This blog post was contributed by Julianne Parker, 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 the last thirty days I have said goodbye to Brazil and also said hello (again!) to all the other Young Champions in Ghana as part of our Future Forum. Such events are of course accompanied by an absolute showering of emotions: I cried in Brazil on my last day with my dear young moms I had been working with since September, but shrieked with joy at seeing each YC come into Accra for our grand reunion!
This is a huge time of transition for everyone: as things wrap up in our placements, all of us are more earnestly looking to what we will do next. Accra facilitated an absolute explosion of conversation between us to this end: we commiserated with each other as we explained the extreme challenges we faced in our placement countries and mentorships, and then laid down very practical schemes to move forward with our vision for a world free of maternal morbidity and mortality. Because nearly all of us were engaged directly on the front lines of this fight for the better part of the last year, we know what the real, on-the-ground obstacles are. We have the practical experience, and I know I speak for all of us when I say that we are so eager to mount those challenges and move on.
A key strategy I want to use in moving forward is to optimize systems already in place: in Brazil I was able to utilize the existing rehabilitation structure Lua Nova had created for adolescent moms recovering from drug addiction and infuse it with a more rigorous (and much needed) maternal health curriculum. Before leaving Brazil, I systematized all of the curriculum and material I had developed into two user-friendly books so that Lua Nova and other organizations can simply plug in the educational materials and therapeutic activity structures into their own existing systems. I am a firm believer in creating such practical tools that can be widely distributed and utilized by multiple actors, organizations, and systems, rather than having a myriad of organizations scrambling to create material and design interventions from scratch.
Now that my time in Brazil is over (ai que saudades!), I’m looking forward to how I can design a similar intervention within obstetric fistula repair and rehabilitation facilities across Africa. Too often the mothers in greatest need of life-saving knowledge are left out and ignored. I’m inspired by the work other YCs are doing, like Faatemeh Ahmadi and her work to promote dialogue education in the maternal health community, breaking down hierarchical health structures and allowing women and communities to access and direct knowledge sharing. It’s this kind of innovative thinking that we all need to optimize systems and make them actually work for women! I can’t wait to see how we all adopt these innovations into our next steps, and what an impact it will have!