An American Midwife in Uganda

(Courtesy Jane Drichta)

Jane Drichta (pronounced Drick-ta) is an energetic lady who has her hands full of a million things. When she is not homeschooling her teenage daughter, who fell ill from a stroke, she is busy managing her business, Equinox Healing Arts, promoting her recently published book, The Essential Homebirth Guide, or traveling to train midwives in Uganda.

A neighbor had mentioned she was inspired by Jane’s work, so I thought I’d see what she was up to.

IP: How did you get interested in Uganda?

Jane:  I had been to the Philippines to deliver babies at a high-volume urban birth center that serves the poor. This center, called Mercy Maternity Center, is the largest charity-based maternity center.  However, I was looking for a project to have a relationship with, to return to year after year, and always wanted to go to Africa. I first went to Uganda in July of 2011 as part of a nonprofit called Shanti Uganda, which is run out of Vancouver, BC., but operates in Kasana, a small village two hours north of Kampala, the capital. They have a wonderful vision of a community-gathering place where pregnant women, including those who have HIV, are supported and empowered to have their babies in a safe, nurturing environment. The Birth House there was built with the help of valuable funds, including $150,000 from Off the Mat Into the World , a nonprofit which trains yoga teachers who then use their skills in other parts of the world.

The reception area at Shanti Uganda proudly displays a mural with a quote from American writer Laura Stavoe Harm:  "We have a secret in this culture and it is not that childbirth is painful.  It is that women are strong."  The words were translated into Luganda by the Shanti staff and painted by Jane's 16 year old daughter, Anna.

The reception area at Shanti Uganda proudly displays a mural with a quote from American writer Laura Stavoe Harm: “We have a secret in this culture and it is not that childbirth is painful. It is that women are strong.” The words were translated into Luganda by the Shanti staff and painted by Jane’s 16 year-old daughter, Anna. (Courtesy Jane Drichta)

IP: What is special about Shanti Uganda?

Jane: The amazing thing about Shanti, is that it’s a project right on the ground, in the heart of the village, and the people who work with the organization are all employed locally. In addition to providing women-centered care and ensuring the well-being of pregnant Ugandan women, Shanti empowers HIV+ women to support themselves and their families by providing business skills training.  The women sew beautiful bags and craft beaded jewelry and are paid above fair trade prices. Products are sold throughout North America with profits going directly to the programs Shanti runs. The women are able to use their salaries to support their families.

Beautiful bags hand-sewn by the women of Shanti Uganda. From Shanti Uganda website

Beautiful bags hand-sewn by the women of Shanti Uganda. (From Shanti Uganda website)

I want to tell you about Florence, a traditional birth attendant who works at Shanti. Florence is a mother of eight children and is truly an amazing part of the organization. Traditional birth attendants are illegal in Uganda and they often don’t have enough training particularly to deal with high-risk labor and deliveries.  However, they are the most affordable and accessible option for women in rural areas, especially those who are too far away from a health center. My network and I were able to raise money to get her additional doula training PLUS her salary for a year through Facebook (oh, the power of social networking!). This training not only gives TBAs vital doula skills– it also helps to increase the status of women in the community.

Florence, Traditional Birth Attendant for Shanti Uganda. (From Shanti Uganda website)

Florence, Traditional Birth Attendant for Shanti Uganda. (From Shanti Uganda website)

The Shanti Uganda doula trainees sing and dance with traditional  birth attendant Florence.  They are wearing gomesi, the traditional Ugandan dress.

The Shanti Uganda doula trainees sing and dance with traditional birth attendant Florence. They are wearing gomesi, the traditional Ugandan dress. (Courtesy Jane Drichta)

IP: What is your dream?

Jane:  I want to start a training academy for midwives in Uganda. There are no training programs in Uganda, and I’d like to provide additional training to traditional birth attendants so they can be in a better position to help their local communities. Maternal mortality is way too high and with more access to training programs for both midwives and TBAs, there is a chance to reduce needless deaths.

I have struggled with the question of “what is our place in these people’s cultures?” Who are we, as white Americans, to come in and tell them what to do? On the other hand, if you are going to give me white privilege, I’m going to use it! It is a way to get things done, makes it easier to get meetings with VIPs in the town.

IP: Any words of wisdom for our readers?

Jane:  There is nothing special about me. One person CAN make a difference. Be open to what inspires you and don’t be afraid to try new things.

Want to help or become involved? Here’s what you can do:

  1. Donate to Shanti Uganda.
  2. Purchase bags or jewelry from the organization- the money goes right back into Shanti’s programs and also to the woman who created the materials. These colorful bags are multipurpose: diaper bags, yoga mat carriers, purses, and the brightly colored fabric comes from East Africa.
  3. Host a Shanti Party to raise awareness and educate your community about helping HIV+ women birth in a safe environment and raise funds if you so desire.

You can read about Jane’s experience in Uganda on her blog, Essentialmidwifery.com.

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This entry was posted in Inspiring Organizations, Inspiring People, What you can Do and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to An American Midwife in Uganda

  1. Jennifer says:

    What an inspiring story of the impact one person can make! Thank you for sharing it.

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