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By: Carolina Damásio, Young Champion of Maternal Health

This blog post was contributed by Carolina Damásio, 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.

In some cultures butterflies are a symbol of rebirth, regeneration, and happiness. And now I think of butterflies when I think about the women in Mali! So many colors, smiles, wishes… So many births and rebirths, and they are ready to fly…

This month I started meeting with Coumba (Ashoka’s Regional Representative for West Africa) and a group of women in Kati, trying to make something close to my organization (The Art of Being Born) in Brazil: education in maternal health and use of artistic techniques in order to increase the bond between mothers and babies. At first the proposal was only for pregnant women, but now the group is growing and women of all ages are welcomed to participate: students, housewives, pregnant women, women who work in the community, and even some husbands, too! I was very impressed. In one of the meetings we discussed sexuality, and the women talked about their problems, doubts, pain, and fears. Muslim countries usually don’t have much dialogue about these things, so I was surprised! The arts enrich the meetings and, as Mali is one of the most well known countries for African music, I am trying to discover the local cultural songs and lullabies. At each meeting they always bring a new song and the work is getting incredible.

I had a meeting with the NGO ASDAP that works with maternal health in five regions of Mali, and they are very interested in replicating my idea. They are interested in incorporating artistic techniques in the work they already do in the area of reproductive health. I was invited to visit Koutiala, a town about 300 km from Bamako, where they do a great job teaching community’s women about reproductive health.

During my days in Koutiala I attended a meeting with women in the ASDAP office, and had about 70 women participating! I decided to ask some questions and I was glad to hear their proposed ideas to reduce the maternal mortality in Mali. They acquire knowledge of contraceptive methods, and after they are able to guide other women in their villages. I also visited a village near Koutiala and met other women and learned a little about their lives and their problems. I think I learned much more about maternal health talking with those women than all my research about health in Mali.

After these experiences, we decided to start a translation and adaptation of my book (The Art of Being Born) for Mali. The goal is to help someone conduct health education with groups of women anywhere in Mali, as a means of improving maternal and child health indicators. With the same mold as the book in Portuguese, we suggest techniques for artistic encounters, such as poems, lullabies, and crafts. For this purpose I started extensive research to learn about cultural differences, and what points we need to intervene to improve the health of pregnant women and children. The women in my group are helping me develop new strategies to improve communication, discover the myths about pregnancy, and some practices favorable to care of the newborn!

I am very excited about working with the book, because it is a part of me that will stay in Mali after the program, and we can also help many more women here!