Understanding the Field

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By: Ifeyinwa Egwaoje Madu, Young Champion of Maternal Health

This blog post was contributed by Ifeyinwa Egwaoje Madu , 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.

Volunteers are people who can be of extraordinary value to not-for-profit organizations in an extraordinary range of ways. But just because people feel that you have a great idea is not enough for them to volunteer in your organization. People often volunteer because they get something in return. It might be smiles, recognition, a free meal or satisfaction, or the feeling that they are contributing something. Recognizing this fact and keeping alive the concept of reciprocity will help volunteers move from “oh that’s a good idea” to “I will love to be a part of this project”. I learnt this in my work with the North East Mississippi Birthing Project and have applied it while I was putting together my Advisory team last month. Though I had challenges, helping the people realize the value it brings and finding a common ground has helped me build a solid team.

Unlike volunteers, not everyone you come across will be of value to actualizing your vision. In working with the Birthing Project, I have experienced the strains and setbacks that come with working with people who do not believe in your vision. In implementing one’s idea you have to surround yourself with the people who believe in your vision and are willing to give constructive criticism. Over the last six months, the Birthing Project had on staff people who did not necessarily believe in achieving the organization’s stated objectives, but saw their jobs as a means to another pay cheque. Even though my mentor understood the consequence of blog-image1-5.5.2011this, she still tried to help these staff members understand the essence of the organization as one that was founded to support pregnant women.In the month of March having tried several times to help these staff members shift ground, she finally decided to let them go. Though painful, it is important to understand that it is okay to let some staff go so that the organization can grow.

In the past months I have been so immersed in my work that my family has become secondary in my list of priorities. I have become so deeply entrenched in helping other people deal with some social and cultural challenges that my family have had to put up with enduring my absence from home. I have learnt in my work with Kathryn Hall-Trujillo that you need to create a balance. Only when you do this, will you benefit from and share in the joy and succor that you bring into the lives of others. My husband left for Europe in 2007 and had been gone for three years while I held forth with our children. He went home to visit during the last Christmas holiday, but I had come to the United States for the Young Champions Program. Though I was sad about it, I decided to take some time off and attend to my marital duties as a wife. In March I embarked on a love journey to Italy to see my heartthrob that I had not seen in four years. In Italy, I visited Venice and Mirandola and spent some time with my husband.

Coming back to New Orleans, in a bid to build my network and liaise with other social entrepreneurs, I participated in “Be the Change 2011”, a celebration of social entrepreneurs, organized by Social Entrepreneurs of New Orleans (SENO). SENO believes in harnessing the power of local diversity and the new participatory mentality to launch problem solvers into action.

I am gathering knowledge, building my capacity, experiencing challenges, and gaining support. Very soon all these will be put to good use and I will be glad I was selected as a Young Champion.