This blog post was contributed by Ifeyinwa Egwaoje Madu, one of the fifteen Young Champions of Maternal Health chosen by Ashoka and the Maternal Health Task Force at EngenderHealth. She will be blogging about her experience every month, and you can learn more about her, the other Young Champions, and the program here.
First, let me say that I have never been so cold my entire life! The weather forecast has regularly called for 23 degrees Fahrenheit and it feels as if I have been living inside a deep freezer. When I was in Nigeria, where we are in summer all year round, I thought I would love the cold but after this, I’m not so sure anymore!
Despite the cold, I have gotten on with my usual business of working with Sister Friends and with the program managers of the North East Mississippi Birthing Project and the Anguilla, Mississippi Birthing Project. My job consists of, among other things, assisting the program managers in the training of Sister Friends and Birthing Project volunteers, while also ensuring that the program funds for the 2011 fiscal year were being disbursed. All of this kept me busy, which was good because each time my mind wandered to the TEDx talk that I was to give on November 22 I began to get nervous.
The train ride from Anguilla back to New Orleans helped take my mind off of TEDx and gave me ample opportunity to see the countryside, which is evidently different from all the sweet stories and nice pictures we see on American movies. I saw real country people, real trees, sand, and real not-so-pretty houses. This confirms the fact that as humans we all have our imperfections.
And still, each time I thought about my TEDx talk I had mixed feelings: excitement and nervousness. Excitement at being invited as a TEDx speaker and nervousness about doing it “right”. Even though I have done a lot of presentations, this one was different. I felt it was particularly special because my purpose was to inspire people to think differently about something they already had knowledge of and I had to convince them that my point of view was “an idea worth spreading.”
Half of my one-on-one time with my Askoha mentor, Kathryn Hall-Trujillo (or “Mama Katt” as she is affectionately called), was spent narrowing down all my big and great ideas to something that would fit into five minutes and still drive home the salient points. I spent a lot of time practicing. Finally I was able to give my TEDx talk with very little stress. Overcoming my nervousness helped me really use the TEDx medium to enlighten the minds of young women (and people of all ages) about definitions of beauty and to help people realize that the empowerment of a woman starts with developing a positive body image. I think my talk was a great success. On a personal level it helped me connect with other women around a universal yet very personal issue; the issue of how we see ourselves. You can watch it here.
Three days before my TEDx talk, we organized a dinner meeting with Ashoka U students at Tulane University. Ashoka U is a program that provides students with the resources, networks, role models and learning opportunities to become social entrepreneurs. The meeting created a platform for us to benefit from each other and share our learnings of what it took to become social entrepreneurs. It also helped us understand that as social entrepreneurs we all had something to contribute towards developing a healthier society.
Some of the skills that I am acquiring as an Ashoka Young Champion in my work with the Birthing Project Mississippi are coordinating these projects without being physically present and also assessing systemic challenges the organization is facing and developing appropriate solutions. I am learning how to develop grant proposals for the North East Birthing Project that will soon be sent to some corporations. These skills will help me develop for my own project an organizational structure that functions without my physical presence, a flexible operating modal and a strategy that will encourage community members to buy into my vision and adopt my idea as their own.
In thinking beyond the nine months of this internship program and how I can start implementing my project back in Nigeria, I have applied for the Echoing Green fellowship, made Kyle Berner, the owner of Feel Goodz (a company that makes flip flops from 100% Thai rubber) interested in promoting my project, and discussed with Hellen Kotlolo and Martha Adenew possible ways of getting start-up funds for our projects.
With all these experiences I am excited because I know that I am making very meaningful progress. Each experience brings more bits and pieces that all fit into the big picture.