Her first purse was the safe birth kit she received from Birthing Project USA (BPUSA) in rural Malawi.
Her country, one that has yet to have its first war, is, unfortunately, one of the poorest in the world. It is a nation that is better known for smiling faces and kind spirits than any GDP or inanimate export, which is a beautiful metaphor yet a jarring reality.
According to the most recent data from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), about 808 women die every single day from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. This statistical figure amounts to about one woman every two minutes. What many people may miss from this fact is that this is not simply the absence of one mother every few moments, but the loss of one. These are the moms-to-be that were but never will.
Luckily, community-wide efforts like Birthing Project USA hear and see mothers like the woman initially referenced. Founded in 1988 by Ashoka Fellow Kathryn Hall-Trujillo (otherwise known as “Mama Katt”), Birthing Project USA is a global volunteer-led maternal and child health organization. It seeks to provide women in underserved regions with the necessary resources and to connect women through shared experiences. Through partnering with ayzh and Women’s World Wide Web (W4), BPUSA provides safe birth kits that help mothers avoid preventable infections that could otherwise result in deadly conditions. Over 13,000 babies have been born into 110 Birthing Project communities in the United States and eight sister countries. An organization by women of color, for women of color, BPUSA provides a Sister Friend network to offer support through pregnancy, labor, delivery, and the baby’s first year of life.
I first heard about Mama Katt and her work through a New York Times article addressing maternal health struggles amid the COVID-19 pandemic. She talked about how, in the past few years, there has been a lot of effort in informing Black women how important doulas are for safer birthing outcomes. Still, now they don’t even have access—as limited as it already was before the pandemic—to that. I was amazed by her clarity and vision and knew I needed to get involved in her work.
I emailed her on a whim, not expecting the founder of a global organization to be available or interested in responding to a budding public health student, but she responded almost immediately. This is because Mama Katt is a lot like Birthing Project USA: global in her stature yet grassroots in her nature.
After a two-hour-long Zoom call and dozens of emails on the brim of poetry and prose, I quickly realized that the work of BPUSA is more critical now than ever before. I can’t find a vaccine for COVID-19 or single-handedly breathe life into the tortured corpse of our economy. Still, I can raise awareness for those who were already marginalized and now almost completely forgotten. For these reasons, I have partnered with Birthing Project USA to expand outreach, research, and volunteer services for the maternal and fetal health of individuals and communities of color.
Why does BPUSA work both domestically in the U.S. and abroad in places like Malawi? Because, when it comes to the maternal health of Black women, those nations aren’t very far apart. “Third world” countries aren’t two worlds away; they’re right outside your doorstep. Currently, Birthing Project USA is opening up a new clinic in Malawi that will provide life-changing and saving services to women in rural regions. An influx of funds is needed to provide more safe birth kits, which is why I would like to dedicate this blog post to that effort. Each safe birth kit takes $5 to produce and send off, so if you can sponsor a kit or spread the word about this work, please visit BPUSA’s Facebook page: Birthing Project USA (@birthingprojectusa) or feel free to reach out directly.
If the UNFPA’s data holds true, about two women have died since you started reading this blog post. I don’t say this to heighten an already growing public health gloom, but to highlight the urgency of this cause. With the help of volunteers and sponsors like you, moms-to-be will make it to motherhood.