Saving the Lives of Mothers and their Babies
Six years ago, Mehwish and I decided to volunteer in the displaced population camps in Bangladesh. Going into the project, we had a really simple goal: conduct a survey to understand more about the population and find out what their needs are. And yet somewhere along the journey we established a deep emotional attachment to the work and people and to this day wish we can do more to help them.
It was the first time in a refugee camp for either of us and it really didn’t take too long for Mehwish and I to become depressed with the conditions we were witnessing. The survey that we were doing became an excuse to visit more people and ask about their lives and condition and develop a person-to-person link. They gave us so much love for nothing more than sitting with them and learning about them.
There was a lot that shocked us in trying to understand how they could live as they did in these camps. One of our more shocking discoveries was the number of women who were giving birth at home, not because of some philosophy for a natural home birth, but simply because they had no other options; they couldn’t afford to go to a clinic or hospital – they could barely afford a couple of meals a day.
Worst of all, this was not a sanitized environment with a trained midwife that knows the correct protocols in case of an emergency. This was giving birth in a home, which really was a 8’ x 8’ room without any indoor plumbing; a single room where the entire family slept, ate, cooked and cleaned.
In some of the camps, the rate of at-home births was 70 to 80%! Mind you, they did have “assistance” in the form of an untrained woman who helped with pregnancies in the camp.
And so it was no surprise that there was a high level of neonatal and maternal deaths.
Without access to education over several decades, the families put their hopes in amulets that they would spend an entire month’s family income on, because they thought it would bring them blessings and luck. Who could blame them?
At that time, Mehwish and I completed the surveys and sent back the results to OBAT. We hoped that something good would come of it, but none of that was in our control.
Fast forward a year after that survey, I learned that OBAT started a maternal care pilot project in Saidpur. This program provides free antenatal, postnatal and safe delivery services, with access to trained doctors and medical professionals (including obstetrician/gynecologist, paramedics); necessary medical tests, vaccinations and health education services – all at only $240 to sponsor and no cost for the beneficiary.
I remember the day Shujaat called me to deliver the news and explain how our work was the reason this program came about. It was an incredible feeling- especially as the program ended up being so successful! To date, the program has safely delivered over 250 babies in the camps.
With the success in Saidpur, the intention was always to eventually expand the pilot project to more cities. It took a while, but I’m pleased to share that in 2021, OBAT Canada will finally expand their project to camps in a second location, Rangpur, and we really hope to get similar results
With so many mothers and babies already leading healthy lives because of the program, I can honestly say that never had Mehwish and I imagined that our work would make such a significant impact and bring so much positive change in these long-neglected camps.