Living in Scotland, I didn’t doubt for a second that I would have access to excellent maternity care when the time came to give birth to our first child.
As a mother, in my late 20s at the time, I had other doubts and concerns, as is natural, about becoming a parent. Would I need pain relief during labour? Would I be able to breastfeed? Would my baby sleep at night?
But, whether I would be able to access a hospital maternity unit, would I see a trained nurse or doctor, would I have a bed, clean water and toilets? These weren’t questions that went through my head for a second and for that I’m eternally grateful to the NHS. How very different it is for women in Sierra Leone.
Last month, Christian Aid Week – the UK’s longest-running fundraising week which engages 57,000 volunteers and raises around £8 million – focused on providing women in places like Sierra Leone with better access to maternal care.
On the red envelopes hand delivered to thousands of homes across Scotland was the face of Jebbah, a heavily-pregnant mother in Sierra Leone. Her face is etched with worry about the fate of her unborn child, due to the lack of even basic maternal facilities and the availability of trained midwives. Her sister, who was pregnant, died walking the many miles to the nearest hospital. Sierra Leone is the most dangerous place in the world to become a mum and the reasons behind this are complex.
When ebola struck Sierra Leone in 2014, its government had little choice but to accept loans from the International Monetary Fund to help it cope with the crisis. As a result, the country is now making huge debt repayments, which mean funds for proper health clinics, nurse training and ambulances are not available. This has had a significant impact on maternal healthcare.
The ebola epidemic also claimed the lives of 10 per cent of the country’s health professionals. Every day, 10 women die from giving birth in Sierra Leone.
In May, Christian Aid supporters in Scotland, the UK and Ireland were inspired to dream on behalf of their sisters throughout the world. Our supporters didn’t dream passively. Through generous giving and hard-working actions, they ran book sales (the George Street sale in Edinburgh, believed to be the largest charity book sale in the world), they collected money from house to house, held Big Brekkies, coffee mornings and concerts. They decided to reach out to our global neighbours – to Jebbeh and mums-to-be in Sierra Leone and beyond.
They decided not only that all mums should live, but that girls should go to school and that every community should have health facilities; that women should be empowered to make decisions that entrust their hopes for tomorrow, into the hands of their children today.
Beryl Hadwin didn’t have a family of her own but she dedicated her life to nursing, later training the next generation of midwives at a hospital in London. Her story was celebrated during Christian Aid Week this year – Beryl was so moved by the kindness of an African nurse who cared for her after an eye operation, that she decided to leave a gift in her will to Christian Aid.
In turn, Christian Aid took that most precious gift and used it to train nurses in Sierra Leone, including a midwife called Judith. Every day, Judith holds the hopes and dreams of the Pujehun community in her hands as she helps mothers give birth safely. Jebbeh, the young mother I mentioned earlier, has now had her baby, delivered safely by Judith. In death and through her legacy, Beryl is connected to mothers and midwives in Sierra Leone in a way she could never have imagined. Beryl’s legacy, to her global neighbours, is now reaching far beyond Sierra Leone, providing community-led responses to local health issues in Burundi, South Sudan, Kenya and Nigeria. Through the almighty power of people like Beryl, Judith and Christian Aid supporters, we are helping to eradicate poverty and dismantle its root causes across the world.