Hello Mzungu, Bye Bye Mzungu

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By: Faatimaa Ahmadi, Young Champion of Maternal Health

This blog post was contributed by Faatimaa Ahmadi, 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.

It is the voice of the children of Mawundo village, Luuka district, Eastern Uganda that are now friends with my son, Mahdiar. They welcome him and see him off every time we go there. The term Mzungu refers to an English man or anyone who has “white” color.

This month was a unique January in my life. We started our Dialogue Education Method in maternal health in Mawundo village. The village is about 120km from Kampala. We passed Mabira Forest, Lake Victoria, and the Nile River to reach there. The roads are narrow with quite heavy traffic and all feeder roads are dusty and bumpy. The common transport is bicycle and Boda Boda. There is one health centre in the village. More than 99 percent of the houses don’t have access to the electricity. They take water from bore-hole and some of them walk long distances to reach there.

Before visiting the village we acquired an excellent opportunity to connect with Jane Vella, the founder of Dialogue Education in the World. I am very pleased to inform you all that this lovely lady is supervising the project step by step and inspiring me incredibly.

Fortunately, on the 30th of January we finished the first step of the project, which was to assess the health needs of the community (the next step is producing learning materials which will be informed by the assessment done and the last step will be to conduct the educational sessions in the community with the learning materials we create).

After developing an interview guide and testing it, we all convened in Joyce Fertility Support Center to learn from each other on the principles of interviewing, especially in the community.

We went to the village and formed our working group. As I have written in the past, in this method of education, which is based on Paulo Freire’s methodology, we consider our learners as precious resources that are participating in each and every step of educational activity. We believe that we are working WITH the people of the community and not FOR them to bring change in maternal health.

We visited local leaders of the village to inform them about the project, gain their welcome and let them know that they are members of our group and each and every active local individual is welcomed to be a member of our group.

We went to the village and lived there. I was proud of the presence of my son in this project next to me. He was breaking most of the cultural barriers by becoming close to the children in the village and making people of the community feel free to talk about their problems easily! He has also become our photographer in the village sometimes!

We selected about 10 percent of the houses and visited them house by house. During these visits we wanted to find out what they knew about maternal health issues and what they wanted to learn. As Jane told me, “They are teaching YOU their context.”

In the visits to the homes we realized that many girls of 16 and 17 become pregnant by men and then the men run away, leaving them with nothing to support themselves. Mothers in their twenties have about 5 children and when they were asked if they wanted more kids, they answered, “Yes, of course!” In the interviews many women told us they are suffering from syphilis.

While we were talking with the people of the community on maternal health issues, we could hardly find any knowledge of maternal health to connect new knowledge to, especially in women who have been pregnant for the first time. This deep lack of knowledge and also their desire for more learning makes me consider myself as an educator more than a midwife.

In the following months, the health needs assessment will be analyzed and the learning materials for this community will be produced. Then Joyce Fertility Support Centre group, with the young Mzungu and his mother, will go to the village to run the educational sessions.