As many of you know, one year ago I started CleanBirth.org, a non-profit aimed at reducing infant and maternal mortality in Laos. We provide nurses with training, birthing supplies and funding to educate village volunteers about safe birthing practices.
One tenet of my organization is that local people call the shots on-the-ground, while Westerners provide the resources and funds. Local nurses are empowered to develop and execute programs which empower expecting mothers to have safer births.
There’s that darling of non-profit speak: empower. Oxford defines it: to “… make (someone) stronger and more confident, especially in controlling their life and claiming their rights.” A worthy goal, certainly, but sometimes I worry:
“Can foreigners really empower locals to find long-term solutions to their own problems?”
I thought about this on my long journey to Laos in June to train twelve nurses. On this second CleanBirth Training trip, I wanted to see that the nurses were taking ownership of our CleanBirth Kits Program. I also wanted to hear their new ideas about ways that we can make birth safer.
From the beginning, it was clear they the nurses wanted to learn and participate. They were “…thrilled to have been invited…none of them had ever been asked to a training like this before.” They asked pertinent questions about the CleanBirth Kits Program and grasped the importance of accurately reporting data.
As we moved on to additional ideas for making birth safer, they became even more engaged. Dr. Nong, my Lao partner, had to write furiously to keep up with the nurses’ suggestions. I sat back and smiled, thinking:
“This is exactly the way it should be. I, the Westerner, am in the background, while they, the locals, are finding their own answers.”
In the end Dr. Nong and the nurses drafted an outline for our new initiative: CleanBirth Volunteer Training. The nurses will gather one woman from each of the villages that she serves to learn about Clean Birth Kits, safe birth practices, and prenatal and infant care. The first CleanBirth Volunteer Training will be held in October.
So have we empowered these nurses? Are we giving women more control over their lives and births in the 100 remote communities that we serve? I’d say that we are off to a good start. The nurses have the funds and the tools that they need. They have designed the solution themselves. Now, we must wait and see what happens next.
This is an original World Moms Blog post by Kristyn Zalota.
What do you think? Is it truly possible as an outsider to empower locals of another culture in a sustainable way?