You know when you are so tired you can’t think straight? You haven’t slept in 30+ hours, you have gone from scraping frost off your car one morning to standing in a hospital garden 24 hours later and it is 30+ degrees? Your body doesn’t really know which way is up. And you are so tired your eyes won’t focus? And then you get a second wind? Well that is what happened today.
Exhausted from our flight, we arrived at the Mothers 2 Mothers project to the most incredible welcome. A group of ladies, and one or two gentlemen, and a gaggle of toddlers and babies had gathered under a cooling tree to spend the afternoon with us. As soon as we came around the corner they started to dance and sing. By the time we had joined the group they had got us to join in with them, holding hands and swaying along to their singing in Swahili.
All the tiredness went and we suddenly fired up and ready to hear all about this incredible project. So who are they?
Well Mothers2Mothers uses a simple and effective model to prevent the spread of HIV from mothers to babies and improve the health and well being of mothers, babies and families. They train, employ and empower mothers living with HIV who work as Mentor Mothers in health centres and provide lifesaving education and one on one support to HIV positive pregnant women and new mothers.
Almost 700 children are infected with HIV daily. Most of them live in sub-Saharan Africa and most acquire HIV from their mothers during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding. Mothers2Mothers believe that outcome is unnecessary and unacceptable.
And having spent the afternoon with them I have to agree. These women are all living with HIV, we didn’t ask them how they contracted it, that didn’t seem relevant but one lady, Elizabeth, did volunteer that she contracted it when she was raped in Nairobi. She had become very down and her parents insisted she leave Nairobi and come to live near them in Kisumu which was where she found this project. Elizabeth was amazing, she had the sharpest wit: “well if you don’t look after your husband he will go over the fence, won’t he?” but she was living proof that funding these projects is creating #LastingChange. She had learned to love herself, and in her own words “not stigmatise myself”. Yes she was living with HIV but “it’s just a condition, isn’t it”? That’s Elizabeth and I dancing in the pic above.
She was incredibly positive about being a part of this project and that she was going to adhere to the advice given to her in order to keep herself well. Drugs need to be taken at a set time each day and she ensures this happens. Elizabeth is also proud that because she is sticking to this advice her baby has not tested positive for HIV, and nor has her husband. She knows about condoms, and in fact that a dual form of contraception is essential.
Family planning is in fact a really crucial part of the education that goes on here. What is the best form for the individual mothers and the chance to discuss with trained medical staff if one that has been chosen is not quite right. That it is about planning. About spacing babies so that when they do arrive there is enough food, shelter and, well, time for the babies. As one mother put it, if you have a large number of under 5s they are all still in vaccination programmes and getting them to the hospital is hard, or expensive in taxis. Better to space the babies so it is easier. These ladies are living with HIV so their bodies are already under strain, they need to ensure they are fit enough to carry another child and family planning allows them to do that.
There is also a lot of education on eating healthily, both in terms of the right food groups, but how the food should be cooked to maximise the nutritional intake. The third topic of discussion was about breast feeding. That breast feeding can help prevent further pregnancies.
At the end of the session the group all eat together because they believe this is important too. Sometimes the mothers have come a long distance and it may be the only meal they can get that day. There is also a belief that eating together is something that should be done as it is a chance to all relax and share things in a less formal setting.
I came away from this project buzzing. Completely forgetting I had been awake for 30 odd hours. It was an absolute privilege to spend the afternoon with these ladies (and men) and one I shall never forget.
Proof of lasting change created thanks to donations from Red Nose Day. Since Red Nose 2013 the money raised has helped over three million affected by HIV. But there is still more work to do and that’s why we are getting involved in the Danceathon in the hope that we can raise even more to help people like this gorgeous chap, Mr Johnstone. His mother is HIV+ but thanks to the support his mother got when she attended anti natal clinics he is not:
Do follow this incredible project on Twitter @m2mtweets to keep up to date with their work.