2. Those who can afford it also donate $100.
3. Others decide how much they can afford and gather a group of friends together so that their group’s total donation equals $100. So two friends could donate $50 each. Or four could donate $25 each or 10 could donate $10 each. Donate online by clicking here.
4. E-mail me and tell me how much you/your group donated.
5. Help me spread the word via blogs, Twitter, etc., until the total donation value from all individuals and groups equals $10,000.
5. We sit back and know that we helped to save lives. No maybes about it. We saved lives.
I will blog about those who contribute, and I will give away some unknown number of copies of Breaking Point as random prizes for those who’ve contributed. Also, I’ll hold a phone chat with any readers group that donates together, calling you and chatting on the phone at my own expense. I wish I could offer big prizes, but I can’t. Maybe next year, I’ll organize an auction with other authors. But for now, this is what I have.
So get the women in your readers group together. Or call a group of friend at your church. Then donate online and tell me what you did. I’ll keep records and help track our progress at reaching that $10,000 mark.
It’s rare in the world of today’s corporate nonprofits to be able to donate and make such a direct contribution to saving the lives of others. From HIV meds to prenatal care to catching babies, IMA makes a difference in real women’s lives. At a time of year when many of us are celebrating the birth of a child, this nonprofit feels like the perfect fit.
To read more about their operation and to see more photographs, click here for their website.
And from the bottom of my heart, thank you!