I’ve a confession to make: I actually hated pineapple until I tried it in Sierra Leone. In fact, I could never understand the infatuation with pineapple, with all its sour, fleshy glory.
Rewind to me landing in Freetown- this was my first trip to Africa, and although I was excited to see what our partners at Midwives on Missions of Service (MOMS) were up to, to be honest I was apprehensive. This country had ended a bloody, terrible civil war 15 years ago, and had overcome an equally bloody, horrible epidemic of Ebola just 2 years prior, which had wiped out a majority of healthcare providers.
The status of women’s health in Sierra Leone is abysmal, with 857 maternal deaths out of every 100,000 live births- and that’s a reduction by 50% since 2000. The average life expectancy is 47 years, and malaria along with malnutrition, diarrheal diseases and HIV/AIDS are huge challenges to achieving a long, healthy life in Sierra Leone.
Enter MOMS, an organization focused on empowering women to be local change-makers in their communities. Their model is nothing short of amazing. With most of the poor health burdens placed on women in rural settings, MOMS hosts trainings for traditional birth attendants to become more knowledgeable, skilled Community Health Workers, recognized by the government to work in clinics to assist pregnant and laboring women.
The women who attend these trainings cannot read or write. They leave their farms and families for 4-5 weeks to learn new healthcare skills to improve their lives and those of the women in their villages. The lessons are structured using lectures to transfer knowledge, and songs, skits and dances for review and testing of comprehension. By using women’s preferred methods of communication, MOMS is actively calibrating lessons in quality pre- and post-natal care into ways these women can understand, learn and grow.
MOMS celebrated its 10-year anniversary of working in Sierra Leone in the fall of 2016, when COHI sponsored the training of 32 Community Health Workers. We love working with proven, dedicated and impactful grassroots organizations, and MOMS is no different. In one Community Health Worker’s year, she provides quality healthcare to around 100 rural expecting mamas- extrapolate that to an entire MOMS class of around 30 trainees- that’s 3,000 women a year per class who are benefitting from MOMS’ passion and expert knowledge.
And that fact is sweeter than the delicious, local pineapple I treasured each day.
These Community Health Workers learn how to provide tender, compassionate healthcare. They learn how to properly palpate and listen to the baby’s heartbeat; they learn to coach women on healthy nutritious food choices to help avoid anemia and hypertension; they learn to facilitate skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth; and most of all, they learn confidence and skills to gain employment and begin to move their family out of poverty.
COHI Chief Development Officer