Facts for Life

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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.

Working with women in Mali made me discover a new world. Health statistics, art, communication strategies, French, dialect, science, problems, solutions… I´m trying to discover and learn what we need to change to improve maternal and child health. Sometimes I think there are very simple steps that could make the difference. Sometimes the task seems impossible!! But I see the girls with all the energy to learn and disseminate the new information, and I find the strength to keep going…

I have spent many hours trying to find ways to overcome cultural barriers, improve education, and distribute health information in order to be able to develop the points that I consider critical for pregnant women: how to strengthen measures to prevent malaria; such as improving nutrition of women during pregnancy, and children eating foods found in the country with low cost; how to make them understand that one’s baby must breastfeed exclusively during the first six months (and not to take “traditional medicines”); and other simple information about hygiene and care of the child that must be assimilated to change the reality … I wish I could change the public health here, offering free prenatal with quality, safe assistance at delivery, and make people understand that maternal health is a PRIORITY and cannot be forgotten…

On the other hand, I am surprised with the cultural richness here. Whoever knows a little bit about Mali must realize the joy of the people here. They seem to have art in their DNA, and it takes no effort to develop the artwork with my group of women. They are always able to participate in music, dance, and theater with a smile. They bring new ideas, and my version of my book for Mali is becoming amazing!! I also started experimenting with art activities to disseminate information on maternal and child health. Within minutes they were ready with a play about breastfeeding and the women are planning to present it to the community.

I’m thinking of everything I’ve learned with this opportunity to live in Mali. When I miss Brazil and the work I had there (in hospitals), I think that here instead of treating patients, I am treating a country, and I wonder if I´ll be able to get back to the same life I had before this experience…

Here are some pictures and a bit of Mali, which were taken by the women of my group (and most had never seen a camera before):

P.S. “Facts for Life” is also the name of a UNICEF publication that contains essential information that families and communities need to know to raise healthy children (practical advice on pregnancy, childbirth, childhood illnesses, child development and the care of children). It has helped me a lot and can be found on the UNICEF website.