She wore a little green dress with bright eyes, and tiny little hands and feet. Five month old Baby Harriett didn’t realize that today was a special day. One that would save her life!
A small group of three Shot@Life Champion were given the privilege of following a family’s journey. Young grandmother Rosemary and her son Brian allowed us into their home in the Kabarole Village of Uganda to observe what a typical Sunday looks like for them. We entered their home on a short dirt road where a sheet functioned as the front door. We were graciously welcomed into a neat and tiny living room with dirt floors. We were greeted by the entire family: Grandmother Rosemary, age 35, primary caretaker of Baby Harriett along with her son Brian, age 21, who is Harriett’s father. Daughters Prishna, age 19, Rena, age 19 months (Prishna’s daughter), and Rosemary’s youngest child Juliette, age 16. We were told that Grandmother Rosemary’s husband could not join us as he was in the fields of another village digging and working the family crops.
To make a better life for herself and her family Baby Harriett’s mother, Sheila, age 20, left her daughter with her boyfriend and his mother to finish school for nursing. As commendable as this decision is, Sheila’s absence has left Baby Harriett without the proper nutrition she needs through breastfeeding. In the country of Uganda, babies only have two choices, breast milk or regular cow’s milk as baby formula is not readily available and expensive.
We followed Grandmother Rosemary, which is difficult to say because she’s so young, to her Catholic mass service where we were able to see the Kabarole Village worship experience. The beauty of this day is that it was coupled with Healthy Family Health Day, which is a clever way to capture citizens to receive life-saving immunizations.
In Uganda, churches are literally everywhere. But health clinics and hospitals are scarce. So UNICEF decided to bring their immunization, birth registry, nutrition screenings and HIV/AIDS testing to houses of worship all across the country. They bring in health care workers and supplies reaching more than 19,000 families in 2011. That number continues to increase as the word spreads abut these FREE services.
Immediately following the worship service, parishioners made their way to a room just across the parking lot to take advantage of the services. This is where we watched Baby Harriett receive her immunizations. But the toughest moment to watch was the nurse checking little Harriett to determine if she was malnourished. Sadly, the band on her frail arms could nearly wrap around twice. Baby Harriett was confirmed to be in the red, danger zone. I watched and cried, feeling so emotional that her young life was now hanging in the balance, but grateful that her grandmother was concerned enough about her health to bring her in for treatment. In Uganda, 21% of children under age 5 are underweight in the poorest communities, versus 8% in the riches communities.
The awareness campaigns and fundraising from champions and organizations like Mocha Moms, Inc. , a national non-profit for stay at home mothers of color, make it possible for precious children like Baby Harriett to receive this type of care when families can not otherwise afford it.
After seeing Grandmother Rosemary and Bay Harriett off, our day continued with a group of Kabarole Village mothers and their beautiful children. We sat down to dialogue about what life is like for them as mothers. Of the 7 moms who joined us, 4 of them had lost at least one child.
The story of Valeria, widowed mother of 12 and now a grandmother, lost twins boys at birth. But she also lost her daughter to dysentery (blood stools and diarrhea) at the young age of 10. An epidemic broke out in the community and Emelda was not immunized. 1.5 million children die each year in developing countries from conditions like diarrhea, which can be easily prevented with vaccinations.
Although it feels like we live a world away, the group of mothers (Margaret #1, Margaret #2, Violet, Agnes, Fatima, Jenny and Valeria) are more similar to American moms than we are different. They have the same concerns and dreams for their children. They want to see them safe, healthy, educated and productive citizens.
I was also happy to hear that all but one of the women was married with a supportive family intact, which dispels the myth that African or African-American men leave their families after children are born.
I can not tell you how eye-opening this day was. What an amazing gift to share time with women who prove that the word MOTHER is universal in every way.
What are your dreams for your children?