Running the Last Leg

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By: Ifeyinwa Egwaoje Madu, Young Champion of Maternal Health

This blog post was contributed by Ifeyinwa Egwaoje, 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 a relay race, the strategy of saving your best player for last is used mostly because that player will know what they have to do in order to win when they have the baton in their hand.

As a team player running the last leg of the Young Champions program, I figured I do not have all the answers and as such I decided to consult with other like-minded individuals who in this case are members of my advisory group. On April 15th we held our first meeting and discussed the way forward, the necessary steps needed to begin implementation, and decided to organize a fundraiser for my project which was eventually held in New Orleans on May 2nd.

Speaking of team building–the Birthing Project recognizes community organizing as a key element to implementing projects in any community. Community organizing opens you up to key partners and stakeholders in the community who can become team players in your project. Kathryn Hall Trujillo’s own style of community organizing is identifying a woman in the community who is already working with women, strengthening, supporting and building her skills as a leader and then use her as an entry point into that community. For the Anguilla Birthing project, Ms Emma Cooper Harris has been the project manager for four years.  With the realization of the fact that teen pregnancy is on the rise in Mississippi, she decided to incorporate into her program the Academy of Dreams which provides reproductive health information to teens who might or might not have had children. This required some community organizing to draw attention to the existing problem and solicit support from ​stakeholders in Anguilla. In April we did community organizing in the Anguilla community seeking support from key stakeholders who work with adolescents and with parents. By the end of our visit we had built a team of people who are enthusiastic about the program and ready to run along with our idea.

April came with a rigorous exercise that would prepare the Young Champions for our Future Forum that had been scheduled for the beginning of May. The conference pre-work was a rigorous exercise that helped me think through every aspect of my project. I spent time and effort refining and thinking through every single detail that I had originally not paid attention to. The pre-work for me was an opportunity to assess what aspect of maternal health I am competent enough to tackle and the aspects that I need assistance with.

The Young Champions Future Forum held in Ghana was a time for us to reunite, reflect on the past nine months, and begin preparation for the future as maternal health changemakers. The Forum was a platform for the Young Champions to begin to map out strategies on how to change the maternal health field. For me, it was an amazing experience. I saw that the other Young Champions were as enthusiastic about starting their own projects as I am. I now know that it will not be a smooth ride, but according to my mentor Mama Katt “I am still figuring it all out, it might be tough, but I know that it will be okay.”

The Young Champions program has opened me up to valuable connections and life-long friendships with people all over the world. My mentor and I share a special bond like that between mother and child. The other Young Champions and I see that the love between us is stronger tha  the oceans that separate us, we know that we all are one and the same if we look beyond our differences. It is in this knowledge that we have decided to work both as individuals and as a group to stop women from dying from preventable causes.

From Ghana, I went to Toronto I went to the Motherhood Activism Advocacy Agency Conference organized by the Motherhood Initiative for research and community involvement. The Young Champions session was used to share experiences about our various placements, our ideas and also about gender and feminism in our countries. The Young champions were represented by Anna Dion, Ifeyinwa Egwaoje, Julianne Weiss and Martha Adenew.

I might be running the last leg of the Young Champions program, but this race of solving maternal health problems is not about to end here, it continues when I go back to Nigeria to implement my idea.