A group of Guatemalan women

Revelstoke midwife becomes part of Safe Motherhood Project

Birte Paschen to give presentation on project that aims to train midwives in Guatemala.

Four Canadian women are doing their part to reduce the neonatal mortality rate in Guatemala by providing midwives in that country with the tools to provide risk assessment for women giving birth. Guatemala’s neonatal mortality rate is among the highest in the world with 350 deaths per 100,000 live births. In comparison, Canada’s neonatal mortality rate is 8/100,000.

Known as the Safe Motherhood Project, this year was the first time a midwife joined the team. Revelstoke midwife Birte Paschen was asked to join the team after hearing about the project through a client of hers.

“I went to Guatamala 18 years ago to study Spanish. I hoped to go back and work as a midwife,” said Paschen. “A client I had in Salmon Arm told me about a woman from her church who was going to Guatemala.”

Soon after, Paschen received a call from Annette Borkent and was asked to join the Safe Motherhood Project. Borkent and Paschen, along with Ruth Brighouse and Amanda Shibley made up this year’s team. The team spent two weeks in San Miguel Ixtahuacan (they only go to places they are invited). Paschen said the project is well known in Guatemala, and they have two Guatemalan colleagues, one of whom is now paid year round.

“I’m so happy about the change we can make in some people’s lives,” said Paschen. That change comes about through the education the Safe Motherhood Project provides for midwives in Guatemala. Many of these women are untrained and may simply be the midwife because they are the oldest woman in the village, or their mother did it before them, or “God told them to.” Despite the reasons, women in Guatemala often have to rely on a midwife as getting to a hospital can be complicated.

“Seventy per cent of people in Guatemala have a home birth because they live too far away from the hospital,” said Paschen. In addition, if a woman does go to the hospital only her husband is allowed in (the midwife is not) and patients must supply everything from food and bedding to any medicine they may need.

PHOTO: A hand washing demonstration by team member Gloria, (in green top) a Mayan midwife. Photo by Birte Paschen.

By providing midwives in Guatemala the tools to teach risk assessment, the goal of the Safe Motherhood Project is to reduce the neonatal mortality rate. According to Paschen the three biggest risks during birth are improper hygiene, hemorrhage, and eclampsia (seizure).

Over the five days of training, the midwives learn many skills, however the first lesson they are taught is how to properly wash their hands.

“We show them how to do a surgical scrub,” said Paschen.

In addition to learning from the SafeMotherhood team, the midwives also get a chance to practice with pregnant women they are currently working with.

“They love the hands on approach. Many [of the women] do not read and write, and many do not speak Spanish. They speak a Mayan Dialect,” said Paschen. To help with this there are two midwives who work with the project as translators.

“One thing that really blew me away was meeting Gloria (Mayan midwife). As a midwife in Guatemala you’re not paid. She has raised 4 children, her husband is illiterate so when he works he makes less than $5 a day. They put all of their children through school,” said Paschen.

This year The Safe Motherhood Project provided education to 60 midwives ranging in age from 20 to 80. After completing the training, a graduation ceremony is held. Both the Canadian and Guatemalan national anthems are sung, family members come to watch along with hospital staff, town priests and other important people from the community.

“They were so proud, most have never been to school,” said Paschen.

Each midwife gets a hand book, photograph of the group, grad certificate, bag filled with supplies they use at births (gloves, gauze, umbilical scissors, headlamp, pinard stethoscope, box with soap, brush and nail clippers, and a plastic cover to put over the woman’s bed. Every midwife gets to practice with the equipment they will get.

On Wednesday, May 13 at 7 p.m. The Safe Motherhood Project will be making a presentation at the Village Idiot. During the presentation the Village Idiot will be putting on a pizza buffet and donating the proceeds towards the project. In addition, for the month of May, Sangha Bean will donate 25 cents from each cup of drip coffee sold towards the project.

For more information about the Safe Motherhood Project you can visit safemotherhoodproject.org

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