Did you know that over half of a million women die every year from pregnancy-related causes? And did you know that 99% of these deaths occur in the developing world? In fact, pregnancy and childbirth kill more than tuberculosis, suicide, traffic accidents, and AIDS...combined. Having a baby is the riskiest thing a woman will do in the developing world.
This is information I gleaned from the website Save The Mothers, and have heard many times from the mouth of its founder, my friend Jean Chamberlain Froese. I encourage you to check this site out as well.
In 1992, when I moved to London, Ontario to study at the University of Western Ontario, I met a woman by the name of Jean Chamberlain. Jean had also just moved to London, but whereas I was working on a Masters in Business, she was working on her medical residency to complete the requirements for her specialization in Obstetrics and Gynecology. We met at the church we both started to attend (the same church where I met Geoff), and quickly became good friends. In fact, it was during one of our regular Sunday night coffee times that Jean encouraged me to consider dating Geoff (who had, to his great regret, no doubt, been pursuing me!); and it was largely because of her that I started seeing my now-husband in a different light. She spoke at our wedding! Incidentally, a few years later, I repaid the favour, by telling her how nice a certain guy was and how she should consider dating him; she did, and she ended up marrying him. I spoke at her wedding, too!
Jean went on to many endeavours, many of which I will never even know about because she is one of the most modest and unassuming women I've ever met. Her self-proclaimed mission in life is to make pregnancy and childbirth safer in the developing world. She first worked as an obstetrician in Yemen, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Pakistan, confronting the issues of mothers dying from preventable causes. But perhaps her most critical role was to found a non-profit organization in Uganda, called "Save The Mothers," of which she is still the Executive Director. She and her family live in Uganda eight months of the year; then travel back to Canada for the summer months, where she works to keep her skill set sharp and raises money and supplies for "Save the Mothers."
Of the 195 countries on earth, Uganda is among the thirteen countries that share 70% of all maternal deaths. About 6,000 Ugandan women die every year from preventable pregnancy- and childbirth-related causes; at least one quarter of these women could be saved with a medication that costs less than one dollar. Of note, Ethiopia is one of the other worst countries in Africa for the numbers of women dying in these ways. And, as we well know, the death of one mother often leaves a family of orphans.
It is a true tragedy happening every single day. "Save The Mothers" is dedicated to educating local leaders, politicians, and men and women about safe motherhood. In 2005, under Jean's leadership, STM launched its first program a Uganda Christian University, near Kampala, aimed at reducing obstacles to safe childbirth, and designed to give students the tools to affect change in their country and sphere of influence.
At the recent G8 Summit in Ontario, the focus was on maternal and child health in the developing world. Jean was invited to a roundtable discussion with other non-governmental organizations and Prime Minister Stephen Harper to discuss the issues; she also had an opportunity to speak privately with the Prime Minister to encourage him in the initiatives Canada is taking.
Jean and her journalist husband have three young children, the youngest of which (at age three) they adopted locally in Uganda last year. In my entire life, I don't know if I've met someone as selflessly committed to a mission in life as Jean is; she is tireless and fearless in her dogged determination to reduce maternal and infant mortality in the developing world, and has not wavered from this path in the eighteen years that I have known her. She has my utmost admiration for the work she does, and I wanted to share with you a little piece of her (looking a little paler than usual!):
Coming on Monday: Attachment Part 2