Cautious Optimism

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By: Yeabsira Mehari, Young Champion of Maternal Health

This blog post was contributed by Yeabsira Mehari, 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.

I sat at my computer fervently writing a paper on maternal health, specifically obstetric fistula. I covered the history of obstetric fistula going back to the first discovery of fistula, the anatomical review of Queen Henhenit of Egypt who ruled around 2050 B.C. It went on to discuss the Safe Motherhood Initiative headed by Dr. Fred Sai, launched after the paper Maternal Mortality — A Neglected Tragedy: Where is the M in MCH? was published and the announcement by the World Health Organization that 500,000 women died​ annually due to childbirth related injuries.

Fast forward six years…

April 2011 – Accra, Ghana – I am sitting in a room full of Young Champions, maternal health experts and advocates. It’s the Young Champions Future Forum, our last gathering for this amazing program. After spending time in countries completely foreign to us, we reconvened as new people with more passion, energy and cautious optimism. Over the course of the Forum, we shared our experiences, hopes and dreams with one another and listened to inspirational speakers. One such speaker was Dr. Fred Sai, known to many of us as one of the founders of the maternal health field. He spoke to us about his experiences – both good and bad – and discussed the history of the maternal health field, its status today and what the future holds. There couldn’t have been a better ending to an exceptionally well-organized Forum.

I listened intently to the words Dr. Fred Sai had to share with us.  After all, he is someone that I have admired and followed over the years and has an incredible wealth of information to share. He understood that he was in a room full of young people ready to tackle one of the world’s heaviest issues. He also understood that though we were willing and ready to fight the good fight, there was fear in us as the road to ending maternal health issues is a rough road full of many obstacles, most that he had already faced in his lifetime. He left us with a line from his favorite hymn (also the theme of his 80th birthday). He said when you feel trapped or cornered; Brighten the corner where you are. Very timely for most, if not all, of us there.

Senior advisor to the Maternal Health Task Force, Tim Thomas, wrote in a recent blog post, “They first met at the Global Maternal Health Conference in Delhi last fall as group of smart, idealistic and aspiring young people seeking to make a difference in the world by saving mothers lives. They emerged in Accra as a smart, idealistic but pragmatic and experienced group of young people determined to buck the odds and apply their innovation in the professional world.” I could not have put it any better. The past several months have been a time of growth, reflection and future planning. Moved and inspired by my peers, I know that this is just the beginning. The real work begins now as I plan the implementation phase of my project. Yes, I’m still fearful that it may not work. Yes, I still wonder if this is the best way for me to contribute to the field. Yes, there are many more questions that attempt to instill doubt within me. But all I have to do is remember my time with the people that are the past, present and future of maternal health and the struggles they overcame and are still overcoming to effect change. I remember that it will be an uphill climb…most of the time, but that the view from atop that hill is what we’re all striving for– a world where no woman should die from giving birth. And that makes each step of the climb worthwhile.