This blog post was contributed by Sara Al-Lamki, 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.
My life has always been a series of fragmented journeys. I was never quite so sure what I wanted to do, I just knew I wanted to contribute to ‘the greater good’, as cliché as it sounds, and I was always taking different medical related paths. I wish I could say that maternal health was a passion from day one, but it took many paths to get here. Yet, this Young Champions program is the first thing that truly feels right. I feel passionate, and finally feel this is a road that I can travel.
As Anna Dion said in her November post, you have to get out of your comfort zone to affect change. And as all the Young Champions I’m sure will relate and echo her words, I too am completely out of my comfort zone, yet wholly in my element. The frustrations are many and frequent, but I have never felt more driven, or more determined to get my idea into fruition, to change the face of maternal and reproductive health in the Arab world and beyond.
It all sounds idyllic, I know, but believe me I realize the challenges. Indonesia is very much like Oman, with one public holiday after another, Bali especially, as it gets not only the National Muslim holidays, but all the Hindu and Christian holidays as well. And of course the run-up to the public holiday is slow as people ‘prepare’, so being productive is hard, and frustrating – oh so very frustrating. But I have learned to channel these frustrations, and find solace in releasing it. It helps that I’m on Paradise Island, and the beauty helps me forget and brings back the motivation. My particular comfort is the sunsets; the most spectacular sunsets one will ever set their eyes on. It takes my breath away, and I feel renewed, revived, and ready to handle the frustrations another day, week, month. I find fragmenting my life in this way helps me take things one step at a time. I always want to run through things, eager to see results, but if I break things down, then I can make those races shorter. All of this is helping my idea develop, so before I race into planning the revolution of family planning in Oman, I focus on my project, and the fragments of contributions I’m making here.
It also helps that my mentor, an Ashoka Fellow, is extremely enthusiastic, and laughs at the hurdles, literally, and it helps everyone else at YRS breathe a little easier. It also helps me put things into perspective; things are never bleak, no matter how they seem, there is a way out—it may be hard, but there’s always a way. I recently watched her give a seminar on Reproductive Health to some Indonesian staff at one of the international schools. I’ve never quite seen a crowd so shocked as Dr. Sari demonstrated how to use a female condom—something they had never heard of, and to be frank, something I had never seen! She also inspires me, if she can open up minds here, I can do it too.
I am now half-way through the mentorship, and into a new year. I am only now feeling settled, productive, and getting into the grind of things. I am starting to see fruits of my labor: one of the connections I was pursuing is being established, and the pregnant clients of YRS are beginning to be referred to the natural birthing clinic close by, to receive free or low-cost ante-natal care, and a place to give safe natural birth. The new educational materials I was developing are being printed, and will be distributed along with the others already at hand, and I have finally finished the planning and development stages of my project, and am beginning to implement it. Four months ago, I came here after the most inspiring trip to India, pumped to make a change, and improve global maternal health, and yet had only the vaguest idea of how I was going to do that. Now I realise it’s not such a bad thing that I have always fragmented parts of my life. It may seem impossible, but when you step back and look at the collective picture, things start to come into focus.