The Future Started Yesterday

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By: Hellen Kotlolo, Young Champion of Maternal Health

This blog post was contributed by Hellen Kotlolo, 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.

On the last day in Ghana, a few Young Champions and I visited Elmina Castle at the Cape coast of Ghana – a place where slaves used to be captured and kept before being shipped off todifferent parts of the world like America. Who knew how many emotions this place would expose, for a young African woman who herself has lived during apartheid, a history not so far forgotten in the Southern tip of Africa. Being at Elmina was emotional yet I realized that during our time the 21st century there are still forms of inequalities that happen in our midst. The death of women and children is a human rights issue.

I sit back and watch the walls of Elmina through the scorching sun and heat and I reminisce about the day before. I thought about the many lessons we learned from Dr Fred Sai during the Young Champions Future Forum the day before. His message echoes in my head and then suddenly I am hopeful about the future. Yes, history brings back many sad memories, but the future looks much brighter.

On the first day of the Future Forum we were all very happy to be together once again. We had anticipated excitement and were all seriously thinking about our futures–hence the Future Forum.

We met amazing Ashoka Fellows, social entrepreneurs and maternal health experts. I for one was honored by the presence of many like Josephine Nzerem, Kathryn Hall-Trujillo (also known as “Mama Kat”), and Hamadou Tidiane Sy who ran us through lessons of preparing a successful proposal. We also had financial and funding advice from Catherine Casey and Kate Teela with the day ending with a working dinner along with an inspiring presentation from Bright Simons.

On the second day we were enamoured by inspiring stories from the field and the experiences of Josephine and Mama Kat. Alice Emasu, from post war torn Uganda, made me wonder if there is more I still need to do and it was really wonderful listening to her talk about the challenges but mostly what keeps her going to make a difference with women suffering from fistula. Nana Twum– Danso from Ghana made me realise how possible and feasible my idea is while listening to the presentation about her Project Fives Alive and ​Martha Murdock from Family Care International also shared with us some insights.

For me it was really Dr. Fred Sai who encaptured me with all that he was.  As I hold his book in my hands now I understand the history of Ghana and realize how bright the future of Ghana is. The presence of Claire Bangser, Tiffany Morris, Dr. Ann Blanc and Tim Thomas- the Young Champions’ ‘mom and dad’ guided us through the meeting and provided us with advice while listening to our individual ideas and plans.

The last day of the forum we went to visit Ridge Hospital’s maternity unit and I was so happy to meet midwives from the wards while we shared stories and talked about their work. ​It really made me miss being with patients and being in the ward setting.

The amazing thing about the hospital was the motivation of the staff and the decline in the mortality rates over the years. Even though the mortality rates were still slightly high, it was amazing to see the drastic decline they had achieved and different methods they had implemented to motivate the staff. I really liked it and am considering adopting it when I arrive home in South Africa.

History teaches us a lot about suffering and the evolution from slavery to freedom. A hospital taught us that it is possible to reduce unnecessary deaths and find ways to motivate h​ardworking staff in one of the busiest hospitals in Ghana. Our mentors taught us that there are challenges, but that the dream lives on and that those challenges will build us to become even better champions. Ashoka and Maternal Health Task Force believed in our dreams and ideas. As a Young Champion today I learn more each day about the possibilities because tomorrow started yesterday….