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Off the Mat's 2009 Seva Challenge Participants visit Shanti Uganda

The following are some blogs from Off the Mat’s Seva challenge participants who raised $150,000 for the Shanti Uganda birth house. The seva participants were deeply moved by what they witnessed and experienced at Shanti Uganda. Read about their comments on birth, HIV/AIDS, community and the importance of empowering women in the following passages. All of the blogs can be found on Yoga Journal’s website at:

http://blogs.yogajournal.com/uganda/

Birth

Birth: raw, rich, emotional, sensual, intense, calm, powerful, and hopefully supported. As a doula (birth assistant), in Minneapolis, my main goal is to make sure that the mothers I am working with are fully supported in every aspect of birth. And that was my motivation for joining the 2009 SEVA challenge; to support the woman of Uganda in birth.
30 women die every day in Uganda due to childbirth complications . . . I knew this country was in need, but what struck me most was the loneliness the woman here face during birth.
Expectant mothers come to this local birthing clinic, typically solo and bring with them their own birth supplies: a plastic sheet to birth on, 2 pairs of gloves for the midwives, and a baby blanket. Where as a typical birth in the U.S. uses a dozen pairs of gloves, half a dozen sheets, handfuls of washcloths and most importantly their partner, possibly a doula, friend or family member.
I was blessed to be at the clinic for two days and support 4 women through their births (1 cesarean) . . . without the help of Off the Mat Into the World, and the team of us that where there that day, these women would have been unsupported. There was an incredible transformation for all of us in the bare room. New life was given and women on both sides were empowered. We ALL were supported and full of spirit . . . but to know that there will be unsupported births, at this clinic and hundreds of other places around the world today, is hard one for me wrap my head around.
It is our birthright to be loved and held up, especially in times of transformation.

HIV/AIDS

Together with Shanti Uganda, we will build an eco-birthing center for women with HIV/AIDS. We will also help support the education and training of the midwives and nurses there in hopes of creating a place for women—who might otherwise die in unassisted childbirth—to have a loving and safe environment to bring their babies into the world.
We believe that, as sacred activists, our task is to practice love and compassion, even as we work for change. Even when we encounter children and families who are without the basics needed for survival and who face the devastating long-term effects of AIDS, we are charged with the task of staying present in our breath and in our bodies. We are asking ourselves to witness honestly and profoundly what is happening in this community, using all the tools that we have acquired in our yoga practice on the mat. We will witness honestly and profoundly what is happening in this community, using all the tools that we have acquired in our yoga practice on the mat. We will simply show up and be willing to respectfully connect to every woman, man, and child that we meet. By connecting to each other and to all that we encounter with fierce compassion and strong hearts, we will be changed. There is no doubt.

Community

This project is already having strong effects on the community as it has provided employment to many son’s in the area who had no source of income before hand. We worked hard side by side with them mixing mud, and laying bricks. Women too are involved, planning and starting an organic farm on the premises offering their input and letting Natalie, the founder of Shanti Uganda, know what their needs are and about their important birthing traditions. In this way, some of their methods can be gracefully combined with some of the more modern midwifery techniques that will be used.

Though the sun beat down on us all day as we worked, it was a true labor of love. This birthing enter will change the lives of these women and their families for generations to come.

The guy in town is happy that we are building Shanti Uganda. He sells more nails. The men from the village are happy that Shanti is being built. They have jobs and new skills. The women are happy that Shanti is being built. They will have safe empowered births. Sam the neighbour is happy Shanti is being built. The price of property in the area has gone up.
The entire community is fully stoked and supportive of the project. And for me, its so tangible. There in that building are all of the Tula Karma classes, all of the calendars, all of the birthday bags of cement…and we haven’t even been to the school site yet.

We have accomplished the most amazing things. All of us. With all of you. Together.

Highlights were stomping in “mud” (debate rages on as to what the mud consisted of), ride on the boda boda with Heather (motorcycle, well, dirtbike-ish), making sculpture on the wall of the birth house with mud, and Seane teaching the men at the site yoga.

We had a traditional lunch and dinnner…enthusiasm was waning slightly by this point for matoke and the g-nut sauce.

The night finished with a spectacular sunset, and a starry night like only Africa can deliver.

Empowerment

At 32 years old, I did not arrive in Uganda a girl but I feel like I am leaving a woman.

I had dinner at a womans house named Bubeera last night. She lived in a 6′×8′ room with her 10 year old daughter. (her 3 sons hours away with their grandmother). We sat on the floor and ate by lantern light/cell phone flashlight.

She is HIV+. She is alone and raising her child. She is very very lucky.

Bubeera was chosen out of 600 applicants to be part of Shanti Uganda’s www.shantiuganda.org <http://www.shantiuganda.org> income generating group. They make jewellery out of paper beads which they also make. This group brought 26 women together chosen for their dire circumstances (to qualify you have to be HIV+, widowed or raising children/grandchildren on your own) and they are taught how to make the jewellery, run a business, and manage money. They have a self elected leader and full control over all of their profits. The money they make is used to pay for their homes, send their children/grandchildren to school and to buy better more nutritious food. Better food improves their health which makes it easier to deal with HIV.

So, Bubeera is lucky. Lucky that she now has some control of her life. Lucky that she now has some choices. Her daughter is lucky too…as now she has a chance at going to school. Pardon my over simplification but education is the key to poverty.

They say you educate a woman and you educate a village/nation. I think you give a girl access to education and you give a girl access to choice.

Connection and Gratitude

After visiting the clinic, we spent the next 2 days at the construction site of the new birthing center, the very center each our donors contributed to when they donated to this project! It was very exciting to participate in building the center and to know that these women were going to have a beautiful place to go with plenty of clean water, brand new supplies, proper medicine and a comfortable place to rest while they are in labor and after they give birth. We learned how to make bricks and lay them. It was extremely hard work. They don’t have equipment like we do at home…everything is done the HARD WAY. My most touching moment at this sight was witnessing a 90 year old woman show up to hoe the garden. She didn’t speak any English but she came and sat down next to me, placed her hand in mine, and spoke to me. I learned that she had fallen down and hurt her leg. Her knee was swollen. She walked all the way from her home to the site and back every Wednesday to participate in this project. To put things in perspective, I was tired after working there for 2 hours and we were able to take a bus back to the hotel. This woman walked all the way back to her home with a hurt leg and in the intense heat after she worked all day. I was beside myself. I couldn’t help but to break down in tears. It has taken me 3 full days to move past that moment. Experiences like this challenge you on every level. They bring forward emotions like gratitude, joy, sorrow, grief, hope, shame, guilt, and so so so much love. I was absolutely humbled…and so thankful to have shared that time with her.