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Tanzania's Finest

It goes without saying that the issue of maternal mortality has moved me deeply and is very close to my heart. It is the tragedy that propels me to act both personally and professionally. It is through this unfortunate story that I came to know two little souls who bring light and love to everyone they meet. That is accept the mother who bore them and died the day they came into the world.

My story began in 2009. I was fulfilling my lifelong dream of volunteering with orphaned and abandoned children in Tanzania. Ever since I was a little girl I had dreamed of going to Africa to cradle babies who found themselves in institutional care. I would re-enact the story of Baby Moses being found among the reeds of the Nile with my baby dolls. I sometimes even hoped to find a baby peacefully floating in a basket in the creek near my house.

My lifelong imagination was officially realized when I set foot in the Cradle of Love baby home in Usa River, Tanzania. The squeals, giggles, and cries of babies and toddlers in need of hugs, cuddles, and attention surrounded me from every corner of the room. I had entered my element and the wonder was intoxicating.

As I kneeled down to interact with the toddlers having their chakula (food) at a small table I heard the sound of “ey ey” behind me. A spindly baby boy with bubbling brown eyes around the age of one sitting in a high chair was vehemently trying to get my attention. If I turned my head away from him the “ey” just got louder and I could feel an intense stare against my back. This little guy was not going to be satisfied until he was lifted out of his high chair and into my arms. I finally relented and picked up the extremely lithe baby. His tiny hands immediately cradled my face as he starting giggling insatiably. For the next hour we played and cuddled. We were both in heaven as we effortlessly engaged with one another. I came to learn his name was Lazaro.

When it came time for me to leave with my ride I kissed Lazaro and gently tried to set him down on the matt in front of me, however he forcefully clung to me. For such a skinny baby he was strong and extremely tenacious. When I finally managed to dismantle him from my body he cried hysterically. I assured him I would be back to visit him on the weekend but his cries only wailed louder. I could feel his grief as I reluctantly stepped away and towards the exit. When I drove away with my ride I inwardly counted the days until I would be able to come back and visit him on the weekend.

I did come back on the weekend and every weekend after that for the next month and a half to spend time with Lazaro as well as his equally captivating twin sister Hope. Falling in love with both children came naturally and was quite literally the most rewarding experience of my life so far. It was such a privilege to be able to love and engage with these amazing children who seeped up every ounce of energy I placed on them.

While smothering the children with hugs and kisses my mind would wander to thoughts of their mother. My great fortune in meeting these remarkable children was only possible because their mother was deceased. I wondered what it was like for her when she was carrying Hope and Lazaro in her womb. I wondered if she even knew she was having twins. It seemed likely that she was looking forward to their arrival and awaiting the moment she could place her own hugs and kisses on their tender cheeks.

As time with the twins continued I developed a sharper more complex concept of motherhood. Hope and Lazaro’s mother became a symbol of embracing the concept of healthcare as a human right. She was a woman robbed of life at a young age because she committed the simple act of giving birth in a developing country. The blatant injustice of her death not only took her life but robbed her of experiencing the joys of motherhood, while leaving her children without her love, touch, time, and attention. Since I come from a place of some privilege and had been fortunate to experience a very meaningful personal relationship with children who have lost their mother to maternal mortality. I came to realize I had a responsibility to be a voice in humanizing this unacceptable and far too prevalent problem.

I strongly believe that for the movement on maternal mortality to get the platform it deserves a stronger focus needs to be placed on humanizing the problem. The faces, names, and personal stories of people and children unjustly affected by maternal mortality should be at the forefront. A problem of such immense magnitude gets too easily lost in its unfathomable statistics.

Campaigns from the most prominent organizations working to eradicate maternal mortality should include humanizing the problem until a movement takes place providing strategic political backing and support. The privileged world has the tools, supplies, resources, and expertise to eradicate a great many maternal deaths. Unfortunately it does not have the political will.

The will to end maternal mortality needs to be fierce, uncompromising, and innovative. While ensuring midwife training, skilled birth attendants, and transportation to hospitals and medical centers with life-saving equipment gets to the places with the greatest need is importance. There also needs to be increased energy and targeted investments in the underlying factors that contribute to high rates of maternal mortality with specific focus on ending abject poverty and providing quality education to all children.

The services needed to eradicate maternal mortality should be accompanied with cultural sensitivity trainings and in some instances cultural informants. Prior experiences have shown us when the group with the power goes in and dictates how things should be done without collaborating in an empowerment capacity with the oppressed group than more problems arise. Sustainable solutions are only effective and sustainable when power ally relationships are developed, cultivated and nurtured.

My very special experience with Hope and Lazaro has forever changed me. I even took the remainder of my savings to go back to Tanzania this past winter to spend time with them at the SOS Children’s Village where they currently reside outside of Arusha. They have grown into bright, loving, animated and engaging 5-year olds. I truly had the time of my life getting to know them better and establishing a lifelong friendship with them.

There were moments on my second visit to Tanzania when I thought of their mother and the amazing children she missed out on getting to know. While I was snuggling the twins and reading them stories I felt sad for their mother. She had a right to be alive and present for the precious lives of her children and they had a right to feel her love.

The good news is positive change for maternal mortality is possible. We live at a time of ground breaking medical advances, social media campaigns, and the benefit of organizations that exist for the sole purpose of eradicating maternal mortality. This kind of collaborated love, hope, and effort is capable of propelling the world forward so every mother and child can experience the basic human right of love.

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