Thursday, 26 November 2015

A taste of a long day

A taste of today. Early morning meeting with VSO Malawi office, packing up then driving 400kms north to Ekwendeni, a Mission Hospital and Training School where we are staying for 2 days whilst we meet midwives all over the north.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Musings from Malawi Part 1

Written on 23rd but posted today as had no internet before!

My feet have hardly touched the ground returning from my summer holiday in August.  Following successful trips to Uganda in September and Nepal in October, the global team has been fully occupied selecting, interviewing and preparing our member volunteer consultants for their placement in Uganda in January 2016, submitting our Action Research Proposal to the Ugandan Ministry of Health and recruiting more member consultants for positions with DFID in Bangladesh.  We’ve also been supporting the RCOG with their ‘Leading Safe Choices’ project and attending the launch at the House of Lords.  We contributed to a needs assessment led by UNFPA in Cambodia by Skype, visited Scotland for a three-day fact-finding mission about Malawi and attended the  annual THET (our project funder's) conference in Birmingham and the RCM conference in Telford.  I also presented a symposium at the NET healthcare education conference with my colleagues Louise Silverton and Aine Alam. 
My House of Lords souvenirs (just in case I never get invited again!)

With RCM Global Volunteers Tracy Miller, Jilly Ireland and Sue Petersen at the RCM Conference

Now we are in Malawi, undertaking a scoping visit/needs assessment to explore the possibility of a twinning relationship with the Midwives Association here.  We have a team of four: Eleanor and me from the RCM’s global team, Shirley Stronge, one of our members from Northern Ireland who has local knowledge from her six-year placement teaching midwifery in Malawi and also Mary Gorret Musoke, President of the Ugandan Private Midwives’ Association, our existing twinning partner.  Malawi is the world’s poorest country and has a very high maternal mortality rate of 574 per 100,000, one of the highest in the world.  It had hoped to reduce this to 155 by 2015 but is sadly far off this target.  Child marriage and adolescent pregnancies are a big problem here: half of all women are pregnant by the age of 18.  So there is much to do and there are many needs.  However, there are many agencies already working here so we are talking to a wide selection of stakeholders and travelling the length and breadth of the country in the next two weeks to identify strengths and gaps and ascertain whether there is a role for the support that we can provide.

Meeting AMAMI, the Association of Midwives in Malawi

Dinner on our first night - Shirley, Mary and Eleanor.  Mary tasting apple crumble for the first time!

At the Central Hospital in Lilongwe, with the Chief Midwife in Charge and the Labour Ward Matron.  Mary enjoying talking midwifery with her Malawian sisters

Exchanging gifts with Professor Address Malata, previous President of AMAMI and Principal of  Kamuzu College of Nursing

In our first day we met with AMAMI (the Midwives’ Association of Malawi), the World Health Organisation and the United Nations Family Planning Agency (UNFPA).  Yesterday we met the largest health training University in Africa (Kamuzu College of Nursing) and the Principal Address Malata who was previously the President of AMAMI and is currently the Vice President of the International Confederation of Midwives.    We've seen the Central Hospital in Lilongwe and a mission hospital and training school and met with midwives from GIZ, the German Government Aid Agency.We also met with the UK Department for International Development and had a chance encounter with the British High Commissioner in a corridor!  Having Shirley on our team is such a bonus, with all her local contacts.  We’re staying at a lovely guesthouse and are being taken to local restaurants serving great food at reasonable prices.  We’ve hired a car and a driver through a friend of a friend and will be staying in midwives’ houses in the north and south – this is sure to give us a fascinating insight into local customs and culture whilst also being economical. 

We’ll be sharing more posts and pictures as our time here progresses.  

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

For Sarah

A tribute to my friend Sarah Cullen, nee Chavasse, at whose memorial service I was privileged to say a few words this afternoon.

