I am 27, and I Am a Maternal Health Advocate

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By: Janna Oberdorf, Communications Manager, Women Deliver

These are two things I’m very proud of. I’m proud to be young (or at least young-ish) and passionate about women and mothers. I’m proud that when I see images of women giving birth in low-quality health facilities, I want to yell at the world. I’m proud that the first time I learned what fistula is, I wanted to smash my computer screen and say, “Why didn’t I even know about this before?” This is a fight that I’m ready and willing to take – the fight for mothers around the world.

But why are there so few young people involved in maternal health, at the research level, at the advocacy level, and at the policy level?

Today, at the Global Maternal Health Conference I got to watch five Young Champions of Maternal Health speak with the same passion that I feel.

I watched:

·      Hellen Kotlolo talk about her project to send SMS text messages to pregnant women and new mothers that give them both health advice, but also loving, empowering messages that increase their self-esteem;

·      Zubaida Bai talk (via a video recording) about her project to distribute clean birth kits to communities;

·      Egwaoje Ifeyinwa Madu talk about using SisterFriends, a trusted network of women in communities, to share information on maternal health and act as a safe and compassionate resource;

·      Carolina Araujo Damasio Santos talk about her project The Art of Being Born which uses music, poetry, and other art forms to humanize the process of pregnancy and birth in Brazil;

·      and Seth Cochran talk about Operation OF, a project to reintegrate fistula survivors into communities who have shunned them for their injuries.

I couldn’t have been more inspired. But I had to ask the question: How do we get more young people on board? It seems that when it comes to maternal health, it’s hard to reach young people in a way that make them understand this is an issue that affects them. Many young people care about sexual and reproductive health – they want safe sex, contraception, safe abortions. But when you mention maternal health, they think about their mothers.

Sitting in front of five Young Champions who certainly inspired this conference of almost 700 people, I hope that one day maternal health will resonate with young people on a bigger, broader level. I hope that one day when we mention maternal health, young people will think of themselves and not just their mothers. And I hope that organizations like the Maternal Health Task Force, Ashoka, and more continue to respect young people’s opinions and innovative ideas, and properly support them with information, guidance, mentoring and funding.

Learn more about the Young Champions of Maternal Health program, a partnership between the Maternal Health Task Force and Ashoka.

Janna Oberdorf is the Communications Manager at Women Deliver.

Stay up to date with the conference happenings! Follow the Maternal Health Task Force and EngenderHealth on Twitter: @MHTF and @EngenderHealth. The conference hashtag is #GMHC2010.

For more posts about the Global Maternal Health Conference, click here.

For the live stream schedule, click here.

Check back soon for the archived videos of today’s presentations.