Enthusiastic dancing erupted the minute we reached the outskirts of Addis as both buses bounced with a mix of traditional and Ethio-Pop music . Everyone was in great spirits as we headed 270 km south to Hawassa on March 7th for the Ethiopian Mid-Wives Association (EMA) retreat. I had met Executive Director Hiwot in Awash at a Gender Based Violence training a few weeks back and was delighted when she invited me to assist in the facilitation of their event.
Arrival at the Lewi Resort on Lake Hawassa
The Ethiopian Midwives Association was established in 1992. It is registered under the new civil society organization law and has more than 870 members. The organization is contributing to reducing maternal and child mortality and improving the quality of maternal and child health services.
Ethiopia’s version of steak tartare, Kitfo is a very popular dish of raw beef accompanied by soft local cheese and cooked greens. It is served with injera and a special bread made with false banana (enset) . Kitfo can also be served cooked lightly or even well done (my preference!)
In the late afternoon we convened in a very elaborate board room for an introductory session and then were taken to check in to out hotels. It was a great plan – enjoy the resort for the meetings , lunches and evening BBQs but sleep at more affordable hotels in town.
The next morning our program involved an overview of the current projects of the EMA and another session on the mission, goals and objectives of the organization. This was the first time so many staff and board members had been together and served dual purposes of information sharing around the strategic plan and team building.
While the retreat was a lot of fun, the underlying work is serious and the staff very dedicated to improving mother and child health in Ethiopia. And the need is great. Here are some statistics from the recent Ethiopia Demographic and Health survey 2011
- The birth rate in Ethiopia varies from 2.6 in urban areas (17% of the population) and 5.5 in rural areas where most people live
- Less than 10% of Ethiopian women give birth with the assistance of a health care worker
- Maternal mortality in Ethiopia is very high at per 350 deaths/100,000 births
- Infant mortality is at 59 deaths per 1000 live births, representing a 23% decrease since 2005
- The good news is that incremental improvements are being made thanks to increased education, health services and vaccination and sanitation programs
EMA enjoys a good working relationship with the Ministry if Health and is supported by funding from 16 donors, including the Clinton Foundation, Packard Foundation, UNICEF, USAID, among others as they work toward realizing Millennium Development Goal #4: Reduce Child Mortality and Goal #5: Improve Maternal Health.
Good teamwork is part of what EMA is developing to achieve its’ visions, mission and objectives. With an Addis head office and five branch offices; in Amhara, Oromia, Tigray, SNNPR and Somali regions, EMA is engaged in:
- Capacity building for staff, members and leadership to support full engagement in sexual and reproductive health. Both pre-service and in-service education reaches midwifery students as well as professionals already working in health institutions
- Advocacy in health sector development through supporting efforts to achieve health development targets indicated in the national plan of the government.
- EMA promotes midwives and the midwifery profession through professional standards and advocates for the health of women and families by increasing access to quality, integrated and sustainable sexual and reproductive health services and rights.
- Through creating partnerships EMA maintains mutually reinforcing relationships with the government, professional associations, donors, members and the community at large.
- Research, monitoring and evaluation activities are geared towards informing policy and programs.
- Work is done through modeling best practices, improving program outcomes through evidence based practice and use of data and information for decision making.
Taking time to reflect on time management
This was followed by a session on advocacy, including internal and external communications. As part of this session, Australian volunteer Holly introduced media tools and gathered some stories to integrate into the communications strategy she will be working on for EMA – she arrived 6 weeks ago and will spend the year volunteering at EMA. Holly feels very fortunate to be working with such a great NGO!
Then my neighbour and fellow VSO volunteer Peter reviewed the EMA website and asked for feedback. As an IT volunteer, he will be assisting EMA with a re-design/updating of their site and also hopes to build the IT capacity of staff
A gift for Sister Marit, one of the original founders of EMA who remains on the board and now works at the Hamlin College of Mid-Wifery that she helped to establish. A tireless and dedicated woman she said “Give me work till my life ends and give me life till my work shall end.” reminding us the “70% of the world’s people came to life at the hands of a mid-wife.”
Next morning as we prepared to leave for Addis, I noticed this colourful condom truck was parked at our hotel, a fitting image I thought to remind us of our health goals. Millennium Development Goal #6 is to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
And took a turn 20 km off the road at Lake Langano to visit the Bishangari Eco-Lodge to relax and have lunch. We were all pretty excited as none of us had been here before!
Back on the main highway, we paused at Ziway for a cup of traditional Ethiopian coffee and then settled in at dusk for the final stretch to Addis – the end of a 12 hour return trip full of good times, new sights and great energy!
To me the Ethiopian Mid-Wives Association exemplifies an outstanding NGO. Well organized, staffed with professional, dedicated and well qualified people who are clearly committed to their work and very good at what they are doing to improve the health and well being of Ethiopian women and children.
On top of that they really know how to laugh, dance and work together as a team – well done!