A Butterfly Fresh from a Cocoon…

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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.

Kotlolo-blog-image1-5.5.2011I remember when I first arrived in India; I had no idea what to expect. Landing in Delhi, I remember watching through the window of the plane, looking outside at the vegetation, the nearbybuildings and with my eyes searching to see if there were really little boys running around the airport like in the movie ‘Slum dog Millionaire’. I know it was very superficial and shallow of me, but still I was looking at the airport and the people around with judging and scrutinizing eyes, for I had no idea about this world I was about to enter. From the first week in India I was constantlytorn by these ambivalent feelings, also a feeling of metamorphosis like something transitional was occurring somewhere, perhaps in me.

Starting work in September 2010, I entered the CHETNA office which was somehow very different from what I had imagined. I started work and kept asking myself: where are the women?When will I see them? I keep reading about the mortality, about their lives, their hardships, but where are they?

In the days following, I started learning about India, understanding about maternal health and just listening, not saying much for most of the time, something different from what the confident, assertive and expressive lady from South Africa had done all her life. I knew many things – I am a midwife – but in this world I took a step back and made myself a student again. Now I had been to the field, I have seen the women, I have read about health in books and articles, but what keeps me wondering is why no one is listening.

“India is world of contradictions,” a newspaper article said. It is a country developing very rapidly with the latest technology, while markets and the economy grow, but women die in the very same “backward” settlements and streets from being refused treatment by doctors and nurses who took a medical oath they seem to have forgotten. We forgot the art of caring.

As I write my own project proposal, I realize how unique my project will be because people do not suffer or die because there was no medication or medical intervention. It often happensbecause people/human beings forgot to care for one another.

Kotlolo-blog-image2-5.5.2011For ten days I was alone for the first time. My husband was traveling to Germany, visiting his relatives and attending an HIV/AIDS workshop in Prague. As difficult as the days were because of my phobia of staying alone, in me I discovered a new person and I realized why I wanted to do my project and why it was important for me to work hard on my proposal that aims to explore different ideas and themes for South Africa.

And on the last full moon in March, we celebrated the “Holi” festival – the festival of colours. It is celebrated by people throwing coloured powder and coloured water at each other celebrating the beautiful colours of spring, seasons of harvest and a fire is lit while dancing around it symbolises the coming hot summers ahead and the burning of evil.

Despite being in the India in all these days, I sometimes feel like I am in Uganda with Young Champion Faatemeh Ahmadi. We speak a lot and she shares her experiences in Uganda. Often I feel like drinking red bull and flying to Africa to take part in the maternal health activities there, but nonetheless I have managed to share a great part of my passion for HIV by working with her on the teaching materials on HIV/AIDS and syphilis, and danger signs during pregnancy, birth, post partum and for the newborn. We also worked on an HIV awareness pamphlet for safe sexual practices for dissemination at the local hotels, shebeens, and schools as she identified the need for awareness with young people.

At CHETNA I am working on a tool to advocate for reproductive and sexual rights for young people and women, and I want to start writing a teaching model for CHETNA from the origin of HIV prevention, treatment, counselling, etc. as I have realized that HIV/AIDS is one of the least spoken about topics, yet it is amidst the everyday lives of people worldwide.


On my journey I feel like I am growing, finding my voice again, and more over I feel the transition is complete. As now I know how the road ahead appears, I feel a strength and awareness full of colour and beauty to tackle the challenges of women and children with aura, beauty, and not once forgetting about the art of caring and love. Lerato care – like a butterfly fresh from a cocoonI am emerging more gracious, beautiful, full of strength, to colour the world with love and care.