Notes and photos from the field!
Greetings from Tanzania!
I am here on our first "Learning Tour." The Learning Tours bring policy makers to see how the work of CARE and others on the ground are improving maternal and newborn health. By understanding the challenges and solutions around this issue, we hope to recruit more champions that will focus on this issue and ultimately increase visibility and support. This activity is largely possible due to a grant from the Gates Foundation. We are fortunate to be joined on this trip by two Congresswomen from northern California, Representatives Lynn Woolsey and Zoe Lofgren.
Just a few words about Tanzania. As in many countries we work in, Tanzania is largely rural with 75% of the population living in rural areas. Life expectancy is 52 years of age. The estimated maternal mortality rate is 530/100,000 and neonatal mortality is 32/1,000. Tanzania ranks 162/177 on the Human Development Index and has a GNI per capita of $400.
Let me share some impressions from our first day.
We started out in the Mwanza region in northwest Tanzania.
After a long drive on a bumpy road, we arrived in Gabajiga - a small village far from the main road. I met Marietta Kiliga - a village health worker who volunteers two days a week educating villagers about basic health care and the importance of utilizing the health services in their village.
Marietta walked us through the village and brought us to a thatched roof home. She introduced us to Shija Kangwe - a shy woman and mother of eight children. Just a few months ago, Shija was five months pregnant with her ninth child and started bleeding heavily. The nurse at the village clinic told her she needed to go to the hospital which was several hours away by foot. Shija has no transportation of her own, but was able to use the village transport system - a bicycle with an attached oxcart. It is rudimentary - but still much better than trying to make the journey on foot.
Tragically - by the time Shija got to the hospital - she had lost the baby. However, doctors were able to save her life and she is here today taking care of her other eight children because of the village transport system.
I also met Gama Luslinila and her daughter, Catherine who is 8. Gama was the first woman in the village to use the transport system. Her outcome was happier than Shija's but they both benefitted from this simple solution.
Later in the day we stopped in the village of Mwagala. We were met by a lively group of women, greeting us with songs, dance and cheers. They were part of a village savings and loan group. They contribute shares each week and then borrow loans to help them start a business or pay for school fees for their kids. The group consists of 26 women and 4 men. One woman talked about how the group has not only improved her life by helping her start a business, but she has also gained the confidence to speak in front of groups. She ran for an elected office and is now a village council member.
I asked the men how they felt about the women forming the group and how it felt to be outnumbered. One gentleman spoke eloquently about how he had been raised to believe that women were "lower" than men, but that this experience had changed his mindset. He said that he now had a new respect for women and their ability to get things done after working together in this group. He also spoke emotionally about being able to borrow money from the group, so that his wife could have necessary surgery. He was beaming when he spoke of these women and how much he respected them.
On a sad note, I also had a reminder yesterday of the fact that the challenges we face in our work are not exclusive to the people we help. I received an e-mail letting me know that Lilian Ondieki, manager of our PMTCT (prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV) program in western Kenya died of post partum hemorrhage. Please keep her family, including her newborn baby girl in your thoughts and prayers.