Written by volunteer Monitoring and Evaluations intern Julia Keast
“Ekyama kyetulina mu buwangwa bwaffe kiri nti okuzaaia tekuiuma wabuia abakyaia bamaanyi”
This quote greets clients and visitors as they enter Shanti Uganda’s reception area, and when I first arrived I curiously asked Sister Mary what it meant. She laughed and said it meant “we have a secret in our culture that says birth in not painful, but women are strong”. Birth is not painful. Women are strong.
While I have only been in Uganda for one month now, I have already heard plenty of stories that speak to women’s resilience and strength. Already I have been learning so much about pregnancy and childbirth in Uganda, and about mother centered care. Shanti Uganda not only addresses the pressing problem of maternal mortality in Uganda, but they do so in a way that respects cultural beliefs and offers women a quality of care that is not found in the publicly funded hospitals. Mother-centered care stresses the importance of providing individualized care based on a woman’s needs and desires, ensures that women can deliver in a supportive and respectful environment, and also empowers women to participate in their own birth experiences. Learning about the principles of mother-centered care has caused me to reflect on how we think about and address pregnancy and childbirth in Canada, particularly the deep-seated idea that childbirth must necessarily be a painful experience. Being at Shanti helps to confirm that while the way we think about birth is determined by our cultural understanding of it, all women possess the strength necessary to deliver a healthy child into this world.
Another reminder of Shanti’s commitment to mother-centered care is a series of cut-out paper hearts fastened together with string that hangs underneath the quote about strong women. Each heart has a word written on it, representing an aspect of mother-centered care. Words like “compassion”, “connection”, and “strength” are a further reminder of Shanti’s goal to provide safe and mother-centered maternal healthcare to women in Uganda. This string of hearts hung at the Stanbic maternal health week that happened a few weeks ago. And while it served as a powerful reminder of women’s strength and Shanti’s support network of women helping women, I was pleasantly surprised by how many men were interested in learning more about family planning options. I met one young Ugandan man who spoke so passionately about a woman’s right to maternal health. He knew all the statistics about maternal mortality in Uganda and was resolute about the government’s responsibility to do more to ensure that rates of maternal mortality are reduced. This was a memorable conversation. It left me feeling hopeful, and it motivated me to continue contributing as best I can to Shanti’s mission and goals.