By Andrea Koris
SO.U.L. Foundation Monitoring and Evaluation Officer
As the Monitoring and Evaluation Officer at S.O.U.L. Foundation, I get the distinct pleasure of assessing the impact of the various initiatives in the Maternal Health Program. While during a typical workday I spend endless hours coding data and writing reports, I also get to take the M&E nerd out from behind the computer and spend time with 150 pregnant mamas who come to S.O.U.L. each day. These women, of the 450 women we plan to serve in the first year of our project, are representative of S.O.U.L.'s commitment to community-driven development, a model that focuses on creating programs that are directly rooted in the needs of local communities. In 2014, S.O.U.L. listened to its community members articulate the maternal and child health needs of their villages, through the dissemination of a comprehensive needs assessment. The result – the Antenatal Education Center class, a collaboratively developed education program that teaches a patient-advocacy and empowerment-centered childbirth education curriculum.
The community's excitement for the program, and its unbelievable impact is evident as soon as you step outside the S.O.U.L. office. Exchanging greetings, holding babies, and watching women of all ages learn together in class puts an entirely different face on the data that I crunch on a daily basis – and it's a face of hardship-turned-empowerment, with the help of support, care, and education. This is most demonstrated through the powerful personal stories of the women who come through S.O.U.L.'s Antenatal Education Center (AEC). Prossy, a 28 year-old Antenatal Education Class graduate, shares her story of learning and growth:
“Before attending the AEC at S.O.U.L. Foundation, I used to take my time before going to the health center to attend my antenatal care visits. I had no idea of what services to expect while there and the importance of paying close attention to my health during pregnancy. I often took various key aspects of birth preparedness for granted. However, after attending the maternal education class and learning from a wide range of topics taught by the Health Educator, I feel empowered and very knowledgeable. During my most recent antenatal appointment, I was well aware of the services I was supposed to receive. I demanded to have an update on my baby's health before I left the health center. Unlike the previous time, I knew I was supposed to be told how the baby was faring and what I should do to ensure it stays well.
Recently, certain events with my co-wife helped me to fully recognize the importance of the health information I had received from class. When my husband informed me my co-wife had gone into labor at home, I rushed to her house. I noticed my co-wife's heavy bleeding and advised her to go to the health center as soon as possible. She feared going to the health center too soon, because we had little money to pay off bribes. I gathered her Maama Kit and took her with me. I knew there was a problem with her pregnancy even though she wasn't taking it serious. I am glad I could help because the bleeding was stopped and the baby was saved."
It is stories like Prossy's that show us the two-fold nature of S.O.U.L.'s maternal health initiatives. The knowledge that she learned in class not only helped her advocate for herself, and receive the proper preventative antenatal care that she and her baby needed, but also helped her detect danger signs in her co-wife and seek medical care immediately. Empowered with knowledge, Prossy and women like her are better able to navigate through the broken Ugandan health system, which so often puts the most vulnerable of pregnant women at high risk of undue death. Watching the hundreds of women pass through S.O.U.L. every day, making a great economic sacrifice to leave their farms and spend a few hours in a classroom, I am reminded of the commitment that these women – that all women – hold in shaping the future of the world we live in. Through their desire to learn and change, these mamas are crafting the future of Uganda. And it looks like a future of healthy families, and empowered women who believe in the right to dignified birth and respectful maternity care.