Nine months ago, I received the first donation to CleanBirth.org, my project to make birth safer in Laos. It was fittingly given on the playground after school by a fellow mom.
I say fittingly, because I have spent much of the past 7 years of motherhood pushing swings and spotting my monkeys on bars. It is also fitting because the bulk of the three hundred donors who followed that first donation are fellow frequenters of playgrounds. The support from moms, dads, and grand parents totals almost $20,000 in just 9 months!
So how does a playground aficionado add safe birth advocacy to her daily life?
Here’s my 3-step plan for changing the world in the way only you can:
1. Find your passion. My kids are 4 and 7 today, but when they were younger full-time, stay-at-home motherhood was tough for me. I wanted to be with them and I also wanted to travel and work. By way of a compromise, I volunteered on projects in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Thailand, Cambodia and Uganda. Sometimes the kids came with me – we lived in Thailand and Cambodia for a year – and other shorter trips they stayed at home with their dad and grandparents. My experiences as a volunteering mother transformed my long-standing interest in women’s empowerment into a passion for global maternal health.
Once I realized that I wanted to advocate for women and make birth safer, I became a mama on a mission.
2. Find a do-able project. So, how can I be at pick-up by 1pm everyday *and* make birth safer in Laos? I started with a manageable project. CleanBirth.org provides Clean Birth Kits (an absorbent sheet, medicated soap, a sterile blade, cord clamp, picture instructions) and birth education to women in one province of Laos. Studies show that kits prevent infection in both mothers and babies.
To ensure that the project is locally driven and sustainable, I have partnered with two organizations. The first partner is Our Village Association (OVA), a Lao non-profit with 10 years of experience working with local villagers. Together with OVA, CleanBirth.org trains local nurses in the use and distribution of Clean Birth Kits. OVA continuously monitors the nurses, tracks the use of the kits and reports back to me via email.
The second organization that I teamed up with, AYZH, manufactures high-quality Clean Birth Kits in India and mails them directly to OVA in Laos. Since the kits are shipped directly, I do not need to be on the ground to ensure quality-control or resupply.
I travel to Laos twice per year to see everything for myself. In the US, I spend all of my kid-free hours raising funds and awareness – and loving every minute of it!
3. Find help. None of this would be possible without the support of my family: my husband, mother-in-law and parents. Having the people closest to you believe in your cause is so important, especially if you are working 30 hours per week and not getting paid.
I have also asked for help from maternal health experts and volunteers. By going to the experts, to those already doing the work, I have been able to capitalize on best practices. Volunteers can be invaluable. When someone competently takes on a task, no matter how small, it enables me to move onto another to-do item.
I can honestly say that I am living my dream life. I still hit the playground every afternoon — after 4 hours of working to promote safe birth. When I travel to Laos, I pack in more in 2 weeks than I could have imagined in my pre-kids wanderings. No time to waste, I’ve got kids at home missing their mama.
If you are reading this and thinking: “I have a passion for _____ but I don’t know where to start,” I urge you to just start. Find a small first project. Make time each day to work on it. Get advice from others who are doing similar work. Ask for help.
If your goal is to help others, you will find support from many places, often you just need to ask. I have been overwhelmed by the unexpected generosity and support of friends and perfect strangers.
So use your passion, get out there and change the world in the way only you can!
What’s Your Passion?
This is an original post written for World Moms Blog by Kristyn Zalota.
Kristyn brings her years of experience as an entrepreneur and serial volunteer to CleanBirth.org. She holds a MA, has run small businesses in Russia and the US, and has volunteered in Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Uganda on projects related to women’s empowerment. After having children, Kristyn became an advocate for mothers in the US, as a doula and Lamaze educator, and abroad, as the Founder of CleanBirth.org. She is honored to provide nurses in Laos with the supplies, funding and training they need to lower maternal and infant mortality rates in their villages.