The major driving force behind this big bush adventure was the health of the Hewa people--specifically related to maternal and neonatal mortality. Lots of women die in childbirth and even more babies die in the first few months of life. I'm not sure exactly how many women, but we heard too many tragic stories during our time in Yififiki. The Kopfs estimated that about 85% of babies don't make it past 3 months of age.
There are two main reasons for these horrible statistics. First of all, there is almost no health care in this far off place. Susan is a nurse. She runs a small clinic, supplied with medicines that she mostly purchases herself. Back in Fiyowana there is a government aid post. But that is a 2 day walk from Yififiki and they don't do deliveries there anyways. The nearest hospital is a 3 day hike through enemy territory, so you are just as likely to be killed on your way to the hospital as to die from your illness. There is a safer route to another hospital, but you have to walk 7 days to get to that one. Can you imagine making that trek if you were sick or pregnant?
The cultural practices of the Hewa people also contribute to the high mortality. Click here to read about how babies are born in this tribe. It is unbelievable.
Community Based Health Care was invited to come in and do a training for village birth attendants (VBA). The CBHC program usually begins with community organization, leadership training, and then basic preventive and health education--everything from washing hands to clean water supply to using pit toilets. The VBA part comes much later in the process. It is a program for specifically for the few women who are selected by their community to help deliver babies. But the desperate situation called for an emergency intervention. We only had 5 days to teach everything we possibly could. We just skipped the preliminary stuff all together. And we decided to involve as many people as possible, even the men who up until then had no idea how babies were born.
As the head of CBHC, Becky was our fearless leader. Matthew started and reviewed the class each day. He had worked as a nurse at a rural health center in the Sepik, so he had many stories to illustrate what we were teaching. Joel Funfun is a community health worker at Singape health center in Middle Ramu, a bush place very similar to Hewa. He was the only one who had actually taught the VBA course before. He did such a great job helping us through the curriculum. Allan talked about the complications of pregnancy. The men were especially amazed that he had delivered more than 9,000 babies without getting sick. I had so much fun helping our students practice what they had learned!
We condensed the VBA course into five one-day parts: reproduction, normal pregnancy, normal delivery, complications, and newborn care. We did our best to encourage things that the Hewa were already doing well, and emphasize some different practices that would hopefully save lives. Some of the new things that we taught included drying and stimulating the baby, tying and cutting the cord with a clean razor, active delivery of the placenta, and breast feeding/uterine massage to help control bleeding. All of this, of course, was taught in Pidgin and translated to the local language.
There were probably about 50 people from 5 villages who came to the VBA training. That doesn't include children, dogs, and our most faithful attender--a baby cassowary. They were amazingly receptive. Over and over again we heard comments like "Oh, we never knew this before. Now we know! Thank you for teaching us." The most surprising thing to me was how many men participated. They really, really want to help their wives and children. It was absolutely incredible.
We threw a lot of information at our students in those few days. I don't know how much they will remember. I'm not sure how it will change what they do. I pray that the Holy Spirit will bring something to someone's mind that will save a mother's life. I pray that the Hewa will have the strength and courage to reject the cultural practices that are killing their babies. And most importantly I pray that they will hear the good news, believe, and receive eternal life through Christ our Lord.
"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead."
~ 1 Peter 1:3