This blog post was contributed by Anna Dion, 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.
Perhaps because of my background in engineering, I have a tendency to use bridge-building metaphors in describing my work. However, these days, my bridges are symbolic rather than the bricks and mortar of my past.
Over the past months, I have been preparing a reference manual for the pilot of a training course for birth companions to pregnant adolescents that will begin in February. This will be a key milestone within my Young Champion Fellowship, as we will be using this course as a pilot to adapt further trainings for other community health posts, and it will also graduate a first cohort of birth companions in the municipality of Pilar in the Province of Buenos Aires. We are hoping that this training will prepare these young volunteers to build a space for young women to make informed choices about their own pregnancy, delivery and early parenting choices.
These graduates will be the true ‘bridge-builders’ in the months and years to come. With the program’s support, these volunteers will help close the gap between the birthing experience that women hope for and the reality that they often face. The training course includes basic information on changes and care during pregnancy, labor and delivery from both the laboring women’s perspectives as well as those providing care, as well as a information on the rights of parents and children in childbirth as described by Argentine law. Woven throughout the course is an emphasis on interpersonal communication, as these volunteers will be challenging the status quo amongst their peers, within their communities and across the different levels of the health system.
In preparing these materials and foundations for the program, I have also begun building my own bridges in trying to translate what I have learned through my current work in Argentina to my upcoming challenges in developing my program in Canada. In addition to learning how to develop, deliver and adapt a training course, I am learning how to encourage leadership and critical thinking in others—hoping that we can create a new generation of ‘change agents’ in maternal health.
I have also learned valuable lessons about the potential role of private sector involvement in funding and advocating for social programs. My mentor and Ashoka Fellow, Alberto Vazquez, has built an impressive variety of private sector supporters for his NGO SAHDES, without compromising the vision and objectives of the NGO’s work. Particularly as so many of the issues to be addressed in maternal health are steeped in cultural, religious and social value systems, I think that this will be a key tool for me in all of the bridge-building in my future.