'Sarah was my best friend at junior school from the ages of four and five when we both started in Kindergarten at Walthamstow Hall until the summer of 1976 when I left to join my two older sisters at Tonbridge Grammar School for Girls.  I found school very difficult.  I am dyslexic, though no one knew that back then.  I was one of the last in my class to learn my times-tables; there may even be some others here today who remember the dreaded felt mice with knotted string tails and the shame of being slow to achieve the required 12 knots, one for each times table! I was also slow to achieve the required standard for neat hand-writing and to progress from a pencil to a fountain pen.  Sarah, on the other hand, was exceptionally bright despite being the youngest in the class with a September birthday.  She never judged, was kind and constant and quietly encouraged me in my efforts to achieve.  She was also my yearly partner in the three-legged race which we won triumphantly in our final year.  It was the only occasion upon which I won anything at junior school!  Our career ambitions were clear from an early age. I would be a nurse, following in the footsteps of my maternal grandmother and aunt. Sarah would be the Astronomer Royal.  I marvelled at her knowledge of the constellations and her superior intellect.

Sarah had the best birthday parties in which her father, Michael, was a key figure.  Such parties invariably involved the Kim's game, a test of short-term memory at which I always failed miserably.  However, I shone at the eating part of such gatherings and I remember being showered with praise by Sarah's father as I bravely ate his burned barbequed sausages and proclaimed them to be delicious.  Sometimes Sarah held fancy-dress parties.  One year I won the fancy-dress competition when I came dressed as 'Queen of the Bathroom' in a quilted dressing-gown of my mother's, curlers in my hair, fluffy slippers and a sponge-bag draped nonchalantly over my arm.  Praised by Sarah's mother Rose for my wit and creativity, it was all a sham.  My sister had attended a different party wearing the same outfit the week before and I had simply stolen her idea!

My memories of Sarah and the Chavasse's lovely family home in Chevening Park were not just of parties.  I was privileged to be invited back to play after school.  Though our own house in Otford was very comfortable, I suffered from inexcusable envy over the beautiful portraits of the Chavasse daughters that hung in the drawing room, the feeling of importance as we drove past the sentry box and through the estate in Mrs. Chavasse's sky-blue 2CV, tooting as we went around the corners.  And the soda-stream machine which seemed to me to be the very height of luxury and modernity. Visiting the dairy farm at Chevening to see the calves being fed; playing in the garden with Jason the standard poodle; spending hours on girlish pursuits in Sarah's bedroom and walking through the park up to the Keyhole, a distinctive arboreal feature in the Chevening grounds; these are very happy memories for me.

Recently, in celebration of my 50th birthday, a milestone that Sarah sadly did not achieve, I walked the length of the North Downs Way National Trail that passes the top of the Keyhole and affords views down to Chevening House. Once again I felt the pain of my separation from Sarah keenly. We kept in touch until our early twenties when I visited her in her rooms at Oxford.  However, my nursing and midwifery career took me overseas and we lost touch.  In the past few years I, with several other school friends, tried to reconnect with Sarah, all remembering her warm friendship and wanting to rekindle it.  However, Sarah was not to be found through the internet or social media, the family had moved on from Chevening and we learned that Sarah had been ill and known trouble in her adult years.  It is a great sadness to me that I did not make a greater effort to stay in touch with Sarah; that I never managed to renew our friendship; to tell Sarah how much she meant to me and to let her know how she made my experience of school and childhood so much richer and happier.

My faith has always been a comfort to me in times of sadness.  I don't know whether Sarah, or indeed her family and friends here today, had or have a faith.  However, I feel strongly that I saw in Sarah a reflection of the love and gentle nature of God in whose image I believe she was created.  In the Bible, we find a verse in Paul's letter to the Philippians, Chapter 1 verse 6, which says: 'I am certain that God who began a good work in you will bring it to completion...'. I love singing and indeed have memories of performing with Sarah in our school's production of 'Joseph and his technicolour dream-coat'. I'd like to finish this reflection with a verse from a hymn by the modern hymn-writer Stuart Townend, called 'There is a Hope'.  It is my hope that these words will comfort you as they also comfort me.

There is a hope that lifts my weary head
A consolation strong against despair
That when the world has plunged me in its deepest pit I find the Saviour there!
Through present sufferings, future's fear,
He whispers 'courage' in my ear.
For I am safe in Everlasting Arms
And they will lead me home.

Thank you.'

To listen to this hymn follow this link 

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