As I sit here typing, Mbale has been my home for the last 5 ½ months. The decision to move to a completely different city, in a country that I had not visited before, was not one that I made easily. It was the culmination of years of dreams and prayers and the way was paved by countless tears and numerous times of council with friends and family. Deep down I’d always had itchy feet and a wandering heart, longing to travel, hoping to participate in the transformation and empowerment of communities. How this would look, I wasn’t sure, but gradually as my journey began; studying Theology, Midwifery and then working as a midwife, the way became clearer.
I loved my life in the UK, but there came a growing sense of impatience and longing as my heart was being stirred and pulled towards the unknown. I am so lucky to have met numerous amazing families and had the privilege of assisting in the birth of well over a hundred babies. There’s something uniquely beautiful about the moment when a baby first enters the world and when a woman becomes a mother. Still the longing and sense of dissatisfaction grew. It wasn’t that I didn’t love where I was, my friends, my family, or what I was doing. I wasn’t looking for an escape. It was a sense that my heart was made for something else.
My journey to find JENGA was long (a story for another time) but when I finally submitted my application I had no idea of the beauty I would encounter here in Mbale. From the moment the plane began its descent and prepared to land, all I could see was green. Countless different shades of green. Tree after tree. Plant after plant. As I first made my way to my new home, despite the jet lag and the emotions of moving so far from all I knew and those I hold so dear, my eyes took in more of my surroundings. The beauty here is undeniable, but it is something which goes far deeper than what can be seen. It’s in the moment that a colleague welcomes me into their home, the shouts of ‘Mulembe’ as I greet passersby, the handshakes, the questions which show that a student is not only listening but is eagerly absorbing all the information I can give them and the joyful singing and dancing as expressions of worship. There’s so much beauty in the little every day moments of life here. It’s refreshed and renewed me.
During my time here, I’ve been teaching women’s health and general health and wellbeing in schools, young mothers groups and savings groups. Education is power and there’s a real thirst and hunger for it. There’s something amazing about being able to give people evidenced based information which enables them to make fully informed life choices and to dispel myths and superstitions. When the maternal mortality rate (number of women who die during pregnancy, birth and in the first six weeks after delivering) is around 19 women a day (those are just the ones we have official statistics for. It is likely to be higher) in comparison with 9 women per year in more developed countries, this is a problem. A big problem. One that calls for many solutions, not just one. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, or in fact any answers that promote long-term large-scale change, and I know that they are way beyond me. But I do know though that if I can put one foot in front of the other, and teach the young men, women and adults who I have the privilege to meet, that maybe, just maybe, they will be empowered to make healthier choices. They might be better equipped to make fully informed decisions about their own bodies, family planning, knowing how to care for their babies in utero, making the safest decision over place of delivery, choice of birthing assistant and they just might share this with those around them.
Education is power and whilst there are many things I don’t know, I do know that this power has to be shared.