Oh Africa, Oh India

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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. 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.

I have been home for less than a week after arriving from incredible India, there has been so much to do. My husband and I have not even had time to sit and register everything that happened in the last few weeks and days. We really miss our friends and colleagues; I miss CHETNA and my neighbors. Now that I am home I realize how much free time I had in India to think, to walk, to watch movies, to write my thoughts down, and discuss and share ideas with others. Now when I reminisce about the time in India I realize how my vision was built, solidified, and how it came together. When I arrived for my nine month mentorship in India, I only had a dream and an idea. Now arriving back home in South Africa, I have a vision and an imperfect proposal. I realize now how the nine months shaped me and taught me more about myself than I had ever imagined. I learned what it takes to run an organization — securing funding, finding the right personnel, and developing office skills. I also learned the advantages and disadvantages of leadership styles and how this forms the foundation of any organization.

South Africa is beautiful and I now appreciate my country and love it even more than I did before. I am grateful for the free health care system which is accessible and available to everyone — irrespective of race or gender. I am grateful for the developed roads and our highways. I have become even more thankful for our government and policies. We are a young democracy still growing but we are realizing the growth towards Batho Pele (People First) which makes me very proud. Though we might not be perfect, we are definitely taking a step in the right direction.

The mentorship has made me realize how I want to play equal roles as a maternal health researcher and as a professional nurse/midwife. I have always been in the maternal health field, but now I want to focus on bridging patient care with research. As I move forward, I am unsure of the steps I am taking, but I am certain the steps will lead in the direction of where my heart wants to be. With that in mind, I want to work with government and community for Lerato Care Project so that I can be the bridge between communities and government.

On my final Friday at CHETNA my mentor, Indu Capoor, organized members of the media to come to the office. A few reporters from the newspapers came and were very interested in the Young Champions of Maternal Health Program. I was proud to elaborate on Ashoka and the Maternal Health Task Force and the wonderful program comprised of 15 awesome Young Champions. I handed out the booklets with blurbs about each of us from the Global Maternal Health Conference, explained how the program challenged young people to be changemakers, and described how I had spent nine months observing young people at work in India. Many of these young people are voiceless and they are taught as women to be submissive and vulnerable. This is something that saddened me, but I was hopeful that as I spoke of each and every one of the Young Champion that they could see the passion that drives us young gentlemen and ladies from different countries to want to make a difference.

Here are newspaper articles from The Times of India-Ahmedabad and DNA-Daily Analysis Newspaper–Ahmedabad:

I would like to thank Ashoka and the Maternal Health Task Force for making this possible and for believing in my dream and ideas. I would also like to thank CHETNA, especially Indu Capoor, for welcoming me into her organization. I will be forever grateful and the lessons learned will never be forgotten. Thank you all for the opportunity to explore the world as it is and for moving me to explore outside of my comfort zone.

A Poem: Oh Africa, Oh India….

As I travelled I conquered a world full of people.

A world full of suffering, hatred, anger, inequalities, racism and social disparities
Within that world I discovered hope, love, care, passion, solitude and just
As I walk on the soil of Africa my tears drops with joy and sound happiness
As Africa welcomes me I hail for India for its silent youthfulness
India a world of spices and bollywood, divided like the Great Wall of China by modernization
Wherefore has the voice of Gandhi gone, because you are not poor?
I stand in the midst of these two awesome countries in awe of their beauty

Yet in wonder of their troubles. I cannot compare these…
My heart can leave neither behind. Oh India I hope thy youth finds you soon
To cry no more for women forgotten to life they bring, a sacrifice pure but unjust
Because such sacrifices should not be made to death by birth or HIV/AIDS.
Every mother, every child seeks the milk of her mother.
Find thy peace India and be joyous in celebrating the presence of your maternal instincts
Oh India, Incredible India do you not see the tears on the streets
Do you not see tears that fill your land, do you not see the tears India
I have left you to conquer a world of my own in Africa
Where my dreams and joys were born, where gold and diamonds have filled

Graveyards with sons and daughters, where HIV/AIDS takes its own path uncontrolled
A world full of possibilities, Africa a world rich and kind
Where once again we shall flourish with love, kindness and caring

In the Southern tip of Africa where we click to talk and whistle to sing
To shape the south and up north and beyond we shall travel to share
These steps that I take are for the spirit of Africanism…
To remind Africans of Amazing Africans….

– H.M. Kotlolo (Technau)