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Empowering Rural Villages to Help Mothers and Children

A Samaritan's Purse community-based maternal child health program is sparing lives and sharing the love of Jesus Christ in Liberia's remote villages.

In the town of Gmomaken’s not-too-distant past, it was always their local herbalist that the families turned to with worries over fertility or for remedies to ensure the safe birth of a child.

They would seek him out for alarming pregnancy pains and complications.

They visited his darkened thatch-roofed hut in the centre of town, hoping his traditional treatments for ailments, even the deadly ones, would appease the spirits that were bringing sickness upon them.

When his treatments inevitably failed, the only recourse was to go to the local church, for a sort of last rites.

And this is the way it has been for many bush communities in River Gee, in Liberia’s far south. This area is so far removed from the country’s capital, Monrovia, that most of Gmomaken’s residents have likely never dreamt of going there.

In this isolation, villages are often trapped in traditional thought and practises, and for many years this has kept their people from seeking medical care that could save their lives.

“The traditional leaders and the town chiefs will decide if you will be allowed to share with their people,” said Michael Ley, programme manager for the Samaritan’s Purse Maternal Neonatal Child Health Programme in River Gee. “Many traditional practises get in the way of people getting proper care in time.”

But through the Samaritan’s Purse Maternal Neonatal Child Health (MNCH) Programme in River Gee, even community leaders are encouraging their people to seek medical advice. Through the leader mother and leader father training, Samaritan’s Purse is teaching a selection of people in each village who are willing to learn and then use their influence to teach others.

This approach is saving lives.

“The trainings that we are doing in the towns and villages require a good community connection,” Ley said “Even if the president himself landed right here in his helicopter to visit the people of this village, he would still be required to ask the village chief and elders before he was welcomed.”

Nothing Short of a Miracle

It’s been miraculous that God has opened doors for teams to teach about healthcare and also about His Son Jesus Christ.

This was why a woman named Patience recently found herself walking the long dirt path away from her home in Gmomaken. She walked past the herbalist’s compound, to where she could join in the prayers and songs of praise to God in the village’s central meeting hall—a stone’s throw from the shaman’s darkened stoop.

As a leader mother of the MNCH programme, she sometimes meets with women in their homes to teach them life-saving principles. This day, she attended a large gathering in a meeting space where dozens of the townsfolk, including the village elder, had come to learn of how they could improve the lives of mothers and children.

She instructed the young parents there about the importance of breastfeeding—”ten times a day”— and of “washing your hands. Only when you’re clean are you then certified to touch the baby.”

Other instructors stressed the importance of fruits and vegetables being mixed in with cooked food staples to prevent malnutrition as children transition to solid food.

And the teachers encouraged pregnant mothers to make regular clinic visits and to understand what causes pregnancy complications, including certain activities that stress the body and the baby inside.

The MNCH programme is more than ten years old in Liberia and about two years old in Gmomaken, and the number of deaths has plummeted since classes began.

“Pregnant mothers and their babies were dying because, at the community level, the messages have not been getting through about prevention,” Ley said. ”If somebody is living two hours away, they may not be able to make use of the clinic as often.

“When they are ready to have the baby, they may give birth in the road. Then there might be complications. Those complications can’t be corrected. But our leader mothers and fathers are teaching those messages and it’s saving lives.”

Patience said that the training has helped her take better care of her own children now and that it gives her so much joy to mentor other mothers to do the same.

“Our mothers used to die. Our children used to die,” Patience said “But now our children are healthy. Mothers and fathers are more knowledgeable. That’s why I love this programme. And I love being able to tell them about God. Seeking God first no matter what’s happening.”

Transforming Minds to Save Lives

Kenneth Jargba, a leader father, came from the far-off village of Krakree to learn how to help his people. To get to the nearest town, it required hours of travel on an oft-flooded dirt road. The farmer and pastor had heard there were ways to prevent villagers from dying.

“I tell them ‘Forget about this country medicine,’” he said. “’Go to the hospital.’ So now we encourage people to know something about hospital business.”

The closest clinic to Kenneth’s distant village is in Gmomaken. Samaritan’s Purse has recently helped renovate and expand this facility with the addition of a small maternity ward. Nurses are now able to monitor symptoms in pregnant mothers and even listen to the baby’s heartbeat.

This will tell them a lot about the health of the baby and its position within the womb. Even though far away from home, mothers can travel there in advance of their deliveries to head off any complications and give birth in the specially designated space.

Now in Krakree, women are getting help early enough to address problems.

“Young mothers used to die. Young children used to die. But now people are listening,” Kenneth said. “I love this programme and Samaritan’s Purse because our town is very far [away]. No people ever come to our town, but Samaritan’s Purse came to our town and told us about the training. And we’re seeing changes in the town. It takes time for people to change, but we’re seeing some changes.

“We’re also teaching them the Word of God, and this programme gives us opportunities to share Jesus with them.”

Preventing Malnutrition

The programme is also saving the lives of young children from the detrimental and deadly effects of malnutrition.

Parents are learning the importance of feeding their young children an appropriate diet—and just how real, and how preventable, malnutrition is. Especially in the rural villages, where many families have small farms or gardens, they have access to a variety of nutritious foods. It’s a matter of having and applying the knowledge.

Better nutrition enables mothers to breastfeed more often, which prevents malnutrition in their newborns. When this is not done and a premature transition to solid food or other nutrition takes place, it can cause children not to eat, to grow sick, and then to slip into dangerous deficiencies.

The MNCH Programme empowers the leader mothers and leader fathers to spot the signs of nutritional problems and to train parents to correct their course or go to the clinic.

The key factor across these and other programmes in Liberia’s remote areas is the importance of taking ownership, at the community level, of problems and their solutions. The training and resources provided through Samaritan’s Purse are the seeds for growing self-sufficient communities. Then community leaders are empowered to pass down that wisdom and work together.

“The programming model is helping give back [to] people that sense of dignity and [show them] that they have the resources to make their communities better without outside inputs,” said Daniel Ruiz, Samaritan’s Purse country director in Liberia. “After so long in a mindset of survival and dependency, it takes a long time, sometimes years, of working with people until they really grasp it and can run with it. But now we’re seeing that happen in places like River Gee.”

women training

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