This blog post was contributed by Anna Dion, one of the fifteen Young Champions of Maternal Health chosen by Ashoka and the Maternal Health Task Force at EngenderHealth. This is her final post about her experience as a Young Champion, and you can learn more about her, the other Young Champions, and the program here.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.
— Margaret Mead
Before this Fellowship, I already had itchy feet. I was passionate about my work supporting researchers in developing countries; however, I was increasingly anxious to get out from behind my desk to work more with people rather than paper. I satisfied part of this desire as a volunteer with a local birth companion program that trains and supports volunteers to accompany young, poor, and often refugee women through the pre-natal, delivery, and postpartum periods. This program offered me a new perspective on my own city — one where disadvantage comes in multiple forms and where systems that seem inclusive to me repeatedly leave others out. When I came across the Young Champions of Maternal Health competition, I saw an opportunity to develop a program to push back on the system that was excluding the women I was working with.
Now at the end of the Fellowship and thus the end of my work with SAHDES and the Municipality of Pilar in Argentina, I feel better equipped to deal with my still-itchy feet. As part of the Fellowship, we developed a program to support high-risk pregnant women in the rural areas surrounding Pilar. My experience served to solidify several of my incubating beliefs about creating change. It reinforced my own conviction of the power of individuals to make a difference in the lives of others. Through our pilot program, we trained 15 rural community members to serve as social support to disadvantaged women throughout their pregnancy. Each of these volunteers is armed with modest training, minimal resources, and, most importantly, a healthy dose of empathy and passion for the program. While this will sustain the program and the volunteers for the initial months of the program, sustainability and the retention of the volunteers and program coordinators will likely remain an important challenge forever, despite our best efforts to build a long-term vision for the program. Part of this vision included trying to foster leadership and ownership in everyone involved in the project, from program volunteers to local political representatives and health professionals.
Now back in Canada, I have a renewed sense of direction and a refined set of tools to begin earnestly pushing for change in my own country. Thank you to Ashoka, the Maternal Health Task Force, all of the staff at SAHDES, and the Secretariat of Health of the Municipality of Pilar for what has been an inspiring and challenging experience. A special thanks to all the other Young Champions who shared so much of themselves in this adventure and who will be the next generation of maternal health innovators.