I have just arrived back to the UK after an emotional and incredible trip to Ethiopia with the charity Midwives@Ethiopia. There's so much to share from the trip, and my next few blog posts will tell the tales of our team of six women travelling to Africa. We spent an amazing ten days getting to know each other VERY well, sharing tears and laughter and experiences we will never forget. I hope this blog goes some way towards bringing those experiences to life for you all, and highlighting the very valuable the work undertaken by Midwives@Ethiopia.
Midwives@Ethiopia links UK Midwives from South Wales and London with healthcare professionals in Southern Ethiopia, with the aim of improving maternity care in a variety of centres in the region. Ethiopia currently has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world - Midwives@Ethiopia are a small charity working tirelessly alongside professionals in Ethiopia to save lives and to make pregnancy and birth a safer experience for women. Having witnessed the partnership between the British and Ethiopian teams, I can say first hand that this charity really is something quite special, and I'm excited to give you all an insight into their work and what is being achieved.
Midwives@Ethiopia (or M@E) undertake bi-annual visits to various health centres, with specific aims for each trip. The particular trip I was a part of had a primary aim of developing a set of Standards in Maternity Care in a very rural Health Centre in Udo. This centre has already shown itself to be excelling in many areas, and these standards are being developed to help the centre become an 'Exemplary Health Centre' - a flagship for others to follow. We went out as a team of six - some friends and colleagues, others strangers, but ten days later we have returned having formed close bonds for life, with shared experiences that won't be forgotten. We had in the team three charity trustees and amazing midwives, one with the advantage of speaking the local language (as you will find out in these blog posts, we weren't to be trusted without her translation skills, we managed to get all manner of things wrong every time we attempted even the most basic of Amharic!). The remaining three of us were all 'first-timers' with the charity, with one very skilled midwife bringing a breadth of knowledge from all over the world along with her, one Biology student who, at aged only 21, put the rest of us to shame with her general knowledge, and finally myself, travelling as photographer with a passion for good maternal and neonatal care (and a background in neonatal nursing).
The Journey to Addis Ababa
Four of our team traveled from South Wales to Heathrow Airport. Many local people reading this will know our lovely midwives Brydon and Emma, who are both trustees of the charity. I've known these ladies since I was pregnant with my first over ten years ago, and have always thought the world of them, but in case anyone is in any doubt about their skills, knowledge, or caring natures, I can say with all my heart that after living with them for ten days I have so much respect for them both - they really are remarkable people and we are so lucky to have them within our health board. Also with us was Becky, a biology student who we all quickly came to love for her endearing nature and endless knowledge - if anyone is looking for a pub quiz team member, I have just the girl for you! In Heathrow we met up with Caroline, a very experienced and well traveled Midwife from London - the trip was particularly poignant for Caroline as she had last visited Ethiopia during the famine of 1985. Anna, a charity trustee, midwive and also near-fluent speaker of Amharic, had gone on ahead, knowing Ethiopia very well having previously lived in the country.
I don't know whether it was excitement, the anxious anticipation of the days ahead, or simply an attempt to break the ice, but the couple of hours at the airport were filled with giggles. Essential travelling problems were sorted with the purchasing of nail varnish and aspirin (to avert the blood clots!), and time was killed in John Lewis playing the game "guess the price" (a game that followed us to Ethiopia, although only the most mathematically-minded in the team were any good at this, as we discovered the game was far more complicated when trying to convert from Birr to Pounds in our heads!).
We were lucky to have a smooth overnight flight into Addis, and with the plane being only half full we were able to commandeer a row of three seats each, meaning we were all at least semi-refreshed when we landed. A few of us made the mistake of watching the film 'Lion' as we traveled... Let me tell you - watching an emotive film about a little boy separated from his family and lost on the streets of India is not a good idea before touching down in Ethiopia to spend a week in rural locations, where there are sadly too many orphans to be absorbed into the community. There were tears before our trip had really begun, and many more were to come throughout the week!
At 07:00 local time we stepped off the plane into the warm, smoky Ethiopian air. I could tell from the faces of those who travel there regularly that they were thinking 'welcome home'. Even though we were all a bit jaded from traveling, I think we all knew at that moment that this was the start of something very special.