Nic and I last left Uganda in 2010. We had completed the construction of the Birth House and the women who make up the Women's Income Generating Group were both celebrating their new work-space and mourning the loss of our soul-sister and group member, Harriet.
Teopista, one of our women's group members, and I were both pregnant and we left the Birth House in the good hands of long-time Shanti supporter and past president, Kristen Porter.
What a difference a year makes. In the 5 years since starting Shanti Uganda it was the longest time I spent away from the vibrant women we support and it was an inspiring, tear inducing, heart opening journey back - this time making the journey back with our daughter, Satya. We were blessed to birth our daughter at home with the loving support of our midwife and are thrilled that hundreds of Ugandan women now have access to the same mother-centered, gentle care that we received.
We went to lead a group of 14 incredible participants from around North America on a 10 day adventure into the heart of The Shanti Uganda Society. In addition to making some wonderful new friends, we were thrilled to reconnect with staff and see first hand the life-changing work taking place at the Birth House.
Throughout the trip, what we discovered was a reminder that the interconnected impact of the work we do weaves deeply throughout the community. Teopista's son, Christopher is now a toddler and makes his way around the grounds. Kiguli, a member of our women's group, stands tall and proud while acting out the story of her improved health in a play the women prepared for our visitors. Rose shares with us how hard it was working in the fields before making a regular income through jewellery sales. Women gracefully make their way to the centre for antenatal care draped in the colourful traditional dress - they are met by our midwives and their husbands patiently wait on the hand sculpted earthen benches that line our walls. Florence, a Traditional Birth Attendant guides a group of pregnant mothers in a gentle prenatal yoga class under the shade of the outdoor round hut.
Ben, Shanti's driver, Kiguli and Florence have all celebrated the graduation of their daughters from Shanti Uganda's Teen Girls Health and Wellness Workshop. Our staff share stories of the respect they now receive in the community as 'Shanti Staff' and how they can now afford to pay school fees and feed their families. A school is being built deep in Nsaasi Village, th
e road was repaired and in the last few weeks 10 babies made their way into the world with the support of our dedicated midwives.
Our goal is to improve maternal health throughout Uganda, to honour every birthing woman and to reduce infant mortality. In a country where 435 women per every 100,000 die giving birth, we have a long way to go. But as I listen to one of our Midwives, Martha, light up as she tells us about the birth from the previous night, I know with certainty that we are well on our way.