BY VICTORIA PRICE
Peer educators trained by our partner network CRANE in Uganda, are repeatedly reporting the on-going horrors of still births and malnourishment of babies as a direct result of the lack of basic maternal education among women in slum areas.
In spite of the change witnessed within the lives they have touched since their work began, negative attitudes and beliefs around family planning and antenatal care persist in Bwaise and Namuwongo, Uganda.
Peer educators in the slums of Kampala recently came together, sharing encouragement with one another, telling of the joys and challenges they have had whist sharing these critical maternal and child health messages with mothers and their children.
One female peer educator shared with us just a snippet of her work:
“Sofia got pregnant and was feeling embarrassed because of it. In her first trimester, she went to check for her HIV status and discovered she was positive. This news made her want to commit suicide. I talked with her and encouraged her to go for antenatal care. I walked the journey with her throughout her pregnancy. She gave birth to a baby and I am still there for her, offering support.”
The type of support peer educators are able to provide, as demonstrated by Sofia’s story, is exactly what is needed when mothers are denied respect and maternal healthcare by professionals. It’s someone who is willing to walk with them through every step of motherhood with the ability to answer questions and give crucial advice.
Government facilities are limited within the slums, and, even though these facilities are the most affordable option, government health workers are often nonchalant towards expectant mothers and treat them harshly. As a consequence, mothers regularly end up running to the peer educators as a first response in a crisis.
As poor as they are themselves, the peer educators often find themselves digging into their own pockets to support these mothers during difficult times.
Due to the lack of empathy shown by the government facilities, we are considering how we can be better equipped to respond to this issue.
Some of the peer educators have been trained by CRANE about simple income generating activities and are beginning to teach them to the mothers, so that they are able to earn money of their own to care for the children, find adequate health care and treatment, and become less dependent on men.
This income generating initiative is a helpful reinforcement for struggling mothers. However, the need for reaching all the at-risk mothers with the critical health messages of pre- and post-natal care remains a life and death concern, and rightfully continues to be a central focus of their work.
Visiting house-to-house and being on call for people to ask questions and supporting them when there is a health crisis, has been the crucial life-saving support the most vulnerable women in these communities have needed.